VFTB 156: The Shipwreck of Paul

Isis anchor
Isis/Sarapis anchor stock – click to enlarge

ARCHAEOLOGY IS fascinating. It’s like detective work on very old, very cold cases. Today, we discuss the case of a maritime disaster that nearly claimed 276 lives in the Mediterranean Sea more than 1,950 years ago.

Several years ago, Mark Gatt, a researcher, diver, and native of the island nation of Malta, discovered a 3/4-ton lead anchor stock near Salina Bay, off the northeast coast of Malta.  As a result of his find, Gatt wrote the book PAVLVS: The Shipwreck 60 A.D.

Pope Benedict XVI with Mark Gatt (in orange) and the anchor stock discovered by Gatt
Pope Benedict XVI with Mark Gatt (in orange) and the anchor stock discovered by Gatt

Mark joined us by telephone from Malta to discuss claims that the Egyptian grain ship carrying the apostle Paul and Luke the physician sank off the southern coast of Malta.  In his view, the strongest evidence indicates that the ship went down instead off the northern coast, near the spot where he discovered the Roman anchor.

For a review of PAVLVS: The Shipwreck 60 A.D., please see this article by Gordon Franz of Associates for Biblical Research.  For Mark’s most recent article for the Malta Independent on Paul’s shipwreck, click here.

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Download a smaller, lower-fidelity version of the mp3 of this show by clicking here.

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  1. Hmmmmm…. Gatt claims to have no real beef with Cornuke, but then as he talks all i hear him saying is how wrong Cornuke is and why his claims are so dangerous for the cultural heritage of Malta etc. he says that in the end it really doesn’t matter where the shipwreck is, but then is clearly emphatic about how convinced he is that Carnuke’s proposed location is “totally impossible”…

    After listening to both interviews now, what is see is a guy on side who is first and foremost driven to see the TRUTH of the gospel spread through the pursuits of archeology, and a guy on the other side shaking hands with the Pope and concerned about Maltese traditions….

  2. I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name. I’m not used to somebody placing a comment and hiding their identity. But ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ could have misunderstood me, probably due to the fact that English is not my first language, and I apologise. I am not concerned about Maltese traditions. Here we have heritage not traditions and loads of it. So many buildings/ruins and artefacts that prove our history. With regards to St Paul’s shipwreck, we have the proof that tie in with The Acts of the Apostles.

    A tradition is started when something completely different to our heritage, completely disregarding research and more compelling evidence, because it is well packaged, starts to take root into a baseless tradition.

    ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ seems to be irritated that I shook hands with the Pope. Now one may not agree with the papacy, but you should respect the man for his talents. I do not follow the Dalai Lama, but still I acknowledge that he is a holy man and works hard for peace. It was my honour and privelege not only shaking hands with HHBXVI, but also talking to him. I could see that he is extremely intelligent and that he has a passion for archaeology. In fact he was the person who authorised the dig that led to the discovery of St Paul’s sarcophagus in 2009 in San Paolo Fuori le Mura.

    I would like to take this opportunity to correct a mistake I made during the recording. The Munxar reef is on the SE side of Malta and not the SW.
    Mark Gatt

