The Jesus Boat

IMG_2100.jpgA remarkable catch

In a life lived in a desert country, a drought is as much a part of living as dying. It’s a harsh place, especially in biblical times when those in Galilee depending on fishing to make it. A drought almost always brings bad times, even death.

Late in January 1986, during one such drought, between the ancient harbors of Gennesar and Magdala, local residents (ironically fisherman brothers like Peter and Andrew) 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!”

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 of Nazareth!

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.

The boat is almost 27 feet long, just shy of eight feet wide, and roughly four and a half 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 had a mast, meaning it could be both sailed and rowed depending on the weather.

Evidence of repeated repairs suggested the boat had a long life. Studies of ancient ships suggest this vessel had a crew of five (four rowers and a helmsman). The ancient Jewish historian Josephus Flavius referred to such ships holding 15 people. Skeletal remains from Galilee during this period indicate males averaged five feet, five inches tall and roughly 140 pounds. Fifteen such men could fit into this vessel easily. So that begs the question did Jesus and His 12 men sail together in this boat?

IMG_2099.jpgThe race was on to preserve it, and won

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 no problem. It could indeed have been in use at the same time He sailed the sea here, but Jesus cannot be connected to this particular boat with any degree of certainty. Yet, it does help us visualize daily life in Galilee, as Jesus knew it.

You can see the Jesus Boat at the Yigal Alon Center (operated by the Kibbutz Ginosar) on the western shore of the Sea of Tiberius. It’s something you should not miss and can only truly be appreciated when you see it in person. You’ll be treated to a fascinating video about the boat’s history, discovery, and trip to this museum. The gift shop has some amazing items about the boat as well. If you exit at the rear of the museum you’ll come out to the Sea of Galilee where you can take a boat ride on the same lake that Peter and his friends fished.

It’s all rather surreal when it sinks in that these men really lived here, droughts and storms and all, and used a boat just like this one. Perhaps the other amazing part of this story is how a drought gave life, maybe for the first time ever, to a kibbutz and their two fishermen named Moshe and Yuval. I think Peter and Andrew would approve. Be sure not to miss this once in a lifetime experience.

Like the thousands of fish taken with it, it’s a keeper!

 

 

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