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Galilee Yields Ancient Treasure: 2000-Year-Old Craft Matches Description of Peter's Boat

Courtesy of The Original Jesus Boat Store of the Jesus Boat Museum, Nof Ginosar

Galilee Yields Ancient Treasure: 2000-Year-Old Craft Matches Description of Peter's Boat

by Sarah Moore

In 1986 two brothers from Kibbutz Ginosar made an archeological discovery in the Sea of Galilee. In the rush to excavate and save what came to be known as the "Jesus Boat, the Israeli government issued a special order to, "lower the level of the Sea of Galilee." Rather than doing so, however, a dike was built to pump water out of the area, as the excavation team carefully worked to preserve the first century craft. Today, the boat may be seen at a specially built museum in Kibbutz Ginossar on the Sea of Galilee. 

SEA OF GALILEE, Israel - In January, 1986, Moshe and his brother, Yuval, gazed upon the Sea of Galilee and happened to notice an odd shaped shadow along the floor of the lake.

The Sea of Galilee was dangerously low due to a severe drought, and this was the first time Moshe and Yuval - both modern-day fisherman - were able to see the bottom of the sea so clearly.

What Moshe and Yuval saw was the outline of a sunken craft whose archaeological significance would be hailed well into the next decade.

Indeed, to the astonishment of many, archaeologists would soon find that this ancient boat sailed the Sea of Galilee during the time of Jesus, and its features precisely match the Gospel's description of the boat owned by Peter and used by Jesus.

The first century boat is placed in a specially built conservation pool of water. A multi-year conservation process which will eventually strengthen each cell of the boat's wood with a chemical compound will allow the boat to be permanently removed from the water.

Immediately, Moshe and Yuval told Galilee archaeologist, Mendel Nun, of their discovery, and within one day, a team of excavators from the Israel Government Antiquities Authority were on the scene.

"The boat's consistency was that of wet cardboard," recalls Nun. "The problem which we faced was how to move the water-logged boat, which had remained in the lake for 2,000 years, to a nearby museum specially built for the boat's preservation."

During an exclusive interview with the Jerusalem Christian Review, Ora Cohen, head of the team which rescued the boat, recalled that "heavy equipment was brought in, a massive dike was constructed around the boat and water was pumped away from the area near the boat."

In only eleven days, the excavation of the site was completed yielding several remarkable discoveries including pottery which clearly pin-pointed the date the vessel sailed the sea: the first century A.D.

"It was most remarkable to find that the boat was of the type that Jesus and his disciples used in the first century," said biblical historian, Prof. Ory Mazar. "Indeed, the Department of Isotope Research of the Weizmann Institute in Israel estimates that the craft was originally constructed at the turn of the millennium and was definitely sailing the sea during the time of Jesus."

The boat was made mostly of cedar planking and oak frames, 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide and 4.5 feet high. The stern is rounded and the bow prominent. Adaptable to both sail and oars, the boat was used primarily for fishing, but could also serve for transportation of goods and passengers.

"A vessel like this could easily have accommodated Jesus and his disciples," said Mazar. Jesus called James and John while they were in their boat tending their nets, "and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him" (Mark 1:20).

Thus the crew included at least five men. Coincidentally, the boat which was discovered needed five men to operate.

On the day the first-century boat was discovered, archaeologist Mendal Nun and archaeologist Kurt Ravehstand on the shores of the sea, near the site where the boat was found. In the background, a rainbow can be seen over the Sea of Galilee. According to Orna Cohen, head of the rescue team in charge of the preservation of the boat, another rainbow was seen on the same day in which the excavation of the boat was completed.

The boat also provided clues about the time a storm arose while Jesus, with some of his disciples, crossed the lake. In Mark's version of the story, Jesus was "in the stern, asleep on the pillow" (Mark 4:37). The stern was the station of the helmsman, and the area under the stern platform would have been the most protected part of the boat. This was probably where Jesus slept. There He would have been shielded from the elements, away from the others on board.

Mark continues: "And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the pillow; and they woke him and said to him, 'Master, do you not care if we perish?' And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still! And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:37-39).

The "Kinneret Boat," as it has been named, seems to match all descriptions of the boat in which Peter and Jesus Himself sailed. Since there were limited numbers of boats of this particular size sailing the sea at the time, it is possible that this boat was the one used by Peter, James, John, or Jesus.

"The boat's historical significance should not be underestimated," says Mazar who believes that "what has been found is a remarkable link to the past."

Now safely on land, the boat is housed at Kibbutz Ginossar in a specially built pool of water. Orna Cohen believes it will still be several years before the boat can be safely removed from the water.

The boat - miraculously preserved through time - "is going through a lengthy conservation process which will eventually strengthen each cell of the boat's wood with a chemical compound which will allow the boat to be permanently removed from water," said Cohen.

In the meantime, the first century boat provides visitors to Kibbutz Ginossar with the unique opportunity of stepping backward through time - when "fishers of men" sailed the Sea of Galilee nearly 2,000 years ago.

Sarah Moore, Jerusalem Christian Review, Volume 9, Internet Edition, Issue 3. 1998 

Sarah Moore is a staff reporter for the Jerusalem Christian Review.

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