Migdal, Israel

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  • מִגְדָּל
  • مغدال
Hebrew transcription(s)
 • ISO 259 Migdal
Migdal is located in Israel
Coordinates: 32°50′20.68″N 35°29′57.46″E / 32.8390778°N 35.4992944°E / 32.8390778; 35.4992944Coordinates: 32°50′20.68″N 35°29′57.46″E / 32.8390778°N 35.4992944°E / 32.8390778; 35.4992944
District Northern
Founded 1910
 • Type Local council (from 1949)
 • Head of Municipality Israel Sason Amrosi
 • Total 11,395 dunams (11.395 km2 or 4.400 sq mi)
Population (2016)[1]
 • Total 1,880
Name meaning Tower
Bilu pioneers in Migdal, 1912

Migdal (Hebrew: מִגְדָּל‬, lit. Tower) is a town in the Northern District of Israel. It was founded in 1910, and granted local council status in 1949. In 2016 it had a population of 1,880.

Migdal is located near Ginosar, and about 8 km north of Tiberias.[2] It has a shoreline on the Sea of Galilee, including the Tamar, Ilanot and Arbel beaches.



Josephus, in his extensive accounts of the military history of Taricheae, relates that Cassius, the governor of Syria between 53 and 51 BCE, attacked the city and took 30,000 men into slavery. During the time, Josephus was the head of the Galilean revolutionaries' army (66 - c. 70 CE), and tells of fortifying the city which served as his headquarters. He counted some 40,000 men from within it among his supporters.[3]

Josephus also recounts imprisoning 600 members of the Roman council at Tiberias in Taricheae, which served as a Zealot stronghold until it fell to Romans in 67 CE. Also recorded are the deaths of 6,700 Jews in the battle with Vespasian's army in 67 CE, and the fate of 1,200 more who had surrendered, and were then led out to the stadium in Tiberias where they were executed. Another 6,000 youths were sent away to Nero and 30,400 were sold into slavery, save those who were given as a present to Agrippa. Included in the territory of Agrippa II by Nero, following his death, it was attached to the Roman province of Judaea.[3]

Gustaf Dalman writes of Magdala that, "it was the most important city on the western bank of the lake, contributing a wagon-load of taxes [...] until Herod Antipas raised up a rival on the lake by building Tiberias."[3] Magdala is also described as "the capital of a toparchy", and is compared to Sepphoris and Tiberias in that it had "administrative apparatus and personnel," though not to the same extent.[4]

The remains of a Roman-period synagogue dated to between 50 BCE and 100 CE were discovered in 2009. The walls of the 120-square-metre (1,300 sq ft) main hall were decorated with brightly colored frescoes, and there was a stone carved with a seven-branched menorah.[5]

Ottoman era[edit]

Francesco Quaresmi writes of al-Majdal in 1626 that "certain people have claimed that her house is to be seen there;" however, Denys Pringle writes that by this time the site was in ruins.[6]

Al-Majdal in 1909

The small Muslim Arab village of Al-Majdal was located to the south of the land acquired by the Franciscans.[6] Little is known about the village in the medieval or early Ottoman period, presumably because it was either small or uninhabited.[7]

Richard Pococke visited "Magdol" around 1740, where he noted "the considerable remains of an indifferent castle", but didn't think it was the Biblical Magdala.[8] The village appeared as El Megdel on the 1799 map of Pierre Jacotin.[9] In the early 19th century, foreign travellers interested in the Christian traditions associated with the site visited the village.[7] In 1807 U. Seetzen stayed overnight in "the little Mahommedan village of Majdil, situated on the bank of the lake."[10] The English traveler James Silk Buckingham observed in 1816 that a few Muslim families resided there, and in 1821, the Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt noted that the village was in a rather poor condition.[11][12][13]

Edward Robinson also wrote of Al-Majdal during his travels through Syria and Palestine in 1838. Transcribing its name as el-Mejdel, he described it as "a miserable little Muslim village, looking much like a ruin, though exhibiting no marks of antiquity." Robinson was nevertheless aware of the village's ancient associations:

"The name Mejdel, is obviously the same with the Hebrew Migdal and Greek Magdala; there is little reason to doubt that this place is the Magdala of the New Testament, chiefly known as the native town of Mary Magdalene. The ancient notices respecting its position are exceedingly indefinite; yet it seems to follow from the New Testament itself, that it lay on the west side of the lake. After the miraculous feeding of four thousand, which appears to have taken place in the country east of the lake, Jesus 'took ship and came into the coast of Magdala;' for which Mark the Evangelist writes Dalmanutha. Here, the Pharisees began to question him, but he 'left them, and entering into the ship again, departed to the other side [...] This view is further confirmed by the testimony of the Rabbins in the Jerusalem Talmud, compiled at Tiberias; who several times speak of Magdala as adjacent to Tiberias and Hammath or the hot springs. The Migdal-el of the Old Testament in the tribe of Naphtali was probably the same place."[14]

