This month, the ship Regatta will bring to our shores close to 700 Evangelicals on their ‘Footsteps of Paul’ tour. Anyone travelling to Malta is welcome, more so when they are walking in St Paul’s footsteps. But we hope that they will walk where the Apostle Paul really walked.
Unfortunately, one of the hosts of this tour is espousing a baseless theory that does not hold up under close scholarly examination. The same is also true of Mr Cornuke’s other claims: Noah’s Ark in Iran, the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia, the ‘real’ Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia, and the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea at the Gulf of Akaba. He is also promoting an inscription that he claims has the name “YAHWEH” (the name of the Hebrew God) on it at his Mt Sinai, but this actually turned out to be a modern day forgery. All these fantastic ‘discoveries’ have no credible evidence to back them up and they have already been refuted by scholars.
You may ask what right do I have to protest against someone who has a different point of view on our Christian heritage. Four reasons readily come to mind.
First, the book and the DVD published by Mr Cornuke are fast gaining ground and becoming a tradition on our island. I often encounter Maltese who have been dazzled by the DVD shown on YouTube or Facebook. One TV newscaster, who had not researched the subject well, even showed parts of the DVD on the evening news on 10 February, the feast of St Paul.
Second, with a string of Biblical discoveries not found where experts would expect them to be found and which are later refuted by many scholars, why does Cornuke persist with these wild claims? Is it for fame and fortune? His BASE Institute website asks for donations. Interestingly, a special book offer on his website reads: “BASE Institute has in it’s (sic) possession a small piece of lead from anchor # 3 of the four anchors believed to be from Paul’s Shipwreck. This unique offer will include Robert Cornuke personally taking the piece of lead and drawing the image of an anchor on the front page of the book.” This quote is copied exactly as it appears on the BASE Institute website. Maltese authorities might want to investigate how a piece of lead coming from a Roman anchor ended up in the USA for Mr Cornuke to sign his books with. What intrigues me is the request for donations coupled with the lead book signing special offer. Incidentally, the website advertising this cruise reads, “Bob Cornuke, the REAL Indiana Jones”.’
Third, despite the numerous negative reviews on these discoveries, the financing of this cruise can only fuel new ‘discoveries’. The saying goes that one should not judge a book by its cover. Cornuke’s book does have an attractive cover and his DVD would enchant anyone who does not have the time to read the negative reviews. The problem I see here is that if you tell a lie long and loud enough, people will eventually start to believe it.
Finally, the Munxar reef claim for the shipwreck is poorly researched and does not have the backing of experts in various fields. I find it extraordinary how someone, despite his real or imaginary forensic skills, can spend a few weeks in a foreign land and claim to have found what the natives of this land have been searching for almost two thousand years, totally ignoring the research of scholars and traditions of this proud nation.
From a seaman’s perspective I shall explain in bullet form why the Munxar reef theory is nothing but hot air. With 25+ years of continuous scuba diving and sea rescue experience around our shores, I feel that I am qualified enough to point out what would be obvious to anyone carrying out a properly researched study on the subject.
• All the Regatta passengers walking in Paul’s Footsteps will no doubt be taken to the Maritime Museum in Birgu to see the anchors on display on the ground floor. The first anchor is the largest Lead Anchor Stock ever discovered in the Mediterranean. It is approximately 4.1 metres (13½ feet) long and weighs four tons. The second anchor, weighing close to one ton and two metres and 30 centimetres (7½ feet) long, has the names of the Egyptian gods ISIS ~ SARAPIS embossed on it. These impressive large anchors were discovered off Qawra Point, very close to where Maltese tradition places St Paul’s shipwreck in AD 60. The next two anchors are pathetically small compared to the Qawra Point anchors. One has the tag ‘NMA Unp. #7/2 G’mangia 19.11.2002’ and the other ‘NMA Unp # 7/1 Naxxar’. The first anchor, called “Tony’s Anchor” in his book is described with the adjectives “large”, “huge”, and “massive”, yet it is the smallest anchor stock on display. It is these small anchors that were discovered outside the Munxar reef near St Thomas Bay. The Acts of the Apostles clearly states that Apostle Paul was transported on an Alexandrian grain ship (ACTS 27:6) and that, “We were in all two hundred and seventy-six persons in the ship” (ACTS 27:37). Apostle Paul was travelling on a large Alexandrian grain ship and the Munxar reef anchors are far too small, indicating that these anchors are from a much smaller trading ship.
• There is another anchor that Cornuke’s DVD refers to and which is somewhere in a private collection. The camera moves along the length of the stock making it appear longer than it actually is. The tiles on the floor, reminiscent of the backyards of old Maltese houses, actually suggest the true length of this anchor. It is slightly larger than the other small anchors found outside the Munxar reef mentioned above but nowhere close in size to the large Qawra Point anchors at the Maritime Museum also mentioned above.