  3. For a moment, just forget about Maltese local traditions, forget about the beef between two researchers. What really counts is which alleged shipwreck site fits the descriptions in Acts 27:27-44 best. I visited Malta four times, I took boats to inspect both, Salina Bay and St. Thomas Bay, to consider myself competent enough to form an opinion.
    Luke, the author of Acts, gives a very detailed report. He describes the depth at the point when the four anchors were cast (15 fathoms), a “bay with a beach” (or creek with a shore), a place where “two seas met”, where they “ran the ship aground; and the forepart struck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves”. From there, 276 men swum and escaped to land, where they were greeted by the natives and brough to the villa of “the chief man of the island”, a certain Publius.
    This villa was excavated in Burmarrad, underneath the Church St. Pawl Milqi. Graffities, including sketches of a bearded, bald man and a ship, indicate that this Roman villa of the 1st century AD became a Christian place of pilgrimage during the 4th century AD, long before the Church was built above its ruins. From there, you have a perfect view on Salina Bay. Indeed Salina Bay perfectly fits the Lucan description. It has a beach, enjoyed by thousands of tourists today, and it does have a small promontary, Qawra point, where indeed “two seas meet”. But first of all, it is a tricky bay. It has a sandbank right in the middle. Indeed every sailor entering an unknown bay would stay in its middle, where usually the water is deepest. In Salina Bay, a large ship like St. Paul’s Alexandrian grain ship, would just get stuck – and could, in stormy weather, break. Still, the bay is small enough and the shores are close that anyone could swim there and survive. Here, indeed, topography and tradition fit. That’s why the anchor, discovered my Mark Gatt northweast of Salina Bay, in front of Ghallis tower, just in the “Lukan” depth, could very well be from St. Paul’s Alexandrian grainship. Its inscription “Sarapis – Isis” names the two main deities venerated in Alexandria. It is big enough for one of the largest type of ships of antiquity, carrying 276 passengers. Pottery fund nearby turned out to be from the 1st/2nd century AD. Many facts speak in favour, none against Gatt’s hypothesis.
    Bob Cornukes claims, unfortunately, do not hold water after a careful examination. There is or was no Pauline tradition indicated by archaeology in this neighborhood, a Roman villa found nearby, was too small to belong to the “chief man of the islands” and has no indications of a Christian cult; instead, ruins of a pagan temple were found above the cliffs. Munxar Reef, the place, where Cornuke’s anchors were found, would certainly burst a ship, but this is not what Luke reported. St. Thomas Bay has a small shore, but it’s 1,3 km (nearly a mile) away from the reef and its rocks, impossible to be crossed during a heavy storm (the distance to the shore in Salina beach is just 300 meters!). Last but not least, the anchors shown in his books are far to small for an Alexandrian grainship carrying 276 passengers; they probably originate from a small tradeship. Amphoras found nearby were of the Spanish type and probably carried wine or oil from the Iberian peninsular. That’s why Mark Gatt certainly has “the better cards”; his hypothesis is plausible, when Cornukes scenario just does not hold water.

  4. Mr. Gatt, you may very well be correct about the true location of Paul’s shipwreck, and Mr Cornuke wrong, but in the end this entire question pales in comparison to the message Paul preached to the sailors on board, the people of Malta, and everywhere else he went…

    That message tells us tbat there is but ONE mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus himself. Thus, no one who elevates themself through a papal throne or religious tradition is anything, no matter how intelligent or personable they may be… Paul himself considered himself nothing when compared to Christ, the least of God’s servants and not worthy of even being called an apostle.

    In the end we should be less concerned about the location os some old metal anchors and more concerned with the source of Power that can shrug off snake bites, save people in a storm, raise the dead to life, and even forgive sin.

  5. To: Derek, Excellent Guest and terrific interviews, Please keep up the good work.
    To: Mark Gatt and Michael Hesemann, I think both of you did an excellent job of stating your positions and the facts, while politely refuting Mr. Stranger’s opening comments attacking Mark and the ex-Pope.
    To: Mr Stranger I thought both interviews were about the Historical and Archaeological evidence of this event, which is why these two particular guest were invited to speak on this topic on this radio show. Now, your position appears to have changed and that “we” should not care about the details (some old metal anchors) or the search for the actual location where these events happened, but rather just focus on the Source of the Power. However, many people (the ‘we’) around the world, might gain enormous encouragement from learning more about the island, Paul’s time there, the physical evidence that exist about the shipwreck location even about Publius and his estate.
    Even now, as you deflect the conversation away from the why responses were necessary to your initial comments, you still can’s seem to speak without attacking someone else, the Pope in this case. I would encourage you to speak openly about the Source of the Power, however you would bring more value to the conversation if your words were not so hateful and used just to attack someone else or their motives.

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