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In the winter of 1986, a drought brought the Sea of Galilee to its lowest level in memory. While of great concern to the region's inhabitants, this natural disaster proved a boom for archaeologists. Numerous ancient sites and artifacts, previously unknown, were discovered.
Late in January 1986, between the ancient harbors of Gennesar and Magdala, local residents made the chance discovery of a boat's oval outline in the muddy lake bed. Word spread like wildfire. In less than two weeks, local newspapers were announcing discovery of “the Jesus boat.” Did Jesus really perform miracles from this boat (Mark 4:39)?
Archaeologists, called to examine the still unexcavated vessel, announced it was the first ancient ship ever found in the Sea of Galilee. They suggested that it was built and used between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D.—the time of Jesus. But did Jesus actually sleep here (Mark 4:37)?
Marathon round-the-clock excavations ensued, racing against both now-rising waters of the Sea of Galilee and treasure seekers. The archaeologists even invented new techniques of excavation and preservation as they went along. Just before the site was flooded, the almost completely intact hull was fully excavated, encased in polyurethane and floated to shore for further study and conservation. But did Jesus really walk on water along side this boat (Matthew 14:25)?
The boat is 26-1/2 feet long, 7-1/2 feet wide and 4-1/2 feet high. It was probably of the Sea of Galilee's largest class of ships. Fore and aft sections were most likely decked, and it probably had a mast, meaning it could be both sailed and rowed. Did Peter, James and John actually row this boat (John 6:19)?
Evidence of repeated repairs suggested the boat had a long life. But, in the end, all usable wooden parts were evidently removed and the remaining hull sunk to the lake bottom. This is what archaeologists recovered. Could this be the boat abandoned by the disciples when they followed Jesus (Luke 5:11)? Studies of ancient ships suggest this vessel had a crew of five (four rowers and a helmsman). The ancient Jewish historian Josephus referred to such ships holding 15 people. Skeletal remains from Galilee during this period indicate males averaged 5 feet 5 inches tall [1.651 meters] and about 140 pounds [63.503 kilograms]. Fifteen such men could fit into this vessel. So did Jesus and the Twelve0 sail together in this boat?
The Galilee boat dated to the general time of Jesus' ministry. It was the type used by Jesus and the Twelve, and was large enough to hold 13 men. It may have been in use at the same time He sailed the sea. He may have even seen it. BUT, there is no proof that this boat was ever actually used by Jesus or any of the disciples.
Archaeologists, as scientists, should not make spectacular claims about their finds. Thus, Jesus cannot be connected to this particular boat with certainty. Yet, it helps us visualize daily life in Galilee as Jesus knew it. This is archaeology's contribution to illuminating Scripture.
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Author: Gary Byers of Associates for Biblical Research
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