• It is pertinent to note that ex-United States ambassador to Malta Kathryn Proffitt had tried to stop the publication of the book The Lost Shipwreck of Paul in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado in 2003. The following extract is taken from the Maltese parliamentary debates of 2005…
(The Honourable Gavin Gulia placed a parliamentary question (PQ) to the Prime Minister asking him to declare if his office had authorised the person whose details are being sent separately, to prepare an affidavit to be presented in the Colorado District Court in the case Kathryn L. Proffitt (US Ambassador to Malta) vs. Bob Cornuke. In his reply to the PQ, the Honourable Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said that he has been informed that the affidavit was sent to safeguard the reputation of the Armed Forces of Malta and its officers because these had been misquoted in Bob Cornuke’s publication.)
What exactly was misquoted? Was it the location of the landing in the southeast quadrant of Malta?
• To claim the discovery of Paul’s shipwreck, Cornuke counts on the retrieval of four anchors since the Acts of the Apostles states that four were deployed from the stern. He reports that a Maltese diver, who lost his life in a diving incident many years ago, had brought up half an anchor and melted it down to make weights for diving weight-belts. So as not to get into trouble with the family of this late diver, Cornuke showers praise on him as though there never was or will be a diver of such a calibre again. I did not have the opportunity to get to know this diver and I have no intention of tarnishing his reputation, as Cornuke inadvertently did when he wrote how the broken anchor was melted down to produce weights for weight-belts. I have the privilege of having dived with or interviewed many great divers, all pioneers in their time. From the divers of the 50s and 60s who had to manufacture their own diving equipment, to the scuba-fishermen of the 70s and the decompression divers of the 80s and 90s, all the way to present day technical divers blending mixed gases and using rebreathers. But if Cornuke had properly researched the subject and read what proper researchers had written, he would have discovered that the broken anchor found by the late diver was not discovered outside the Munxar reef as he states in his book/DVD, but off Qawra Point too. George Musgrave, in his well-researched book Friendly Refuge (p.29), explains how he interviewed this late diver, who I am not naming simply to preserve his memory, who told Musgrave that he had found the broken anchor off Qawra Point, indicating the exact location by pointing it out on a map. Now one has to decide whether to believe Cornuke about the broken anchor, who only interviewed friends of the late diver, never having interviewed him directly as he had tragically died many years before the Munxar reef story started spinning. Or to believe Musgrave who actually interviewed the late diver in person.
• Another grave mistake, easily made by someone with little or no knowledge in seamanship, is the fact that the anchors retrieved just below the Munxar Reef are at exactly the same depth as the depth soundings taken by the sailors and the depths quoted in the Acts of the Apostles. Allow me to quote from a study by John Peter Oleson entitled “Ancient sounding weights and Mediterranean navigation” on how sounding weights were deployed: “Hold the line with a round turn round the hand, and the coil in the other hand, keep the body upright, face slightly in the direction the ship is moving, and rest against the breast rope, swing the lead as an ordinary pendulum, to obtain impetus, then swing it over the head in a circle… after completing two or three circles, slip the line after the lead has passed the water and before it comes to the horizontal, easing the coil out from the other hand; when it has run out as far as it is going, gather in the line with both hands, and obtain an up and down sounding as the ship passes the lead.” This laborious task is only for throwing the sounding weight. The sailor/s would then have to retrieve the line and weight and by counting arms lengths would measure the line below sea level in fathoms. The depth would then be communicated to the captain of the ship who would then decide whether to jettison the huge anchors. The lead of the anchors found outside Salina Bay weigh between one and four tons. The anchors found outside the Munxar reef are pathetically much smaller. Add the wooden flukes and maybe a lead holster and metal ends and each complete anchor could weigh from 1.5 tons to close to six tons.
From the Acts of the Apostles we know that four anchors were deployed. So between the laborious tasks of calculating the depth of the sea and the deployment of the anchors, several minutes would have passed. Let us say that despite the fact that the crew were working under extremely difficult conditions of 14 days riding a storm and at night, but because they were experienced seamen, this task took them between 15 and 30 minutes, and this would be a very conservative calculation. IMHO, it would take closer to 45 minutes. To be extra conservative let us also assume that the anchors deployed one at a time found secure holding and did not skim on the seabed even though the big ship was forcefully drifting in rough seas.
The distance between the island of Cauda, south of Crete where the 14-day storm began, and the Munxar reef is 875km. That gives us an average speed of 2.6 km/h. Using the computer generated imagery in the DVD and according to Cornuke’s theory that the ship drifted far south into the Gulf of Sirte close to Libya, then the distance from Cauda to Malta would be 1128 km, giving the voyage an average speed of 3.36 km/h. Now let us work in reverse mode by starting where the anchors were found and going back in time to where the soundings would have been taken. Using the 15 to 30 minute conservative calculation of the time between the depth sounding and the deployment of the anchors would place the ship, when the last sounding was taken, between 840m and 1.68km from where the anchors were retrieved. Therefore, according to Cornuke’s own route and based on conservative estimates, the depth when the last sounding was taken would have been 55m and 62m (in red and blue straight lines on the chart). I would think that a more realistic estimate would be at a depth of +90m. The Munxar reef does not make biblical sense because the ship was coming in from deep waters and fast approaching shallow waters.
