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Faith Anchored
In Defense of the Faith
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Wendy Wippel

Bob Cornuke began as a police investigator in Costa Mesa, California, but in between swat-team missions his career took an unexpected turn.  Now Bob uses the investigative skills learned from the FBI to verify the locations of biblical events.  His method is kind of novel one.  He actually uses his Bible. 

Exhibit A:  The story of Paul the prisoner, in a shipwreck.

Acts 26 ends with Paul's trial before Agrippa, which ended with him being sent to stand before Caesar in Rome. Chapter 27 picks up with Luke's record of their voyage:

"And when it was decided that we should sail to Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to one named Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment. So, entering a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea."  (Acts 27:1-2) NKJV

A few days later they were transferred to an Alexandrian ship, but the weather was less than optimal for sailing and the ship  made little progress; we are told in verse 9 that,

"much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over."

(The fast being the Day of Atonement, a festival that dictates a fast instead of a feast) which had occurred on October 5 of that year.)  So fall was upon them, and sailing was getting more dangerous by the day as winter approached.  Nonetheless, the ships' owner insisted that they sail on and try to winter on Crete.

Seemed like a good idea.  And in fact, they were almost there when "a tempestuous head wind arose" and they found themselves "exceedingly tempest-tossed".  Day after day followed with no relief from the storm.  Then the food ran out, and still no sign of an end. They abandoned hope.  

But Hope hadn't abandoned them.

That night an angel of God appeared to Paul and told him that, although the ship would run aground, its inhabitants would survive. 

On the fourteenth night that's exactly what happened. As they drew near land, the seasoned sailors, realizing the risk of breaking up on the rocks, cut four anchors loose and threw over the cargo.  Then,

"When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if possible. And they let go the anchors. . .

(anchors additional to the four already cut loose, these closer to shore)

and left them in the sea, But striking a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground;" (Acts 27:39-41)

A detailed and fairly lengthy story, but one with a happy ending. Luke gives us the finale:

"And so it was that they all escaped safely to land." (vs 44)

Bob Cornuke turned to this story on a return flight from Ethiopia, after surviving a frightening near-shipwreck due to a nasty freak storm on Lake Tana.  Reading the familiar story once more, it occurred to him to wonder if those anchors could still be there.

And whether he could find them.

Crazy, he told himself crazy.  There are 130 million miles of sea floor!  But he realized he had a head start:

"I had in my possession a treasure map - the Bible. A document I had long ago learned should allow me to pinpoint the exact location."

So he looked at the passage a little closer.

What the passage revealed was that the storm was a "Euroclydon", the Mediterranean version of a nor'easter.  A vicious storm.  So vicious that cables were run between planks to hold the ship together, and everything that could be thrown overboard  (even the ship's rigging) was tossed (vs 17-19) But finally they started to hear waves crashing on rocks (acts 27:7), which meant they were nearing land.  That prompted the seamen to throw off the anchors to avoid breaking up on the rocks. (Anchors which at the time were about 12 feet long and made of wood, with the exception of a lead crossbar.)  By morning they had gotten closer to shore, and they dropped at least two more anchors. 

And those anchors, at least the lead crossbow, would survive those centuries in the deep. 

But where? According to Luke, Malta.  But Malta has 85 miles of coastline!

Luckily, Luke recorded that they saw a bay with a beach (vs 39).  Which, since nearly all of  Malta's coastline is cliff,  narrows it down.  And this bay also faced an isthmus of sorts-- a place that divided the sea into two. (i.e., the place where two seas meet.)

One place, and one place only, seemed to match perfectly.  St.Thomas Bay, on the east end of the island.  A bay which faces the Munxar Reef, a mile and half of limestone which cuts the bay in two.  And with the help of Malta's version of the coast guard and their sophisticated computer-assisted ability to simulate the effects of storms on ship movements it was determined that Paul's boat, in that particular kind of storm, would be likely to end up on Munxar Reef.

As with most Biblical events, there is a traditional site already established for Paul's landing on Malta, on the northern coast and known as St, Paul's Bay.  But like most traditional sites for Biblical events, it was identified as the landing spot hundreds and hundreds of years after the event occurred.  St. Paul's Bay was declared the landing spot of Paul's party 1200 years after Paul's lifetime. But Bob's own research, using the most sophisticated equipment and the most knowledgeable consultants he could find, seemed to suggest a landing point at the Munxar Reef.   So that's where he decided to start.

His plan was to just dive down and try to find them.  But incredibly, he found he'd been beaten to it!  Maltese spear fisherman, with makeshift scuba gear, had discovered the lead remnants of four ancient anchors in front of an underwater cave at the outer end of the Munxar Reef about thirty years before.  As personal possession of antiquities is illegal in Malta, it took a while (and liaison with the Maltese government for amnesty) to bring the relics to light, but three of those lead anchor braces were finally examined (one had already been melted down).  And the resident Maltese expert on Roman antiquities confirmed them to be representative of those used at the time of Paul's shipwreck in Malta.

So Bob didn't really get to find the anchors.  But for Bob, seeing God's word made sure was enough.

It was only later that  Bob realized that the passage described other anchors being tossed overboard, anchors that should have been closer to shore.  While making plans for their recovery, Bob was contacted by another fisherman who related finding two similar anchors, about 300 feet from shore in shallow water. (Anchors he eventually confessed to selling.)

So all of Paul's anchors, it would seem, were found.  And right where the Biblical account seemed to have predicted.

Bob's celebration, however,  was short-lived. Let's just say the "experts" were not kind. "Amateur" was about the kindest thing they had to say. 

Their objections?

1) If the landing was on the east end,

"the sea captains would  have been familiar with Malta and therefore recognized the land, as the eastern shoreline of Malta was the landmark they looked for to head north."  

Really? The kind of storm described could well have altered the landscape significantly. (I was in the Outer Banks two days before a hurricane cut Ocracoke Island literally into two.)  And the extended period of being "tempest tossed" could well have made them the captains expect to be somewhere other than they were.

2) There are other places on Malta where the phrase "where two seas meet" would apply.

Really? Get back to us when someone finds 2000-year old anchors there.  

And this is my favorite:

3) Bob Cornuke didn’t do thorough research (in context, meaning that  he doesn't review  all the prior scholarly works in his mass-market book about his discoveries.) Some of those scholars, to quote an extensive "exposé" of Bob's;

". . .discoveries on Malta, do not believe Paul was even shipwrecked on the island of Malta!"

Really. Now we see.  Those kind of scholars.  The kind that think the Bible is mythology. That the Bible is a slap-dash record of putative events laid down by misguided or confused or flat-out lying scribes.  The kind that don't believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

Enough said.

Are the lead remnants of 2000 year old Roman anchors found offshore by Maltese fishermen really the anchors cut loose by Paul's crew?  I don't know.  And neither does anybody else.  And Bob's more than happy to admit that.

What I do know is that when you take the Bible at its word you're already light-years ahead of all the world's experts who trust their own wisdom.  And when you identify four anchors in deep water, and two more in shallow water, right along a limestone isthmus where "two seas meet", and the path of a storm-tossed, riggingless boat that could have dropped them is verified by maritime experts, and those anchors, moreover, are confirmed as Roman anchors (to quote the Monkees), "I'm a believer." 

What's that Sunday School song? The B-I-B-L-E, yes that's the book for me?

Out of the mouths of babes…

"Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies For they are ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation." (Psalm 119:98)

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Talmudim on Temple Doors

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