By Fr. Cristobal Vilaroig LC
There was a long-standing prohibition among Jews preventing from cutting acacia trees in the area of Magdala. This ban sought to honor an ancient tradition, according to which the Ark of the Conant was built with Magdala wood.
According to the Midrash of the Song of Songs, as the patriarch Jacob and his sons travelled through the land of Canaan (today’s Holy Land), they cut and made provision of acacia wood from Magdala. Years later, when they were forced to flee from Canaan by the famine raging in the land and went down to Egypt, they brought this same acacia wood with them.
The book of Exodus explains that after many centuries had passed, the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites. It was then that Moses was called forth by God to free his people and bring them into the Promised Land. In the Sinai desert, God ordered Moses to “make an ark of acacia wood,” for the tablets of the Law (Exod 25:10). The question thus arises, where would he have found acacia wood in the middle of the dessert? As the reader may have already guessed, some of the Israelites were still in possession of the wood that their ancestors had cut so long before in Magdala.
I will not put my hand over fire to defend the historical accuracy of this story. However, it was a tradition, and traditions being what they are tend to be very deeply rooted in people. Thus, it is quite probable that when Christ walked through Galilee, the Magdalenes boasted that the most sacred object of Israel, the Ark of the Covenant, had been fashioned of wood from Magdala.