Thunker’s Weblog


The Magdala Stone and Memory

Robert Wheadon-126x150

On the western shore of the Sea of Galilee exists the archaeological project of Magdala, the ancient home of Mary Magdalene.  Discovered in 2009, the site has “a synagogue, marketplace, fishing pools, four mikva’ot (Jewish ritual baths), mosaics, a domestic area, wharf and harbor.”[1}

The site had been covered by a series of landslides over the past two millennia.  In the area of the synagogue, the most amazing discovery was the Magdala Stone.  It is a block of stone covered in carved images of the temple at Jerusalem.  It is not large, measuring 1.8 feet x 2 feet x 1 foot tall.

magdala-stone1-260x173

One side is carved with images of the menorah from the Second Temple period , flanked by two urns, possibly resembling the temple urns for oil and water.

Two opposing sides are decorated with carved arches and a lit oil lamp, helping observers visualize walking through the passages of the temple.

magdala-stone-side

 

The top of the Magdala Stone is replete with carved symbols.  A six-petaled rosette is surrounded by palmette sheaves and heart-shaped images.  Some scholars suggest the heart-shaped images are actually two loaves of shewbread because if the heart-shape is divided into two, the resulting total of six would equal the six loaves of shewbread that are to be offered upon the altar.

magdala-stone-top

The six-petaled rosette is a symbol of the the veil before the Holy of Holies.  The ancient historian, Josephus, describes the veil of the Second Temple as being decorated with flowers, which the high priest would pass through on his way to be in the presence of God.

The last remaining side shows images representing the Holy of Holies.

magdala-stone-side-2

The wheels represent the chariot wheels in the visions of Ezekial, (see Ezekial chpts 1, 10.)  The triangles beneath the wheels represent the fire that Ezekial discusses in the same chapters.  The wheels are thought to symbolize God’s throne.

What was the Magdala Stone used for?  Seeing as it was found almost in the center of the synagogue in Magdala, it is thought that the Stone was used as the resting place for the synagogue’s scrolls of scripture, the Torah, the Writings and the Prophets.

Why carve images of the temple into the stone?  One thought is that of remembrance.  Magdala is about 114 miles east of Jerusalem.  I’m thinking that would be a sizeable journey for a 1st century C.E. Jew to make to present him/herself to the temple.  The Magdala Stone, for Jews living away from the temple at Jerusalem, would be something that would remind them of their covenant status with God, and the House of the Lord.

In Deuteronomy 32:7, Israel was commanded, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.”

In 1 Chronicles 16:12, “Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth.”

Just as the Lord asks us to remember him and keep him in our thoughts, there are plenty of times when we in our need, ask to be remembered.  The Psalms are full of prayerful requests for God to remember us.  Psalms 79:8 reads: “O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low.”

Memory of the goodness of God brings humility and is a wonderful counteractive agent with pride.  In the Book of Mormon, in Mosiah 2:41, it says; “And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.”

The word, “remember,” is used 167 times in the Old Testament and 157 times in the Book of Mormon, exhorting us to think of God, his goodness and love for us, and exhorting God to remember us and the promises made to his children.

Perhaps most important is God’s call for us to remember Him, found in the prayer of the sacrament each Sunday.  We are to “always remember him and keep his commandments,” (D&C 20:77.)

I believe the Magdala Stone served the same purpose as scripture, church, and prayer have in our lives.  Just as the Jews who lived far from their temple needed visual reminders of their relationship with God, so do we.  We are separated for a time, in this mortal period, away from our Heavenly family, to prove ourselves and grow more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.  I truly believe the function of remembering Him, his Father, and their attributes, would help us in our journey.

[1] http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/archaeology-today/magdala-2016-excavating-the-hometown-of-mary-magdalene/

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