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Magdala (Aramaic מגדלא Magdala; Hebrew מגדל Migdal, meaning "tower"; Arabic قرية الممجدل Qaryat Al Majdal) is the name of at least two places in ancient Palestine mentioned in theJewish Talmud and one that may be mentioned in the Christian New Testament.
The New Testament makes one, disputable, mention of a place called Magdala. Matthew 15:39 reads (in the Authorised Version), "And he [Jesus] sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala".
However the most reliable Greek manuscripts give the name of the place as "Magadan", and more modern scholarly translations (such as theRevised Version) follow this.
Although some commentators (e.g. Jones, 1994) state confidently that the two refer to the same place, others (e.g. Horton, 1907) dismiss the substitution of Magdala for Magadan as simply "to substitute a known for an unknown place".
The parallel passage in Mark's gospel, Mark 8:10, gives (in the majority of manuscripts) a quite different place name, Dalmanutha, although a handful of manuscripts give either Magdala or Magadan (Throckmorton, 1992, p. 96), presumably by assimilation to the Matthean text (believed in ancient times to be older than that of Mark, though this opinion has now reversed).
The Jewish Talmud mentions two places named Magdala. Magdala Gadar - One Magdala was in the east, on the River Yarmouk near Gadara (in the Middle Ages "Jadar", now Umm Qais), thus acquiring the name Magdala Gadar. Magdala Nunayya - There was another, better-known Magdala near Tiberias, Magdala Nunayya ("Magdala of the fishes"), which would locate it on the shore of the Sea of Gallilee. Al-Majdal, a Palestinian Arab village depopulated in the lead up to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war was identified as the site of this Magdala. The modern Israeli municipality of Migdal (Khirbet Medjdel), founded in 1910 and about 6km NNW of Tiberias, has expanded into the area of the former village.
The reason for interest in a place called Magdala is that all four gospels refer to a follower of Jesus called Mary Magdalene, and it has always been assumed that this means "Mary from Magdala", though there is no information to indicate whether this was her home, her birthplace, or whether she had some other connection with the place. Most Christian traditions assume that she was from the place the Talmud calls Magdala Nunayya, and that this is also where Jesus landed on the occasion recorded by Matthew.
Josephus mentions a wealthy Galilean town destroyed by the Romans in the Jewish War (III, x) with the Greek name Tarichaeae (Josephus does not give its Hebrew name), from its prosperous fisheries, and some authors (e.g. Achtemeier, 1996) identify this with Magdala.
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