by Gordon Franz
Reasons Why the Apostle Paul and Dr. Luke Were Not Shipwrecked on the Munxar Reef off Malta
An article on the BASE website (accessed on May 30, 2012) described the reasons Robert Cornuke concluded that the Apostle Paul and Dr. Luke were shipwrecked on the Munxar Reef on the eastern end of the island of Malta and the people on the ship swam to the beach of St. Thomas Bay. Unfortunately this article contains factual errors and his theory remains disproved.
Would a Roman Sea Captain Recognize St. Thomas Bay as Cornuke’s Claims?
The most glaring error Cornuke made in this article was claiming that the sea captain and sailors would not have recognized the Munxar Reef and St. Thomas Bay when the dawn broke (cf. Acts 27: 39).
Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian who lived in the First Century BC, stated that the island of Malta had many harbors for safety in bad weather (Library of History 5:12:1-2; LCL 3: 129). Today, maritime archaeologists might sub-divide Diodorus’ “harbors” into harbors and anchorages. Recent scholarly archaeological research has shown that there were 32 anchorages and 7 harbors on the island of Malta (Gambin 2005:259-284).
Cornuke claims that only the Valletta Bay is the “only bay suitable for large ships” on the eastern end of the island. However, recent research has shown that there are four Roman harbor/ports: Marsaxlokk, Marsascala, Marsamxett (Lazaretto Creek), and Marsa (within the Grand Harbor Complex of Valletta Bay), all able to accommodate large ships on the eastern end of the island. It is known that at least the latter port had facilities for storing grain during the winter and also transshipment (Gambin 2005:122-132; cf. Acts 28:1-11).
The Roman harbor in Marsaslokk Bay is located south of the Munxar Reef, and the harbor that was in the inner reaches of the Marsascala Bay is located just to the north of St. Thomas Bay. Thus, the south-eastern part of the island, between Marsaslokk Bay and the entrance to the Grand Harbor of Valletta would be the best known part of the island for any sea captain and seasoned sailors of an Alexandrian grain ship. This point alone completely disproves Cornuke’s ideas.
Any ancient Mediterranean sea captain, or seasoned sailor on the deck of an Alexandrian grain ship anchored off the Munxar Reef, immediately would recognize the south-eastern shoreline of Malta because Malta was the landmark for sailors traveling westward from Crete and about to turn north to Sicily. In essence, Malta was the “Turn Starboard (Right) to Sicily” sign in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea! The eastern end of the island would be what they saw first and it would be a welcomed and known sight.
Besides the harbors, there are two geological landmarks that the sea captains would be very familiar with on the south-eastern end of the island as well. The first would be the “conspicuous white cliffs” immediately to the south of the Munxar Reef (British Admiralty chart 2628, Malta Island South East Portion; the wording is barely visible on Map 3 of Cornuke’s book, 2003: Plate 3); and second, the Munxar Reef itself. Every sea captain would know the hazardous Munxar Reef because of its inherent maritime danger.
Cornuke also incorrectly states that: “sailors traveling from Valletta to Rome, as was the customary route at the time, would have regularly sailed past St. Paul’s Bay and all other bays on that side of the island; thus, these bays would have been easily recognized by the sailors on Paul’s ship.” This is factually incorrect for three reasons. First, the Alexandrian grain ship sea captain would not have stopped at Malta unless the sea lanes closed for the winter and he sought refuge on the island as did the grain ship Paul and Luke took to Rome (Acts 28:11). Second, if he was not stopping, he would have made a starboard (right-hand) turn for Sicily and Rome east of, right before they got to, Malta and not sail past the St. Paul’s Bay on the northern shore of Malta. Third, when going from Valletta harbor to Syracuse on the eastern side of Sicily the ship goes due north out of the harbor and does not pass St. Paul’s Bay and the other bays which are to the northwest of the Valletta Harbor.
