by Gordon Franz
On Friday morning, February 26, 2010, Chuck Holton reported on CBN’s 700 Club program of a man who believes he found an “amazing Biblical discovery” on Malta. This nine-minute video segment featured Robert Cornuke presenting his theory about the location of the Apostle Paul’s shipwreck on the island of Malta.
Cornuke, in his persona as a “former Los Angeles crime scene investigator,” approached the account of the shipwreck of Paul in Acts 27 and 28 as a “crime scene.” As he read the Biblical text, he concluded there were four “clues” that needed to be found in order to solve the “crime.” He identified these as: (1) a bay with a beach; (2) a reef or sandbar where “two seas meet”; (3) a seafloor with a depth of 90 feet; and (4) a place the sailors would not have recognized. Cornuke concludes that the shipwreck occurred on the eastern shore of Malta, not on the northern side of the island as most scholars believe.
Cornuke’s theory and investigations, as presented in this news segment, were already set forth in his 2003 book entitled, The Lost Shipwreck of Paul (Bend, OR: Global Publishing Service). In the book his view is that the Alexandrian grain ship containing the Apostle Paul and Dr. Luke was shipwrecked on the Munxar Reef on the island’s eastern end. Cornuke claims to have located, from among the local spear fishermen and divers, six anchor stocks which could have been from this shipwreck (cf. Acts 27:29, 40), four of which were located on the east side of the Munxar Reef in fifteen fathoms, or ninety feet of water (cf. Acts 27:28). He identifies the “place where two seas meet” (cf. Acts 27:41) as the Munxar Reef and the “bay with the beach” as St. Thomas Bay (cf. Acts 27:39). He concluded that neither the sea captain nor his crew would have recognized the eastern shoreline of the Maltese coast when it became light on the morning after they dropped anchor (cf. Acts 27:39). Unfortunately Cornuke’s theory simply does not hold water.
Experts and Computer Models
Cornuke consulted Graham Hutt, an expert on Mediterranean storms, and Hutt concluded that the ship would have been driven by the winds to the southeast quadrant of the island, and that the more likely place of the shipwreck was the Bay of St. Thomas.
In the book, Cornuke described a visit to the Rescue Coordination Center of the Armed Forces of Malta (2003:184-193). Here he watched a computer model that plotted the possible course of a ship caught in a windstorm from Crete to Malta. The ship landed, after 14 days in a severe windstorm, in the St. Thomas Bay!
The limitations of storm experts and computer models were well illustrated by the recent Nor’easter that hit the Northeast United States on Feb. 25-26, 2010. The storm was a prime example of what computer models and meteorologists could not predict. The meteorologists on television said that this “monster storm” defied all the computer models and did not behave as any of the meteorologists predicted it should!
Bay with a beach
The beach in the St. Thomas Bay was identified as the “bay with the beach.” The earliest maps of Malta show that the Munxar Reef, at one time, was actually a series of small islands. Possibly in the first century AD, this location would have been a lengthy peninsula that has now eroded away. If that is the case, the sea captain, in all probability, would not have been able to see the low-lying beach of St. Thomas Bay from the area where the four anchor stocks were found and almost certainly, he would not have dared to sail his ship through the dangerous islands or peninsula to reach the beach! Thus, the Bay of St. Thomas could not be the beach that the captain saw or where the sailors and passengers swam to.
Reef or Sandbar where the “two seas meet”
Several times in the news segment the Munxar Reef is described as a “sandbar.” A careful examination of a geological map would have identified the reef as being made of “Middle Globigerina Limestone.” This soft limestone is rock not a sandbar.
The identification of the “two seas meet” is based on two Greek words, “topos dithalasson”, that are translated different ways in different translations. Professor Mario Buhagiar, of the University of Malta, cautions that this term “does not offer any real help because it can have several meanings and the way it is used in Acts 27:41, does not facilitate an interpretation. A place where two seas meet (Authorized and Revised versions) and a cross sea (Knox Version) are the normally accepted translations but any beach off a headland (Liddell and Scott) or an isthmus whose extremity is covered by the waves (Grimms and Thayer), as indeed most water channels, can qualify as the place where the boat grounded. The truth is that the Acts do not give us sufficient clues to help in the identification of the site” (see link at bottom for full bibliography).
Anchors at 90 feet
Mr.Cornuke interviewed people, primarily divers and spear fishermen, who claimed to have located four anchors on the south side of the Munxar Reef at 15 fathoms, or 90 feet of water. Two other anchors were allegedly found near the Munxar Reef in 10 meters (ca. 33 feet) of water. Cornuke implied in his book that these two anchors were the ones put in the skiff when the sailors tried to escape (Acts 27:30). These interviews are the author’s primary evidence for Paul’s shipwreck.
Unfortunately only two actual anchor stocks can be examined. They are on display on the second floor of the Malta Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa. The other four, however, are not available for scholarly consideration. One of the anchor stocks was melted down, another is in a private collection, and two were allegedly sold on the antiquities market.
Unfortunately the video clip of the anchors in the Malta Maritime Museum is very misleading. It shows 6 or 7 anchors on display, but only two are from the Munxar Reef. One of them, called “Tony’s anchor,” was one of the smallest of those on display. It measured about 3 feet, 8 inches in length and would be too small for the stern of an Alexandrian grain ship.
On the other hand, Professor Mario Buhagiar examined the other anchor and gave a cautious analysis, “It could have belonged to a cargo ship, possibly a grain cargo ship, and possibly one from Alexandria” (2003: 183). He went on to conjecture, “This anchor stock would fit very well within the era of St. Paul” (2003: 184). Although this anchor could have been from an Alexandrian grain ship, suggesting that it was from Paul’s shipwreck certainly goes beyond the available evidence.
Did not recognize the land
In the 1st century AD, the island of Malta was, in essence, the “Turn Right to Sicily” sign in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Malta was the landmark for sailors sailing west from Crete who were about to turn north to Sicily. The eastern end of the island was what they saw first and it was a welcomed and recognizable sight.
It seems that capable sea captains, piloting an Alexandrian grain ship between Egypt and Rome, would have recognized the landmarks on the eastern coastline of Malta, including the St. Thomas Bay and the hazardous Munxar Reef which every sea captain would know about because of its inherent maritime danger.
Dr. Luke, however, testifies the sailors did not recognize the land. This suggests that the shipwreck occurred at a different place on the island.
Can We Know for Sure?
At the end of the 700 Club news segment, Holton stated that it was “impossible to know for sure if this is where the shipwreck occurred.” I would strongly disagree with that statement because my work leads to the inevitable conclusion that the St. Thomas Bay theory is contrary to the Biblical and geographic evidence, the alleged anchors are not verifiable, and thus it is surely possible to know that Paul’s shipwreck did not occur on the Munxar Reef. One must look elsewhere for this shipwreck.
For a detailed and documented critique of the St. Thomas Bay theory as presented in Cornuke’s book, see:
For another devastating critique by a Maltese diver based on his local knowledge of the waters around Malta, see pages 162-174 of the just released PAVLVS, The Shipwreck 60 A.D. by Mark Gatt (2010, Valletta, Malta: Allied Publications).
A Documentary Coming
On Tuesday, February 16, 2010, it was announced on Maltese television that Mr. Cornuke’s documentary about the location for the shipwreck of the Apostle Paul would be released by the BASE Institute in April, 2010.
If Cornuke has any new evidence that supports his theory and that responds to the significant problems that have been previously noted, his discussion is welcomed. If it is merely another way to sensationalize an old theory that has already been refuted then this documentary will not be about an “amazing Biblical discovery.”