In 2009, archaeologists discovered a richly decorated rectangular stone in the first Magdala synagogue, often called the “Magdala Stone.” Some scholars have argued that this stone may have been a table from which Torah scrolls were read aloud (as illustrated, for example, in the reconstruction in feature text above). However, this hypothesis is somewhat speculative, and a growing number of scholars, myself included, are not convinced.

It is possible that the stone did not have a practical purpose. It may simply have been decorative or symbolic. Some scholars suggest that the shape of the stone, resembling an altar with four “horns” on its top face, combined with the stone’s carved artwork, including the columns and colonnades, the menorah, and the rosette “wheels,” may represent Temple imagery. If that is the case, perhaps the stone’s primary function could have been to symbolically represent the Temple. However, other scholars note that the columns and rosettes are common in Jewish art of this period, and that the menorah can be used in non-Temple contexts in Jewish artwork from this era. It seems that we cannot yet draw firm conclusions about the Magdala Stone’s function.


There were, however, two other limestone blocks found in the first synagogue at Magdala, both with grooves on either end, which may have been used as reading surfaces for scrolls. One was found in secondary usage in the main hall and the second in an ancillary room with benches. The grooves on the blocks might have held wooden dowels—used as rollers—on either end of the scroll and allowed the reader to easily scroll through the text while sitting at the stone. However, this is only a theory, and there are other possible interpretations of these carved stones, including that they could have served as bases for chairs or tables.