I just located this blog for the excavations at Magdala, which just ended this month. The excavations are being undertaken by Anáhuac Mexico South University under the direction Marcelas Zapatas; the excavations are set to go until November 2013. The site is intended to be the location of the Magdala Center
When I was there in January, I and the group I was helping lead actually got to see the site that there are claiming to be an ancient synagogue. We also got a close up view of the beautifully ornamented sone table decorated with sheaves, rosettes, oil lamps, and a menorah (See picture to the left, you can also see a different pic at the Magdala Center site). To my knowledge, no such artifact has ever been found resembling this “stone menorah table”. While the excavators initially, and still have maintained, that this is likely the site of an ancient Galilean synagogue, the frescoes that were found seem to resemble those that were discovered in the Palatial Mansion that is preserved in the Wohl Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem (note the pics below). The reason I make this note is not because these plain but colorful frescoes are unique to these two sites but simply to suggest that there is yet another interpretation of this structure that has yet to be advanced.
Magdala, or Migdal, is located on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee in the area of ancient Gennesar. In a very small article, Flusser suggested that this area was the area of Hasmonean gardens, which he derived partly from the form of the original Hebrew name גני שר, or as the rabbis understood it, גני שרים (Gardens of the Ruler[s]; See Judaism in the Second Temple Period; trans. Azzan Yadin; Eerdmans/Hebrew U/ Jerusalem Perspective, 2009, 349-351). So what we in fact may be looking at is the discovery of another palatial home but this time located in the Galilee, in the area where the Hasmonean rulers would have lived. This may not give way to correctly interpreting what the “stone menorah table” is, nor is it to suggest that the structure is Hasmonean (it may very well be Herodian). But rather than understanding this artifact in the context of a synagogue, we might understand it within the context of a wealthy Jewish family or community, perhaps a priestly one.