Monasticism played a significant role in the Late Antique economy of the Holy Land, as it did in neighboring regions, a role that can be traced both in hagiography and in archaeology. Though holy men settled in secluded monasteries in the desert of the Holy City, most of the monks of Palestine were living in and near villages throughout the land. The rural monastery housed presses that produced wine and oil in quantities exceeding the needs of the local monastic community. It seems that the monasteries, in addition to their obvious spiritual and religious functions, served as part of the region’s economy, thus creating substantial relations with their lay neighbors.
In the center of the first century CE synagogue which was discovered at ancient Magdala (Migdal), a large decorated stone block was found. It is covered with decorative-symbolic elements on four sides and on the upper face as well, standing on four short legs. As the façade is carrying the Temple’s Menorah, this article will suggest that all other elements are not decorative but rather symbolic and symbolizing the Temple in Jerusalem. Another conclusion is that the block was used as a base for the Torah reading table in the synagogue. These symbols show that there was a very strong connection between Galileans and Jerusalem with the Temple in its center, and that there is an important reflection and relations between Jewish symbolism and Jewish heavenly mysticism as it appears in ancient Jewish sources, both Biblical and non-Biblical.
The authors present the results of four years of investigation (2016–2019) in their search for Bethsaida-Julias. They bring historical, geographical, and archaeological evidence to argue that Khirbet el-Araj should be considered the leading candidate for the New Testament home of the Apostles. Unlike the remote location of the alternate candidate at et-Tell, their excavations at el-Araj have demonstrated a significant Roman period settlement on the lakeshore of the Sea of Galilee, a much more likely location for a fishing village. In addition, their discovery in 2017 of a Roman bathhouse at el-Araj is characteristic of Herod Philip’s urbanization of the village of Bethsaida, which Josephus reports was transformed from a village into the polis of Julias. After the Roman period, the site was abandoned for two centuries (4th–5th cent. CE), and then resettled with a monastery and Byzantine basilica, reportedly built over the house of Peter and Andrew.