“Searching for Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta”: A Critique of the 700 Club’s February 26, 2010 Program

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Excerpt On Friday morning, February 26, 2010, on CBN’s 700 Club program, Chuck Holton submitted a report about a man who believes he found an “amazing Biblical discovery” on Malta. This nine-minute video segment featured Robert Cornuke presenting his theory about the location of the Apostle Paul’s shipwreck on the island of Malta... Continue reading

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On Friday morning, February 26, 2010, on CBN’s 700 Club program, Chuck Holton submitted a report about a man who believes he found an “amazing Biblical discovery” on Malta.  This nine-minute video segment featured Robert Cornuke presenting his theory about the location of the Apostle Paul’s shipwreck on the island of Malta.

Cornuke, in his persona as a “former Los Angeles crime scene investigator,” approached the account of the shipwreck of Paul in Acts 27 and 28 as a “crime scene.”  As he read the Biblical text, he concluded there were four “clues” that needed to be found in order to solve the “crime.”  He identified these as: (1) a bay with a beach; (2) a reef or sandbar where “two seas meet”; (3) a seafloor with a depth of 90 feet; and (4) a place the sailors would not have recognized.  Cornuke concludes that the shipwreck occurred on the eastern shore of Malta, not on the northern side of the island as most scholars believe.

Conuke’s theory and investigations, as presented in this news segment, were already set forth in his 2003 book entitled, The Lost Shipwreck of Paul (Bend, OR: Global Publishing Service).  In the book, his view is that the Alexandrian grain ship containing the Apostle Paul and Dr. Luke was shipwrecked on the Munxar Reef on the island’s eastern end.  Cornuke claims to have located, from among the local spear fishermen and divers, six anchor stocks which could have been from this shipwreck (cf. Acts 27:29, 40), four of which were located on the east side of the Munxar Reef in fifteen fathoms, or ninety feet of water (cf. Acts 27:28).  He identifies the “place where two seas meet” (cf. Acts 27:41) as the Munxar Reef and the “bay with the beach” as St. Thomas Bay (cf. Acts 27:39).  He concluded that neither the sea captain nor his crew would have recognized the eastern shoreline of the Maltese coast when it became light on the morning after they dropped anchor (cf. Acts 27:39).  Unfortunately, Cornuke’s theory simply does not hold water.

Experts and Computer Models

Cornuke consulted Graham Hutt, an expert on Mediterranean storms, and Hutt concluded that the ship would have been driven by the winds to the southeast quadrant of the island, and that the more likely place of the shipwreck was the Bay of St. Thomas.

In the book, Cornuke described a visit to the Rescue Coordination Center of the Armed Forces of Malta (2003:184-193).  Here he watched a computer model that plotted the possible course of a ship caught in a windstorm from Crete to Malta.  The ship landed, after 14 days in a severe windstorm, in the St. Thomas Bay!

The limitations of storm experts and computer models were well illustrated by the recent Nor’easter that hit the Northeast United States on Feb. 25-26, 2010.  The storm was a prime example of what computer models and meteorologists could not predict.  The meteorologists on television said that this “monster storm” defied all the computer models and did not behave as any of the meteorologists predicted it should!

Bay with a beach

The beach in the St. Thomas Bay was identified as the “bay with the beach.”  The earliest maps of Malta show that the Munxar Reef, at one time, was actually a series of small islands.  Possibly in the first century AD, this location would have been a lengthy peninsula that has now eroded away.  If that is the case, the sea captain, in all probability, would not have been able to see the low-lying beach of St. Thomas Bay from the area where the four anchor stocks were found and almost certainly, he would not have dared to sail his ship through the dangerous islands or peninsula to reach the beach!  Thus, the Bay of St. Thomas could not be the beach that the captain saw or where the sailors and passengers swam to.

Reef or Sandbar where the “two seas meet”

Several times in the news segment the Munxar Reef is described as a “sandbar.”  A careful examination of a geological map would have identified the reef as being made of “Middle Globigerina Limestone.”  This soft limestone is rock not a sandbar.

The identification of the “two seas meet” is based on two Greek words, “topos dithalasson”, that are translated different ways in different translations.  Professor Mario Buhagiar, of the University of Malta, cautions that this term

does not offer any real help because it can have several meanings and the way it is used in Acts 27:41, does not facilitate an interpretation.  A place where two seas meet (Authorized and Revised versions) and a cross sea (Knox Version) are the normally accepted translations but any beach off a headland (Liddell and Scott) or an isthmus whose extremity is covered by the waves (Grimms and Thayer), as indeed most water channels, can qualify as the place where the boat grounded.  The truth is that the Acts do not give us sufficient clues to help in the identification of the site (see link at bottom for full bibliography).

Anchors at 90 feet

Mr. Cornuke interviewed people, primarily divers and spear fishermen, who claimed to have located four anchors on the south side of the Munxar Reef at 15 fathoms, or 90 feet of water.  Two other anchors were allegedly found near the Munxar Reef in 10 meters (ca. 33 feet) of water.  Cornuke implied in his book that these two anchors were the ones put in the skiff when the sailors tried to escape (Acts 27:30).  These interviews are the author’s primary evidence for Paul’s shipwreck.

Unfortunately only two actual anchor stocks can be examined.  They are on display on the second floor of the Malta Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa.  The other four, however, are not available for scholarly consideration.  One of the anchor stocks was melted down, another is in a private collection, and two were allegedly sold on the antiquities market.

Unfortunately the video clip of the anchors in the Malta Maritime Museum is very misleading.  It shows 6 or 7 anchors on display, but only two are from the Munxar Reef.  One of them, called “Tony’s anchor,” was one of the smallest of those on display.  It measured about 3 feet, 8 inches in length and would be too small for the stern of an Alexandrian grain ship.

