What the First-century Galilean Boat Revealed About Herself Upon Closer Inspection

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At a time when the first-century boat was discovered, it was already falling apart. Evidently, the boat wasn’t in the best condition, and it was particularly sensitive to sunlight and touch. The structural strength of the timbers, which make it up was comparable to a waterlogged floral foam. The boat’s only protection from sunlight was the mud in which it was buried into. The discoverers, two brothers from Kibbutz Ginosar, had sought help from the hull construction expert – Dick Steffy.


However, before his arrival to the scene, the community improvised with what they could find to save the boat. The volunteers erected scaffolds and shades around the boat, and covered it with tarpaulin. Sadly, not every bit of the boat was saved. The starboard section of the boat’s stern collapsed, despite efforts by the project conservator, Orna Cohen, to hold it using polyurethane fill. The excavation and preservation process took eight days, and the boat was packaged and transported to the nearby museum. It would be later discovered that the loss of the starboard section wasn’t the fault of the excavators or conservators.


Dick Steffy’s Examination


While it wasn’t debatable that the starboard section was decaying, the boat’s owner centuries ago separated it from the boat’s body for secondary purposes. This told a lot about the owner’s financial ability. First off, the timbers weren’t of highest quality. Second, the boat owner recycled the boat’s timbers for other purposes. For instance, the stem-post assembly and the stern-post were missing. This evidenced inadequate finances. Third, the boat was never in the best condition even in the past, because the owner had to repair it frequently. It was an old boat, and the owner dumped it eventually.


Dick also discovered that the boat had a mast, usually with a step, which could be a simple or complex wooden construction. This isn’t to say that the boat had a mast step at the time of its discovery, but the hull contained four nail holes. This suggested that the mast step must have occurred on top of the keel and in the middle of the boat. Therefore, the boat could be rowed or sailed.


Sometimes, owners could dump old boats in the lake, so that they could use them as spare parts when the right time comes. The most logical explanation as to why the Galilean boat remain in the lake for that long could because it overstayed. The lake’s sedimentation process must have caught up with it, burying it beyond the owner’s reach.


Size of Crew and Passengers


Dick drew a rough outline of the boat’s side view from his own perspective. From his own estimation, the boat’s prow and stern must have been pointed and re-curved, respectively. Dick also estimated the size of the crew steering the boat forward to be consisting of four oarsmen. However, Dick’s estimation would be confirmed later by Vigilio Corbo, one of the two Catholic priests who did excavations at Migdal and Capernaum. Their drawings were exactly same. This evidence seem to be supported by the Jewish historian, Josephus Flavius, and the New Testament authors.


This is evident in Josephus’s account of an incident in The Jewish War II to repel Roman attackers from Tiberias using skeleton crews of boats:


Then he [Josephus] collected all the boats that he could find on the lake – some two hundred and thirty, with no more than four sailors in each – and with this fleet made full speed for Tiberias.


In Conclusion…


It’s not a coincidence that the drawings of the boat by experts in hull construction and excavation agree with the accounts of the Gospel and the Jewish War II. No more than four oarsmen rowed the boat. In this case, the archaeological finding confirms that indeed what the Gospel writers described about the boat appearance and crew size was true.

What the First-century Galilean Boat Revealed About Herself Upon Closer Inspection

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