Catholic group the Legions of Christ have reportedly uncovered a 1st-century synagogue in the ancient town of Magdala in Israel, where they say Jesus Christ is likely to have preached to the people.
"Eighty percent of Jesus' public life was here," Father Eamon Kelly said about northern Israel, according to Haaretz.com.
Kelly revealed that his organization uncovered the synagogue after starting archaeological excavations at a site in the town of Magdala, believed to be the home of Mary Magdalene, known as one of Jesus' female disciples. The plots of land are supposed to be used to build a pilgrims' hotel, inter-faith chapel, a restaurant and a women's shelter.
"This is the first synagogue ever excavated where Jesus walked and preached," Kelly said, adding that it is "hugely important" for both Jews and Christians.
Experts have reportedly agreed that it is highly probable that Jesus would have preached at the Magdala synagogue, which is believed to have been built in year 1 A.D., before being upgraded in 40 A.D., and destroyed by the Romans sometime in 67 or 68. The town was located along an ancient trade route running from the Mediterranean to Egypt and Syria.
"He was a clever rabbi. He knew where to set up shop," Kelly said. "If you walk from Nazareth to Bethsaida to Capernaum, you're going to come out here."
He added that in ancient times, townsfolk would gather at synagogues for meetings.
"So if a strange rabbi came to town, a new rabbi, a new preacher, a new teacher, the logical place was to meet here."
The other discoveries at the site included a Magdala Stone, a menorah, fishing pools and Jewish ritual baths.
"Actually what the archaeologists are saying now is we're digging up an entire 1st century city," Kelly noted.
The Legions of Christ says that its mission and purpose is to share the Gospel with the world.
"We eagerly desire that Jesus Christ may come to reign in hearts, families and society through the transformation of all people according to the 'new creation in Christ' that we are all called to become (2 Cor 5:17)," the group says on its website. "We seek to make the transforming message of the Gospel reach every corner of society and culture. For this reason, we work to build the civilization of justice and love that Christ preached in the Gospel."
Previous claims made about discoveries relating to Jesus have stirred much debate and controversy, such as the 2010 finding of a supposed tomb in Jerusalem where Jesus and his family are buried.
The tomb is marked with a Christian symbol and a cross, and was presented in a documentary by archaeologist James Tabor and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici – though experts largely discredited the legitimacy of the discovery.