I love to use this picture in my presentations, asking the audience what it is. Such anchors are found in abundance around the shore of Galilee. Most are made out of the local black basalt, however there are a few that seem to have been imported from elsewhere. With the storms that can whip up on the Galilee lake such anchor stones become very important.
The Magdala Mosaic now located at Capernaum came from this site (arrowed). Whilst not mentioned in the Bible, Magdala seems to have been the home or birthplace of Mary Magdalene who is mentioned a total of 12 times in the four gospels.
A few late New Testament manuscripts mention “Magdala” (Matthew 15:39 KJV), earlier manuscripts however read “Magadan”. Magdala is located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is about 4 miles north of Tiberias, which can be seen at the top left of this picture.
“Magdala” in Hebrew means “tower”. In New Testament times the city was quite Hellenised. Because of the importance of its salted-fish industry it was known by the Greek name “Tarichea”.
If you look closely at the shore line you should be able to make out the ancient harbor of this town.
The nearby Magdala, is situated just above Tiberias on the Western shore of Galilee, yielded this fragment of a 1st century mosaic. Amongst its depictions is a boat, which has always excited interest in connection with the fishing industry based around the Galilee lake, in particular here in Capernaum. However, Ronny Reich, in a 1991 paper, suggested a new interpretation of this mosaic.
He suggests that all of the objects in this mosaic are of similar size. For him the top left-hand pattern represents a pair of strigili, withan aryballos (ointment bottle), connected
by a chain to the ring. Strigili were in common use in the Roman life for scraping oil off a body, along with any dirt. He does not attempt an interpretation of the symbols to the right. However, he correctly identifies a kantharos with a fish below it. He suggests this fish is served on a plate and ready to eat. thus the boat, he suggests, is of a similar size.
There are a number of examples of table furnishings of model boats such as this from the Roman period – they might be used as multi-wick lamps. He also points out that there is mention of “boat pottery” in Rabbinic literature. Such vessels cannot become impure as they are not used as containers.
Thus, for Reich, this mosaic depicts a still-life of a typical table-setting. Rather than concentrating on the boat we should take account of the vast amounts of Olive Oil that seems to have been made locally and combine that with the fish, exported throughout the Roman Empire.
Along with the fishing industry, and farming on the nearby plain of Gennesaret, there was also a stone-working trade. The area’s abundant igneous rock (basalt) was carved into mortars, pestles, olive-presses and mill wheels for extracting valuable oil for cooking and lighting, as well as for soap, medicine, ritual anointing and religious rituals.
There are many more Olive presses and mortars & pestles for a town the size of Capernaum. This would suggest the town was taking advantage of the many passing traders from far afield. Capernaum seems to have had a successful exporting trade consisting of more than salted fish.
The city seems to have been self-sufficient and prosperous, with work easily available. In all, it was probably a very pleasant place to live.