On the other hand, Professor Mario Buhagiar examined the other anchor and gave a cautious analysis, “It could have belonged to a cargo ship, possibly a grain cargo ship, and possibly one from Alexandria” (2003: 183).  He went on to conjecture, “This anchor stock would fit very well within the era of St. Paul” (2003: 184).  Although this anchor could have been from an Alexandrian grain ship, suggesting that it was from Paul’s shipwreck certainly goes beyond the available evidence.

Did not recognize the land

In the 1st century AD, the island of Malta was, in essence, the “Turn Right to Sicily” sign in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  Malta was the landmark for sailors sailing west from Crete who were about to turn north to Sicily.  The eastern end of the island was what they saw first and it was a welcomed and recognizable sight.

It seems that capable sea captains, piloting an Alexandrian grain ship between Egypt and Rome, would have recognized the landmarks on the eastern coastline of Malta, including the St. Thomas Bay and the hazardous Munxar Reef which every sea captain would know about because of its inherent maritime danger.

Dr. Luke, however, testifies the sailors did not recognize the land.  This suggests that the shipwreck occurred at a different place on the island.

Can We Know for Sure?

At the end of the 700 Club news segment, Holton stated that it was “impossible to know for sure if this is where the shipwreck occurred.”  I would strongly disagree with that statement because my work leads to the inevitable conclusion that the St. Thomas Bay theory is contrary to the Biblical and geographic evidence, the alleged anchors are not verifiable, and thus it is surely possible to know that Paul’s shipwreck did not occur on the Munxar Reef.  One must look elsewhere for this shipwreck. 

For a detailed and documented critique of the St. Thomas Bay theory as presented in Cornuke’s book, see: Does "The Lost Shipwreck of Paul" Hold Water?

For another devastating critique by a Maltese diver based on his local knowledge of the waters around Malta, see pages 162-174 of the just released PAVLVS, The Shipwreck 60 A.D. by Mark Gatt (2010, Valletta, Malta: Allied Publications).

A Documentary Coming

On Tuesday, February 16, 2010, it was announced on Maltese television that Mr. Cornuke’s documentary about the location for the shipwreck of the Apostle Paul would be released by the BASE Institute in April, 2010.

If Mr. Cornuke has any new evidence that supports his theory and that responds to the significant problems that have been previously noted, his discussion is welcomed.  If it is merely another way to sensationalize an old theory that has already been refuted, then this documentary will not be about an “amazing Biblical discovery.”

Comments Comment RSS

3/11/2010 8:03 AM #

That’s a very interesting and controversial video about St Paul’s shipwreck anchors, after watching it about 4 times it is very convincing when you see that they found 4 anchors in 90 feet of water, this corresponds exactly with Acts 27:28-29, but I did some checking on the subject and my conclusion is, anything is possible, but as I studied Paul’s journey I find it a bit hard that they landed at St Thomas Bay, the reason is that they travelled from Cyprus to Myra, then to Crete and stayed there for a little while at Fair Haven, then when the South wind blew they left thinking that the will make it to Rome, but some time later a big tempest brewed up with a north easterly wind, and they were tossed to and fro and on the 14th day they were driven up and down in the Adriatic sea, Acts 27:27 this tells me that they were somewhere between Croatia and Albania, that’s were the Adriatic sea is as I understand it, the bottom of it is Albania, so now they could not resist the wind no more they decided to let the wind drive the ship, Verse 15.

Now if you take a straight line from the bottom of the Adriatic sea down to Malta , which is due south east, and that is where a north easterly wind will take you, and I feel that if they went to the south side of Malta they would have missed  Malta altogether.

As  I said, anything is possible, but again for thousands of years St Paul’s bay was chosen as the place of shipwreck, how come they named the other bay St Thomas? and how come no one ever questioned this before? I’d like to hear your comments about it.

I went on the Net and tried to get some more info on this, but can’t find much about it.

Emmanuel Vella.

Emmanuel Vella - 3/11/2010 8:03:39 AM

7/2/2013 2:59 PM #

problem I see with the critique is that it seems to disregard the very fundamental issue of unpredictable storms that it sets out to use as evidence against the evidence. the 2010 storm that defied predictions of  meteorologists would have certainly puzzled First Century sailors would it not? Paul notes that they could not see light for days, how then would they see land as recognizable?

Trev - 7/2/2013 2:59:48 PM

7/25/2013 11:00 AM #

Dear Trev,

Thank you for your comment about my article critiquing the 700 Club segment on the shipwreck of the Apostle Paul and Dr. Luke on Malta. I have done further research and written a more recent article on the weakness of the computer model that Cornuke tried to use as proof of his hypothesis and the unpredictability of the storm in Acts 27, or any storm for that matter, by computer model.

But the main issue is your last line. Dr. Luke (not Paul, as you state), wrote in the Book of Acts: “when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared” (27:20). The text does not say, as you infer, that it was pitch black out the whole time. The meaning is that the sun and stars were not visible because of cloud cover which is common during these kinds of storms. These were used for navigation.

The reason the sea captain did not recognize the land was not because it was dark out, there was ambient light enough to see, but because the captain and his crew had never been to the north part of Malta which was not on the sea route to Sicily and then on to Rome. The eastern side of Malta, however, was on the sea route and would have been recognized by the sea captain. Thus, Cornuke’s ideas concerning Paul’s shipwreck on Malta holds no water!

Here are the links to two other articles that will help.

Cornuke’s Faulty Computer Model

How Accurate are Cornuke’s Claims?


Gordon Franz - 7/25/2013 11:00:14 AM

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