Eyewitness to the Temple

Behaalotecha begins with instructions regarding the menorah in the tabernacle. “When you set up the lamps, see that all seven light up the area in front of the lampstand. Aaron did so; he set up the lamps so that they faced forward on the lampstand, just as the Lord commanded Moses. This is how the lampstand was made: It was made of hammered gold—from its base to its blossoms. The lampstand was made exactly like the pattern the Lord had shown Moses.”

The town of Migdal is on the western banks of the Sea of Galilee. Under Roman control 2000 years ago the town was known as Magdala, and the town has significance for Christians. A Catholic institution purchased property along the water in hopes of setting up a retreat. As is the case in Israel, construction is subject to an archaeological review, and the digging exposed an ancient synagogue.

The Migdal, or Magdala, Synagogue is dated to the 1st century CE, before the First Jewish Revolt in 66-70, based on a coin found in the synagogue. The synagogue building had stone benches built along the walls, a common synagogue design, with frescoes and mosaics. But the most important find in this synagogue was the Magdala Stone.

The Magdala Stone was found at the center of the synagogue. It is significant because it is large enough that a scroll could be unfurled on it and read in the synagogue. This would demonstrate that during the Second Temple period the synagogue was not just a meeting place but that it also had religious significance, even as the temple stood as the primary national place of worship.

The sides and top of the Magdala Stone feature reliefs, which are carvings where the design stands out from a surface. The designs on the Magadala Stone are important. They feature what appear to be the design of the temple building in Jerusalem, and the menorah. Given its dating during the temple period, it raises the possibility that the designer had seen the temple and the menorah, and thus the Magdala Stone would feature an eyewitness model of both the temple and the menorah, the menorah that “was made exactly like the pattern the Lord had shown Moses.”

A replica of the stone is kept on display at the Magdala Synagogue, but the actual stone is held in storage by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The stone can be seen via the following link: http://www.magdala.org/visit/archaeological-park/the-magdala-stone/