In his account of a United States expedition to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea in 1849, William Francis Lynch writes of Mejdel that it is, "a poor village of about 40 families, all fellahin," living in houses of stone with mud roofs, similar to those in Tur'an.[15] Arriving at Al-Majdal by boat a few years later, Bayard Taylor describes the view from path winding up from shoreline, "[...] through oleanders, nebbuks, patches of hollyhock, anise-seed, fennel, and other spicy plants, while on the west, great fields of barley stand ripe for the cutting. In some places, the Fellahs, men and women, were at work, reaping and binding the sheaves."[16]

Solamon Malan described the village houses in 1857: "Each house, whether separate or attached to another, consisted of one room only. The walls built of mud and of stones, were about ten or twelve feet high; and perhaps as many or more feet square. The roof which was flat, consisted of trunks of trees placed across from one wall to another, and then covered with small branches, grass and rushes; over which a thick coating of mud and gravel was laid. ... A flight of rude steps against the wall outside leads up to the roof; and thus enables those who will to reach it without entering the house."[17]

Isabel Burton is perhaps the only 19th century traveler to mention the shrine for Mohammed Al-Ajami, while imparting other details on life in Al-Majdal. In her private journals published in 1875, she writes, "First we came to Magdala (Mejdel) ... There is a tomb here of a Shaykh (El Ajami), the name implies a Persian Santon; there is a tomb seen on a mountain, said to be that of Dinah, Jacob's daughter. Small boys were running in Nature's garb on the beach, which is white, sandy, pebbly, and full of small shells."[18] A survey undertaken by the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1881, describes al-Majdal as a stone-built village, situated on a partially arable plain, with an estimated population of about 80.[19] Fellahin from Egypt are said to have settled in the village some time in the 19th century.[20]

A population list from about 1887 showed el Mejdel to have about 170 inhabitants; all Muslims.[21]

British rule[edit]

According to a census conducted in 1922 by the British Mandate authorities, Migdal had a population of 51 inhabitants, consisting of 42 Jews and 9 Muslims.[22]

1948 Civil War[edit]

After the fall of the Arab quarter of Tiberias to Jewish forces and the evacuation of its inhabitants, the Arab villages surrounding it were also depopulated, including Al-Majdal.[23] Benny Morris writes that the inhabitants of Al-Majdal were 'persuaded by the headmen of [neighbouring Jewish] Migdal and Ginosar' to evacuate their homes; the villagers were paid P£200 for eight rifles, ammunition and a bus they handed over. They were then transported to the Jordanian border in Jewish buses.[24] Al-Majdal was subsequently bulldozed by the Israelis in 1948.[25] After 1948, Migdal expanded to include some of the village land of Al-Majdal.[11]


In September 2009, a salvage dig of the Israel Antiquities Authority prior to the construction of a hotel revealed an ancient synagogue believed to date back some 2000 years, from 50 BCE to 100 CE. In the middle of a 120 sq.m. main hall, archaeologists discovered an unusual stone carved with a seven-branched menorah. It is the first of its kind to be discovered from the early Roman period. In addition to the engraved stone, the walls are decorated with brightly colored frescoes.[26]

Archaeologists have continued excavating and have found a mikveh which is, as of 2014, on public display.

See also[edit]

Al-Majdal, Tiberias


  1. ^ "List of localities, in Alphabetical order" (PDF). Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved September 26, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b About Migdal. Flags of the World
  3. ^ a b c Schaberg, 2004, pp. 56-57.
  4. ^ Schaberg, 2004, p. 58
  5. ^ Kevin Flower, Sept 11, 2009, "Ancient synagogue found in Israel", CNN http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/09/11/jerusalem.synagogue/index.html
  6. ^ a b Pringle, 1998, p. 28
  7. ^ a b Petersen, 2001, p. 210.
  8. ^ Pococke, 1745, vol 2, p. 71
  9. ^ Karmon, 1960, p. 166
  10. ^ Seetzen, 1810, p.20
  11. ^ a b Khalidi, 1992, p. 530.
  12. ^ Buckingham, 1821, p.466
  13. ^ Burckhardt, 1822, p320
  14. ^ Robinson and Smith, 1841, vol. 3, p. 278
  15. ^ Lynch, 1849, p. 164
  16. ^ Taylor, 1855, p. 108
  17. ^ Malan, 1857, p. 15
  18. ^ Burton, 1875, p. 245
  19. ^ Conder and Kitchener, 1881, SWP, Vol. I, p.361. Quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p.530
  20. ^ Schaberg, 2004, p. 50
  21. ^ Schumacher, 1888, p. 185
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ Morris, 2004, p. 86
  24. ^ Golani Brigade Logbook, entry for 22 Apr. 1948, IDFA 665\51\\1. See also "Tsuri" to HIS-AD, 23 April 1948, HA 105\257. The action by the headman of Ginosar was apparently ordered by 12th Battalion headquarters (Ben-Zion, Kirchner and Ben-Aryeh, "Summary of meeting with Yitzhak Brochi..... 13 March IDFA 922\75\\943.) Cited in Morris, 2004, pp. 186, 275
  25. ^ Schaberg, 2004, pp. 48-49.
  26. ^ a b Ancient Synagogue Found in Migdal
  27. ^ Ancient Menorah
The town of Migdal is featured on the right, and Hamaam on the left From Mount Arbel.