Journeys of Jesus: Decapolis to Magdala

The last couple of posts have followed Jesus as He has ministered in Gentile territories, first in the region of Tyre and Sidon, and then in the region of the Decapolis. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew both record these journeys, but they handle what comes next in ways that are subtly different, so that the next journey is not exactly clear.

In Matthew’s account, the Gentiles saw Jesus’ miracles and “glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:31) and then the writer immediately flows into the miraculous feeding of the 4,000 (Matthew 15:32-38). If this occurred in Decapolis, these almost definitely would be mostly Gentiles.

In Mark’s Gospel, chapter 7 ends with the miracles referenced in Matthew 15:31 (Mark 7:37) and chapter 8 begins with “In those days” (Mark 8:1), implying that the feeding of the 4,000 that follows is not immediate, but generally during the times of His ministry around the Sea of Galilee. The location is much less clear. 

In either case, this was an amazing miracle, demonstrating Jesus’ divinity and sovereignty over creation. Immediately following this miracle, Jesus and His disciples sailed across the lake to Magdala (Matthew 15:39) or the region of Dalmanutha (Mark 8:10). Dalmanutha is an otherwise unknown place. One archeologist has claimed to have found it, very near Magdala.

(Note that, in the map above from the game Journeys with Jesus, as I’ve previously mentioned, I placed Gennesaret on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, when in fact it was located between Magdala and Capernaum. I did this, in part, to avoid crowding it in, while maintaining the close proximity of all these towns to each other and keeping them all located on the shore of the lake. We don’t know where in Decapolis the events of Matthew 15 and Mark 7 took place, but it’s logical they would be somewhere along the coast between Bethsaida and Gadara, so the white path shown connecting Gennesaret and Magdala may actually be very close to the route of the journey from Decapolis to Magdala.)

While the location of Dalmanutha is a mystery, Magdala is fairly easy to find. Today it is called Migdal. But we probably are more familiar with the name because many scholars believe that the name Mary Magdalene means Mary from Magdala.

This Mary was one of several women who travelled with Jesus (Luke 8:1-3) and served Jesus and His apostles from their own resources. Jesus had exorcised seven demons from her. She was present at Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:55-56, Mark 15:40, John 19:25), His burial (Matthew 27:61, Mark 15:47), and was the first to see our risen Savior (Mark 16:9, Matthew 28:1, Luke 24:8-10, John 20:1-18).

As significant as Mary Magdalene is in scripture, we know little of her hometown.

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To give you a sense for my process for learning about these places, I often start with Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible by Stephen Miller.  I like this book because it is easy to use, with many people and places listed alphabetically. I usually like to verify the information here from other sources, but it’s a good starting point. There are two paragraphs in this book about Magdala, with the only “new” information being the unsurprising fact that it was a fishing village.

I often next turn to Understanding the Land of the Bible by O. Palmer Robertson.  This book is almost the opposite of Miller’s book, with long narratives giving a sense of the flow of geography and land and less details about specific places. I really like how it puts everything in a context that makes sense. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of Magdala in this book.

Third, I turn to a very old copy of The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands, which I bought at a library sale and this edition has a 1967 copyright. This one falls roughly between the two I’ve already mentioned. It is organized by region and has longer descriptions of the regions and their history, but also has entries for specific places in those regions. It has good indexes, including a Scripture Index. It often strikes me as being written from a skeptical perspective, giving more credence to secular perspectives than what we know from scripture, so again, I verify what I read there as much as I can.  This book does have a one paragraph section on Magdala, telling me that it was 2 miles north of Tiberias, was known to the Greeks as Tarichea, and was at the junction of the lake road from Tiberias and a road coming down from the western hills.

Next I turn to The Holman Bible Atlas. This book is mostly organized by biblical chronology, starting with the Old Testament and then covering the New Testament. Places that show up at different points in the Bible will show up in multiple places in this book, so it can take a little more work to pull together the information on any given place. The index lists Magdala on 4 different pages. Here we learn that the Greek name for Magdala suggests a place where fish were salted and so it was the center of the salted-fish industry for this area around the Sea of Galilee.

Finally, I turn to the ESV Bible Atlas. The first two thirds of this big book are organized like Holman, chronologically, but the last third is why I love this one – big beautiful detailed maps and a very helpful map index (with latitude and longitude coordinates). There’s one reference in the text to Magdala, but it doesn’t give me any new information.

Of course, the most important reference is the Bible itself. The search function at Bible Gateway helps me find all references to any place in dozens of different translations of the Old and New Testament.  It appears that Magdala is only mentioned once, in Matthew 15:39 (which we’ve already seen).

Let me know if you have other favorite references or ideas that might be helpful.

The map at the top of this post is a snapshot of a portion of the gameboard for Journeys with Jesus.

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Note: all scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the World English Bible which is in the public domain.

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