• Another big hole in Cornuke’s ship that sends it to the bottom of the sea is the fact that the anchors were discovered too close to the Munxar reef. In his book he describes the site where the Munxar anchors were discovered as being close to a big cave just below the reef. If the anchors had been dropped in this site, and assuming that the direction of drift is as Cornuke indicates, which is at a tangent of 90 degrees in the direction of the Gregale, the ship would have hit the reef the night before. Anchors must have a long rope attached to them. In rough seas this rope must be up to 10 times the depth of the sea in order for the anchor to secure on the seabed. The ship could not have stopped directly above the anchors. Even if that particular spot above the Munxar reef had enough draught for the ship not to hit the bottom, the churning of the sea when the waves arrive from deeper water, would have made it impossible for the anchored ship to survive the night.
The Munxar reef anchors were found south of, and very close to, the reef. Hence, in a northeasterly storm, it would have been illogical to try to beach the ship in St Thomas Bay, firstly because it would mean sailing across the wind. Secondly, and maybe most spectacularly incorrectly, it would mean trying to cross over the reef and then swimming over the reef in terribly rough seas with high waves breaking over the isthmus. This makes it highly improbable that even one sailor would have survived this ordeal.
• The size of the anchors and the quantity of the artefacts discovered over the years outside the Munxar reef is by far less than those found outside Qawra Point. In 1964, Comm. Scicluna surveyed various wrecks around the Maltese Islands. This is how Italian archaeologists compared the finds of St Thomas Bay and Salina Bay:
“La baia di S. Tommaso, porto usato in età romana, sembra avere una banchina. Certo al largo del suo imbocco vi è un ampio strato di anfore ispano-romane che fanno pensare a un naufragio.
Nella zona Saline-Baia di S. Paolo sono molte le tracce, vuoi di naufragi, vuoi di ancoraggi con perdita di anfore, il tutto di età romana. La pericolosità della costa conferma la narrazione degli Atti e porta una ulteriore testimonianza in favour della positività del racconto di S. Luca.”
What this Italian archaeological report establishes is that the amphorae discovered outside St Thomas Bay are from a different period of Roman history and manufactured in a different place. Therefore they could not have come from an Egyptian grain ship. On the other hand, the artefacts and topography outside Qawra Point are compatible with Luke’s narrative. Imagine what this Italian archaeological mission would have concluded had they known of the ISIS ~ SARAPIS anchor with its Egyptian origin!
The distinct white cliffs around St Thomas Bay seem to be of a particular limestone, which, as we shall see, erodes faster than other forms of limestone. A 17th century chart of Malta shows the Munxar, not as a reef, but as a string of small islands. This chart is very faithful to all other islets around the Maltese coast. Why does this chart show what is now a reef as a string of islands?
I posed this query to Dr Peter Gatt, a geologist from the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University. Dr Gatt has carried out various studies on the limestone formations of Malta. Although I have never met Dr Gatt, he was kind enough to respond to my emails with the following: “The cliffs at St Thomas Bay are Middle Globigerina Limestone which tends to erode rapidly. I am aware of old maps that show small islands off headlands in that area. You are right that this rock erodes rapidly and the coastal configuration may have changed over a few hundred years, but it is difficult to say how it looked at the time of St Paul.”
If, in the span of three centuries, islands eroded into a reef, those same islands could have been headland two millennia ago. Let us, for argument’s sake, assume that even 2000 years ago they were a string of islands, this further excludes the Munxar as the shipwreck site. The islands would have separated St Thomas Bay from the site where the anchors were discovered. If this were truly the shipwreck site, St Luke’s narrative in the Acts of the Apostles would have been different.
With solid arguments far outweighing Cornuke’s theories, and not just on this ‘discovery’, it seems that he has become immune to criticism. I had to post a challenge to a public debate for him to call me. To be fair, Mr Cornuke did accept my challenge to a public debate, but on condition that the debate takes place on a date after the departure of the Regatta from our shores, and of course he insisted that I pay for his flights and accommodation.
I sincerely wish all the passengers travelling on the Regatta a pleasant journey and an enjoyable tour of our friendly island. I pray that with an open mind they may come to their own conclusions. I will respond to any questions from these passengers, or anyone else for that matter, sent to my email address at email@example.com
My appeal to the residents of Malta, those who cherish our rich Christian heritage, is to support me on 23 July in a symbolic, peaceful protest at the waterfront soon after the Regatta berths. Further details of the protest will be communicated via media.