🔼The name Magdala: Summary
- Tower Of El
- From (1) the noun מגדל (migdal), tower, and possibly (2) the word אל ('el), God.
🔼The name Magdala in the Bible
The name Magdala may not actually be a Biblical name. The evangelist Matthew may mention it as the destination of Jesus, right after he had fed the 4,000, but many manuscripts read Magadan (Matthew 15:39). In the parallel version told by Mark, neither Magdala nor Magadan appears and Mark has Jesus go to Dalmanutha (Mark 8:10).
Neither Magadan nor Dalmanutha are mentioned by any other writer in antiquity, which leads scholars to believe that in neither case Magdala is meant and both names refer to something else than a physical location. Please refer to our articles on either name for a discussion on that idea.
But even if Magdala isn't mentioned in Biblical Scripture, it's known through the Talmud and in the Bible through its famous native, namely Mary Magdalene — or so it is supposed ...
🔼Etymology of the name Magdala
The name Magdala is thought to be a Hellenized version of the Hebrew name of that same town, namely Migdal-El, which occurs in Joshua 19:38. That name consists of the name אל, El, the common abbreviation of the word אלהים, Elohim, the genus God:
In names אל ('el) usually refers to אלהים ('elohim), that is Elohim, or God, also known as אלה ('eloah). In English, the words 'God' and 'god' exclusively refer to the deity but in Hebrew the words אל ('l) and אלה ('lh) are far more common and may express approach and negation, acts of wailing and pointing, and may even mean oak or terebinth.
The first part is מגדל (migdal), which is generally translated with tower, from the verb גדל (gadel), meaning to become strong or great:
The verb גדל (gadel) means to become strong or great, particularly by combining many ordinary elements into a big strong strand or collection of some sort.
The noun מגדל (migdal) or מגדול (migdol) literally describes a place or agent for greatness. It's the word for tower, and a tower is not only a big strong thing consisting of many bricks, it also formed the center of a community around which all houses and all activity unfolded. From their tower people kept lookout over the community's territories, and launched offensives when the community was attacked. A tower could carry a fire and from it folks trumpeted signals. Towers drew its people from wherever they might roam. Over time they developed into central storage houses, banks and seats of government. Towers are buildings around which the greatness of a people forms and in which it becomes manifested.
Participle or adjective גדל (gadel) means a becoming great or growing up. Noun גדל (godel) means greatness or pride. Plural noun גדלים (gedilim) refers to tassels or festoons made from twisted strands. The very common adjectives גדול (gadol) and גדולה (gadola) mean great. Noun גדולה (gedulla) means greatness or great one.
For a meaning of the name Migdal-El, from which the name Magdala is thought to derive, NOBSE Study Bible Name List, BDB Theological Dictionary and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names all read Tower Of God.