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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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MAGDALA.—The word ‘Magdala’ occurs once only in the Textus Receptus of the NT (Matthew 15:39). In B and א the reading is ‘Magadan.’ This reading is followed by Tisch., Alford, WH [Note: H Westcott and Hort’s text.] , and is adopted in the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 . In the parallel narrative in St. Mark’s Gospel (Mark 8:10) the place to which Christ came is designated as ‘the parts of Dalmanutha’ (wh. see). These names evidently refer to the same district, but not necessarily to the same place. They seem to have been in such proximity, however, that the adjacent district might be named from either. With respect to their location, various sites on the south and south-east border of the Lake of Galilee have been suggested, but none of them can be regarded as satisfactory. There is no site in this locality whose name bears any resemblance to Magadan; and the only place which suggests a resemblance to Dalmanutha is a village known as ed-Delhemiyeh, near the mouth of the Jarmuk river. Apart from the name there is nothing else in or about the place to justify its identification with the town to which St. Mark refers in the passage above cited. Caspari and Edersheim would place Magadan within the limits of the Decapolis, but do not assign it to any definite location. The suggestion of Ewald that its site is identical with Megiddo, on the southern border of the Esdraelon plain, does not harmonize with the facts of the narrative, and apparently rests upon a very slender foundation.

In the light of all the information attainable at the present time, the probabilities strongly favour the view, which has long been held by eminent writers and explorers, that the district in which these places were located was on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee, and that Magadan represents the village now known as el-Mejdel, the traditional site of the town of Mary Magdalene. While the words in their present form are not identical, they may be regarded as variations of the same name. Stanley’s suggestion is worthy of note in this connexion: ‘It may be observed that, as Herodotus (ii. 159) turns Megiddo into Magdalum, so some Manuscripts in Matthew 15:39 turn Magdala into Magadan’ (SP [Note: P Sinai and Palestine.] 451, note 1). It has been suggested also by another writer, as a possible explanation of the substitution of one name for the other, ‘that owing to the familiar recurrence of the word Magdalene, the less known name was absorbed in the better, and Magdala usurped the name and possibly also the position of Magadan’ (art. ‘Magdala’ in Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ii. p. 1734). On the supposition that Magadan was on or adjacent to the site of el-Mejdel, the probable location of Dalmanutha is at or near ‘Ain el-Barideh, where the ruins of an ancient village have been traced and described by Porter, Tristram, and other explorers. This site is about a mile south of el-Mejdel. An incidental testimony in support of this identification is given by Rabbi Schwarz, who asserts that the cave of Teliman or Talmanutha was in the cliffs which overlooked the sea behind the site of el-Mejdel. In the same connexion he identifies Migdal (Mejdel) with Magdala (p. 189). To this may be added the testimony of the Rabbins, that Magdala was adjacent to the city of Tiberias (Otho, Lex Rabb. 353). In the travels of Willibald (a.d. 722), ‘Magdalum’ is located between Tiberias and Capernaum; and in the time of Quaresmius (17th cent.), Mejdel is mentioned as identical with the Magdala of Scripture (ii. 866).

The generally accepted view that the descriptive surname of Mary—‘Magdalene’—used several times in the NT, and by all the Evangelists, was derived from her home or birthplace, is confirmed by the testimony of Edersheim, who asserts that several Rabbis are spoken of in the Talmud as ‘Magdalene’ or residents of Magdala. From the same source he gathers the statements that Magdala, which was a Sabbath-day’s journey from Tiberias, was celebrated for its dye-works and its manufactories of fine woollen textures, of which eighty are mentioned. It was also noted for its wealth, its moral corruption, and for its traffic in turtle-doves and pigeons for purifications. The suggestion made by Lightfoot, that the name meant ‘curler of hair,’ is rejected by Edersheim, who regards it as founded upon a misapprehension (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. i. p. 571).

Magdala is favourably situated at the S.E. corner of the plain of Gennesaret. It is three miles north of Tiberias, and almost the same distance south of Khan Minyeh. Before it lies the northward expanse of the Plain and the Lake; behind it rises a dark background of beetling cliffs, broken in one section by the deeply-cleft gorge of the Wady Hamam (Valley of Doves). Its precipitous sides are honeycombed with caves, which for centuries have been the refuge of robbers and outlaws. Mt. Hattin, the traditional mountain of the Beatitudes, is a conspicuous landmark on the plateau at the upper end of the wady. Through this natural passage-way the caravan route from the Mediterranean coast follows the line of the old Roman road to Khan Minyeh, and thence northward over the hills of Naphtali. A perennial stream, which waters the southern portion of the Plain, finds its way to the Lake a short distance north of the outskirts of the town.

Mejdel, which has little in itself to commend or distinguish it, is the only place of permanent habitation in the once densely populated ‘land of Gennesaret.’ It consists of twenty or more low, flat-roofed, grass-covered hovels, built of a conglomeration of dried mud, shells, and pebbles. Its degenerate inhabitants are the only resident farmers of the Plain, and go out from the town to cultivate a few patches of cleared ground in favourable locations. Near the centre of the village a palm-tree rises conspicuously above the objects around it, and a few thickly set thorn-trees on the outskirts afford a grateful shade to the loungers of the place in the heat of the day. A watch-tower on the north border of the town is a present suggestion of the derivation of the name Mejdel or its Greek form Migdol. It is possible also that Migdal-el (Joshua 19:38) stands for the same place. The tower gives evidence of a date of construction comparatively modern, but it is doubtless the successor of an older outlook or watch-tower, which commanded the gateway to the southern section of the Gennesaret plain. The remains of substructions of a substantial character, hidden beneath the earth and its dense covering of undergrowth, afford satisfactory evidence of the antiquity of the site.

Literature.—Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. i. pp. 571–572; Andrews, Life of our Lord, pp. 337–338; Tristram, Holy Land, p. 253; Thomson, Land and Book, ‘Central Pal. [Note: Palestine, Palestinian.] ’ p. 394; Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] vol. ii. p. 1734; Robinson, BRP [Note: RP Biblical Researches in Palestine.] ii. 397; Ewing, art. ‘Magadan,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ; also art. ‘Dalmanutha’; Baedeker, Pal. [Note: Palestine, Palestinian.] and Syria, p. 255.

Robert L. Stewart.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Magdala'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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