Magdala Stone

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Magdala stone or the Migdal Stone is an ancient carved stone block unearthed by archaeologists in a Galilean synagogue in Israel, dating to before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. The stone was uncovered during the 2009 CE excavation of the Migdal Synagogue. The original stone has been removed for safekeeping; a replica is displayed in the ancient synagogue at Migdal.


The Magdala Stone is notable for its detailed carvings apparently depicting the Second Temple, carvings made while that Temple still stood and therefore assumed to have been made by an artist who had seen the Temple before it was destroyed by the Roman military. Some archaeologists describe the carvings as enabling a new, scholarly understanding of the synagogue conceptualized as a sacred space even during the period while the Temple was still standing. This new understanding would overturn a long-held scholarly consensus that during the period when the Temple still stood, synagogues were merely assembly and study halls, places where the Torah and other sacred books were read aloud and studied, but not sacred spaces in their own right.

The stone stood in the center of the Migdal Synagogue, and is tall enough to have been used as a reading desk or podium by someone in a seated position. A similar size stone was found in an ancient synagogue dating from the Byzantine period in a dig at nearby Horvat Kur; it is also carved with images of the Temple.

Panel Details

circa 50 CE

Front Panel
The facade of the stone, on the side that faces Jerusalem, features an arch supported by a pair of pillars. Within the arch a seven-branched menorah sits atop what appears to be a pedestal, flanked by a pair of two-handled jugs which may be sitting on some sort of stands. The stone as intended to lend to this synagogue a sacred aura, making it, “like a lesser Temple”, for use in the Galilee, which was a long journey from Jerusalem under the conditions of that pedestrian era, when most people traveled by foot.

circa 50 CE

Side Panels
The stone's side panels are identical; each shows an arcade of four arches. Interpretations of the carvings vary. While some have interpreted the sides as showing three arches filled with sheaves of grain (probably wheat), and a fourth with a hanging object thought to be an oil lamp, others, including Rina Talgam and Mordechai Aviam see it as an architectural image.

circa 50 CE

Top Panel
The large six petal rosette relief atop the stone was a common design in Jewish funerary art during the Second Temple period. Its meaning is as yet unknown, but it is also found among the ruins of Gamla on a lintel stone flanked by two palm trees.

circa 50 CE

Rear Panel
The back of the stone depicts a pillared structure with two wheels above a geometric shape, illustrating fire. Presumably, the front and sides of the stone carvings represent the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the back side depicting wheels and fire represents the Holy of Holies.


See Also


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