🔼The name Magadan in the Bible
The evangelist Matthew mentions Magadan/Magdala as the destination of Jesus as He travels from where He had fed the 4,000 with seven loaves of bread and some fish (Matthew 15:39). Magdala is a known city on the shores of Galilee; the same as Migdal-El mentioned in the Old Testament. In New Testament times it was formally known as Magdala-nunayya, meaning Magdala of the Fish, like the related name Nun, which was the name of the father of Joshua, who in turn was the namesake of Jesus. But the name Magadan is mentioned by no other writer in antiquity.
The absence of the name Madagan from the historic record wouldn't have been so bad if Magadan wasn't also a place where Pharisees and Sadducees hung out and could pester Jesus over a sign from heaven. What were those rivaling factions doing in Nowhere Ville? And to add to the conundrum, the gospel of Mark tells the same story but has Jesus arrive not in the region of Magadan but in the region of Dalmanutha (Mark 8:10), which is also a name that is suspiciously unaccounted for in texts from those days.
In our article on the name Dalmanutha we argue that neither Dalmanutha nor Magadan were meant to be taken as references to locations but rather to events that shaped the sixth and seventh decades of the first century in Palestine, specifically with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, the relocation of Jewish schools and the continuity of Judaism (of which the Jesus movement was then, of course, still an integrated part).
Before we look at the etymology of the name Magadan, note that the differences between the account of Matthew and Mark are:
- The names given to the area,
- That Matthew (who mentions Magadan) ties the requested sign to Jonah and Mark doesn't,
- That Matthew speaks of Pharisees and Sadducees while Mark only mentions Pharisees.
Just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, rabbi Johanan ben Zakai negotiated the safe relocation of the Great Sanhedrin to Jabneh, which is what Mark appears to refer to with his mention of Dalmanutha. But one of 24 divisions of priest from the family of Ezekiel sought refuge at Magdala of the Fish, safely on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is what Matthew points at with his mention of Magadan.
The Sea of Galilee was also known as the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1), and that name comes from the plural of the Hebrew word כנור (kinnor), meaning harp. Common Greeks words for harp are μαγαδις (magadis) and μαγαδιδος (magadidos), which could be as good a source of Matthew's Magadan as any.
The name Μαγαδαν (Magadan) also look like a Hellenized version of מגדו (Megiddo), which in the Septuagint is spelled as Μαγεδδων, Mageddon. Megiddo was located south-west of the Sea of Galilee, about half-way to the coast, and the Megiddo region had been abandoned since the Assyrian destruction in the sixth century. The capital of the Assyrian empire was Nineveh and that name is phonetically similar to Nun, the name of the father of Joshua, the namesake of Jesus. Nineveh was the destination of Jonah, after his ill-fated boat trip that had him first in a huge storm, then in the deadly waters, only to end up in the belly of the great fish, which subsequently brought him to a safe shore upon completing his prayer with asserting that "salvation is from the Lord" (Jonah 2:9).
Matthew's already hugely broad pun may even continue in that the senior military commander of the Roman army at the time of the Great Illyrian Revolt was Tiberius, who would become Rome's second emperor five years later, and would be the emperor during the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ (Luke 3:1). The town of Tiberias, which was named after him, was also located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, in earshot of Magdala. The evangelist John even calls the Sea of Galilee the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1, 21:1).
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David
The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee;
Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion;
Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah.
Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfill all thy counsel.
We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up [our] banners: the LORD fulfill all thy petitions.
Now know I that the LORD saveth his anointed; he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.
Some [trust] in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright.
Save, LORD: let the king hear us when we call.