Several years ago I was visiting Malta and I took the one-day excursion ferry to Sicily. The ferry followed the same direction, due north, that the ship the Apostle Paul and Dr. Luke were on would have followed when they left Valletta harbor (Acts 28:11-12). As we departed the harbor, I viewed the shoreline from the port side (left side) of the ferry and could not see the beaches in the bays around the St. Paul’s Bay area.
Wrong Cargo and Wrong Origin or Destination
On December 8, 2011, Cornuke was interviewed on the “Prophecy in the News” television program. On the show, he claims that in the 1960’s the Italians found a shipwreck on the Munxar Reef with tiles, amphoras, and other objects that are well catalogued from a shipwreck from “about” the 1st century (19 minutes, 30-50 seconds at http://www.prophecyinthenews.com/tv-program-the-lost-shipwreck-of-paul/)
Actually the Italians did not discover this shipwreck. It was reported in a publication of the Italian Archaeological Mission by a Maltese diver, Commodore Scicluna. I made some inquires with a Maltese nautical archaeologist, as well as the curator of the Roman collection at Malta Heritage and neither of them could located any of the records or material from this wreckage, except Scicluna’s very brief published report (1965), so this wreck is not well cataloged!
What little is known about this wreck was summarized by Professor A. J. Parker, in his monumental catalogue of ancient shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea. He reported that one of over 1250 shipwrecks that were documented in the Mediterranean was found “in the vicinity of the Munxar Point, depth unknown.” He goes on to state that it was from the Roman period and it was a “wreck of ‘Spanish-Roman’ amphoras [that] was located (without further details) east of Munxar Point in a report by [Commodore] Scicluna. Other information suggests the site may be closer in” (1992: 284; Site #723; brackets […] mine, GWF). An amphora is used to transport liquids, but not solid goods like grain.
From this short report it can be safely discerned that the wrecked ship carried a cargo of amphorae that contained either wine or olive oil, but not wheat; and its origin or destination was Spain, and did not originate from Alexandria, Egypt. Those who discuss the dating of the shipwreck say it dates generally to the Roman period (ca. 50 BC to ca. AD 550), only Cornuke narrows it down to about the 1st century. We are not told what his evidence is for this more precise dating. Who was the pottery expert who dated it for him?
The meager evidence at hand points away from the remains of this shipwreck being the one that the Apostle Paul was on.
Conclusion of the Matter
I would agree with Cornuke’s statement: “Evidence is not the proof; but it is the proper interpretation of the evidence that is the proof” (“Prophecy in the News” interview, December 8, 2011, 2 minutes, 22-28 seconds). Unfortunately, Cornuke ventured outside his field of crime scene investigation and failed to properly understand, and interpret, the Biblical, nautical, geographical, and archaeological evidence relating to Paul’s shipwreck on Malta. The shipwreck of the Apostle Paul and Dr. Luke was not on the Munxar Reef.
For links to critiques about Cornuke’s anchors from Paul’s shipwreck on Malta, see:
2003 The Lost Shipwreck of Paul. Bend, OR: Global Publishing Services.
1993 The Library of History. Books IV.59-VIII. Vol. 3. Translated by C. Oldfather. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 340.
2005 The Maritime Landscapes of Malta from the Roman Period to the Middle Ages. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation University of Bristol [England].
Parker, A. J.
1992 Ancient Shipwrecks of the Mediterranean and Roman Provinces. Oxford: Tempvs Reparatvm. BAR International Series 580.
Scicluna, Chev. de
1965 [Map of Underwater Sites] Missione Archeologica Italiana a Malta. Rapporto Preliminare della Campagna 1964. Roma. Fig. 1.
About the Author
Gordon Franz is an archaeologist on the staff of the Associates for Biblical Research in Pennsylvania and has worked on numerous archaeological excavations in Israel since 1979, including Ketef Hinnom and the Temple Mount Sifting Project in Jerusalem, Ramat Rachel, Lachish, Jezreel, Kh Nisya (Ai), Hazor, and Tel Zayit. He has also visited Malta on a number of occasions doing research on the history, geography, and archaeology of the island, as well as the location of Paul’s shipwreck. He holds an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Columbia Biblical Seminary in SC.