When most of us hear the name “Magdala,” if we think of anything we might possibly connect it with the New Testament’s Mary Magdalene (or Mary of Magdala, same person). But the city itself tells us about faithfulness in the face of defeat.
During the the last century “BC” and the first century “AD,” Jews chaffed under Roman rule. Sure, some made off pretty well working with the Romans, but many yearned for the kind of self-governing independence that their people had been promised – but then squandered by their ancestors in the desire for a king. Like swarming gnats, a couple minor would-be insurrectionists had been crushed over the years.
By the latter half of the first century AD, however, frustration was hitting a fever pitch.
The result was the Great Revolt. The region around the Sea of Galilee was a hotbed of activity for the zealot rebels – those Jews who wanted to overthrow the Romans. (With what, exactly, they would replace Roman rule was a somewhat fuzzy concept. The zealots had become so accustomed to being zealously opposed to Rome that their zealotry became an end unto itself.)
Magdala was a fishing village of little note… except as a gathering place for the Jewish rebels. We know this because it was also the hometown to the Jewish leader known to us as the Roman historian Josephus Flavius. In 67 BC, the Romans laid seige to Magdala. Some inhabitants fled after it fell but most were murdered by the Romans. For Texans, think of a massacre like Goliad or the Alamo… but probably worse.
The archeological ruins uncovered in recent years have found city streets still barricaded against the coming Roman forces. Here’s the thing: hastily stacked stones and refuse were never going to stop the Romans.
It did, however, send a signal that this revolt wasn’t going to be put down so easily.
The Romans learned at Magdala that the zeal of the Jewish rebels would be costly for all involved.
The Romans did finally (several years later) crush the revolt. Towns like Magdala faded from history – literally wiped from the earth by the might of the Roman war machine. We remember the Alamo and Goliad because we won; would either place be remembered if the Texas Revolution had failed? Probably not.
The people of Magdala were just as heroic as the men at the Alamo. So for us Magdala is a reminder that no matter how noble the struggle, losing is always a real possibility. We fight not knowing if we’ll win, but if we feel so called we must fight nonetheless – and fight zealously.
Our reward may be victory, the cause a glorious success. Or we may fade into the dark recesses of time, a footnote in history. If our cause is just and we are following God’s will, either outcome should be acceptable.
We must be proceed with the dedication and bravery of the men of the Alamo and the people of Magdala. The choice is ours.