by Gordon Franz
Robert Cornuke is promoted as a “CSI Investigator” of the Bible; but did he do a careful and meticulous scholarly investigation of Paul’s shipwreck on Malta?
Bob Cornuke often references his background as a former police detective and is sometimes introduced to audiences as a “CSI Investigator” (Crime Scene Investigation) of the Bible. He claims to use his investigative skills in his search for the real Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia, the real mountains of Ararat in Iran and what he thinks might be the remains of Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia, and the anchor stocks from Paul’s shipwreck on Malta. He also promotes an inscribed stone object that he claims has the name of the Lord, “Yahweh,” on it from Jebel al-Lawz where he locates Mount Sinai, but this has turned out to be a modern-day forgery.
For links to other critiques of Cornuke’s ideas, see:
Archaeology is the scientific study of the material evidence of human civilization of the past. Archaeology is a completely separate discipline from police investigation and it involves its own methodology and training. Cornuke’s CSI training may not be sufficient to equip him for scholarly archaeological interpretation.
In his book on the search for Paul’s shipwreck on Malta he makes a very curious statement: “I began my research, as always, in university libraries and moved quickly to archaeological websites, nautical maps, bathymetric charts, specialty books, and encyclopedias on sailing” (2003:25). After reading this book, I concluded that he would have been better served had he spent more time in those university libraries. After reading this statement I was disappointed to find his research seriously lacking scholarship as I did not find any interaction with, or even mention of, some very important and basic works in English on the subject of Paul’s shipwreck. And those basic works are not listed in his bibliography. These missing works would have helped provide him information that would have led him to a different conclusion.
Investigating Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta
The classic work on this subject is James Smith’s The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul. The noted New Testament and classical scholar, Professor F. F. Bruce said Smith’s book was “an indispensable handbook to the study of this chapter [Acts 27]” (1981:499); and elsewhere, “This work remains of unsurpassed value for its stage-by-stage annotation of the narrative of the voyage” (1995:370, footnote 9). Cornuke must have encountered this footnote because he cites the two pages before the page with this footnote in the 1977 edition of Bruce’s book (Cornuke 2003:36, 230, footnotes 7 and 8). The footnote in Bruce’s book should have alerted Cornuke that Smith’s book would be an invaluable research tool for his investigation. Cornuke has also failed to mention George Musgrave’s, Friendly Refuge (1979), or W. Burridge’s, Seeking the Site of St. Paul’s Shipwreck (1952). Also, there are some scholars who do not believe the Apostle Paul was even shipwrecked on the island of Malta. Nowhere in Cornuke’s Lost Shipwreck is there acknowledgment or discussion of alternative sites in Dalmatia or Greece (Meinardus 1976; Warnecke and Schirrmacher 1992).
While scholars often challenge traditional thinking and traditional interpretations, a scholarly approach to introducing a new position or hypothesis must discuss as many of the scholarly alternatives as appropriate to build a solid case. A writing scholar, in cases where there are more than one or two views, must not give the reader an impression that there are only two positions to consider – the traditional, and in his opinion, weak position; or his newly proposed, strong position. Scholars should not count on readers knowing the options, such as the seven locations that have been suggested in the scholarly literature for Paul’s shipwreck. But even if the readership is unaware of the discussion, the writing scholar must introduce the reader to the other research and conclusions and properly document them.
In terms of Paul’s shipwreck, Cornuke has not shown that he has considered the other proposed sites for the shipwreck. There are at least seven different sites that have been proposed by various scholars, and Cornuke’s site now becomes the eighth site. Cornuke’s book makes a blanket dismissal of the St. Paul’s Bay area on the island of Malta with very little interaction with the volume of the available material (2003:31-32, 229-230, footnotes 1-4). The reader would have been better served had the author discussed the opposing views in detail, and then documented why St. Paul’s Bay on Malta and the other six sites proposed for the shipwreck should not be considered the preferred location. Interestingly, Cornuke included an irrelevant chapter in this book describing his Afghan adventures (2003:141-152). The space from this chapter could have been better used to critique the other locations for Paul’s shipwreck.
Cornuke references being “elbow-deep in maps, charts, and musty old history books about Malta” (2003: 26). His bibliography at the end of the book includes 21 books cited. Of the 21 books, 9 pertained to Malta and the oldest one was from 1985! The subject, even when written for popular consumption, requires more thorough investigation in university libraries and greater archaeological research than this book contained.
Bruce, F. F.
1981 The Book of the Acts (NICNT). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
1995 Paul. Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
1952 Seeking the Site of St. Paul’s Shipwreck. Valletta, Malta: Progress Press.
2003 The Lost Shipwreck of Paul. Bend, OR: Global Publishing Services.
1976 St. Paul Shipwrecked in Dalmatia. Biblical Archaeologist 39/4: 145-147.
1979 Friendly Refuge. Heathfield, Sussex. Heathfield.
1978 The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul. Grand Rapids: Baker. Reprint from the 1880 edition.
Warnecke, Heinz, and Schirrmacher, Thomas
1992 War Paulus wirklick auf Malta? Neuhausen-Stuttgart: Hanssler-Verlag.
For further study on Cornuke’s claim to have found the anchor stocks from Paul’s shipwreck on Malta, see:
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.