A few days ago, we talked about how archaeologists came across a seal engraving of a Biblical king for the very first time in official capacity. But another Biblical artifact, unearthed way back in 2009, has baffled many a historian – and it pertains to the so-called Magdala Stone. Comprising a carved solid stone block that is sized like a table, the object showcases its profusion of mysterious symbols. And the really intriguing part is – these motifs probably depict a three-dimensional scope of the famed Temple of Herod, including the enigmatic inner sanctum which has been described as the Holy of Holies (this space structurally symbolized the inner labyrinth of Tabernacle, the dwelling place for the divine presence, according to the Hebrew Bible).
The probability of the Temple of Herod depiction on the Magdala Stone is hypothesized (by experts) mainly because of the artifact’s age. To that end, the stone was contemporary to the time when the Second Temple was still present inside Jerusalem, and as such the artisan had a first hand view of the legendary monument. As for the excavation, the stone object in itself was discovered in a site near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, which mainly had an ancient marketplace, fishermen’s dwellings and a synagogue. And interestingly, this very site also equates to the apparent hometown of Mary Magdalene. Archaeologists found a coin inside one of the rooms of the synagogue dating from 29 AD – and time period when Jesus Christ was still alive. So this also alludes to a possibility that Jesus himself may have held his councils inside the antediluvian synagogue.
However, as the archaeologists (mainly from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) made it clear, beyond the ambit of Christianity, the Magdala Stone hints at a more ancient past. For example, according to a generally accepted historical theory, before the period when the Second Temple was destroyed, synagogues were used basically as community centers, as opposed to religious temples. And in the chaotic aftermath of the Second Temple’s destruction in 70 AD, the people of Jewish faith might have resorted to using such synagogues as ‘makeshift’ sacred structures.
But the presence of a mysterious hand-carved stone inside a synagogue that was contemporary to the Second Temple, alludes to a slightly different scenario. Rina Talgam, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has put forth her view that even during the time of Second Temple’s existence, synagogues were being used as sacred sites. In that regard, the Magdala Stone might have been utilized to justify the aura of the grand temple, but in the distant land (by the Sea of Galilee) which was far away from Jerusalem. Simply put, the synagogue may have served as a proxy site for the Second Temple (with the stone’s depiction of the grand temple); and thus was transformed into a pilgrimage destination for Jewish people who lived in the nearby areas who couldn’t travel all the way to Jerusalem.
Lastly, as for the profusion of mysterious symbols engraved on the Magdala Stone, the etchings include a rare depiction of a seven-branch menorah, portrayal of sacred utensils arranged in their symbolic orders, depiction of structural components like arches and columns, and the likeness of a 12-leaf rosette that may have alluded to the division between the Temple’s main sanctuary from the Holy of Holies. The other side of the stone artifact ‘transcends’ into the representation of the inner sanctum, with the engravings showcasing the lower portion of a chariot and its wheels on fire. Presumably, the hidden upper portion hinted at God and his stature in heaven. But of course, all of there interpretations are still subject to debate.