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The “Jesus’ Boat” is Raising a Storm (1999)

Througth the New Testament we know that Jesus was quite active along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He stayed with Peter the fisherman, crossed the Sea of Galileeby boat, aided fishermen and rescued them from storms, and at his request they became “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4: 18-22). The mention of boats and fishing and villages along the coast of the Sea of Galilee motivated research and excavations in that region, yet nobody imagined that a wooden boat from that period could be preserved. But, as in antiquity, apparently miracles can still occur along the coast of the Sea of Galilee.

In January 1986 Israel was suffering from a severe drought and the coastline of the lake receded. One day, two brothers of Kibbutz Ginnosar, Moshe and Yuval Lopan, went coin hunting as they do occasionally along the se shore. They noticed a rounded shape sunk in the mud, but the odd structure could not be a modem boat since it was not built in the common pattern. The excited brothers called the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and reported the discovery. Marine archaeologist approved that it was indeed an ancient vessel, and in fact it dated to the first century CE (!).

Carbon 14th dating procedure also confirmed that the vessel is indeed from that time.

The discovery was soon made public and visitors crowded the site. The boat excavation had to be done quickly, before the sea level would rise again and cover the boat. But the work had to be very careful and accurate in order not to harm the delicate but deteriorating wooden structure. Volunteers from the kibbutz aided the expedition and after 8 days and nights of continuous effort the boat was completely unearthed, then covered with PVC and polyester and taken to the local museum in the Kibbutz. The objective then was to preserve the wood, and for that purpose a special “bath” was built, containing 35 tons of polyethylene glycol. In a slow process it was supposed to replace the water in the swollen wood.

To celebrate the year 2000 the prestigious Plazzio Crecia museum in Italy initiated an archaeological exhibition in the Vatican. Their interest focused on three objects: The ossuary (small burial stone coffin) recently found in Jerusalem with the name “Kaifa” inscribed on its sides; The inscription from Caesarea Maritima mentioning Pontius Pilate; and the Boat from Ginnosar.

The idea was to borrow these items for a three months display in the Vatican during the winter months when tourism in Israel is usually low, thus giving world-wide publicity to the artifacts, thus promoting also interest in further pilgrimage tours to Israel. The Italian museum was also willing finance the completion of the restoration process required for the boat (estimated at US$1,500,000)

But as the packaging of the ship got under way the Ministry of Tourism ordered the deal to be cancelled, stating that it is too precious a tourist attraction to send out of the country for three months. This statement in my view is a narrow minded decision. During the decade or so the boat was on display in Kibbutz Ginnosar no more then 70,000 visitors per year saw it (about 7-8% of the total tourism in Israel per year). The Kibbutz and the ministry of tourism failed to advertise this new tourist attraction. During the exhibition in the Vatican 3,000,000 pilgrims are expected to visit the display. That is more free publicity than the Ministry of Tourism could ever dream of.

Moreover the negotiations over this exhibition have continued over the last 3 years and were well known to the government. An order to cancel the deal now by the Ministry of Tourism is a decision that could damage the relationship between the State of Israel and the Vatican, and the Christian world in general.

At the same time I agree that the boat should not be moved, but for a different reason. The vessel was repaired several times, and finally abandoned at the shore of theSea of Galilee. It is in such a fragile state that no one can ensure its safety, and any move of it could quite likely damage it. The collaboration of the IAA with the Italian museum is somewhat unethical. The law of antiquities in Israel, which the IAA is supposed to enforce, is supposed to, above all, save and preserve the antiquities of the land. Transporting from Israel to Italy such a fragile rotting old wooden vessel can hardly be in its favor.

Jesus boat