The Jesus Boat


Sunrise over Sea of Galilee
In 1986 a most unlikely discovery was made on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Buried in the mud and reeds a pair of brothers, fishermen by trade, found a wooden boat. It quickly became obvious this was no ordinary boat. To the amazement of the brothers and experts alike, it was found the boat was some 2,000 years old, dating back to the time of Jesus. While there was no physical evidence to connect the find to Jesus, other than the dating, it quickly became known as 'The Jesus Boat'. It is also known as the 'Sea of Galilee Boat'. While no actual connection can be made to Jesus, the boat appears to be an exact match to the boats mentioned in the Gospels. How does this boat fit into history, what does it reveal and could it in fact have any relation to Jesus?

The Sea of Galilee and the surrounding area are mentioned prominently in the Bible. The Sea of Galilee would have been a major source of income and food for many of the people living on or near its shores in the first century. Indeed, the importance of the sea has changed little in two millennium.  Trade, transportation, and fishing have all been and remain an important part of the residents’ daily lives. 

A number of the stories of the New Testament take place around or on the Sea of Galilee. In Matthew 14:25 Jesus walked on water to join His disciples in their boat. In Mark 4:37 Jesus sleeps in the boat, and in Mark 4:39 Jesus performs miracles from a boat. In John 6:19 the disciples are rowing a boat on the sea when Jesus joins them. In all, boats on the Galilee are mentioned 50 times in the gospels. These Bible stories are not the only ancient source of information concerning boats and their use on the Sea of Galilee. There are also many tales of war and death on the sea.

[The Sea of Galilee is also known as Lake Tiberias, Lake Kinneret or Lake Kinnereth.]

In “The Jewish War”, considered by many to be the most important works of historian Josephus Flavius, he recounts the Roman siege of Migdal. The Romans, unable to overcome the city’s fortified walls, built boats and invaded from the sea. The Romans destroyed the city in a bloodbath, but a number of survivors were able to escape on boats and took refuge in the center of the Lake. The Romans once again constructed vessels and engaged the Jewish survivors on the lake. Josephus, who some believe was an eye witness to the event, records the Jewish survivors were wiped out and the water of the lake turned red with blood and the shoreline was littered with the wreckage of their small boats.

Boats would have been used to take advantage of the rich fishing of the Sea of Galilee and it is also likely boats would have been used to transport people and goods from one port to another. While the use of boats on the Sea of Galilee was never in dispute, no archeological evidence of these boats had ever been found. That all changed in the summer of 1986 when the oldest boat ever to be found in fresh water, anywhere in the world, was discovered along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The Jesus Boat

The area around the sea was going through one of the most severe droughts in its history and the lake’s water level was at record lows. Two brothers, walking along the shoreline, noticed timbers protruding from the mud and quickly contacted authorities. Experts had to move quickly to protect and preserve the remains which were in remarkably good condition. The wood and other items found with the boat dated the remains to sometime in the first century B.C. or first century A.D. The remains were sealed in a protective foam and carefully raised from the mud. Nearly two thousand years after sinking to the bottom of the lake, the small boat once again sailed on the surface of the lake, if only for a short distance. The boat would eventually be housed in a special museum but the conservation methods used would take an astonishing fourteen years to complete.

The recovery process had to be done quickly as the drought was coming to an end and the water levels began to rise. The process was further complicated when a rumor spread through the region. The story said the boat was filled with gold and the site had to be put under guard from treasure hunters as well as curious onlookers. The boat represented an important and significant archaeological artifact and had to be properly protected and preserved. 

While the wood and construction method of the boat helped date the artifact, researchers also recovered pottery and numerous nails from inside the boat. A lantern and other artifacts were found very nearby but it could not be confirmed these were associated with the boat. Because the boat was constructed and used during the time when Jesus was ministering in this area, the boat was compared to those mentioned in the Bible. Not only did the dates correspond to the time of Jesus, the overall size and type of the boat also matched the rough descriptions mentioned in the Bible.

The boat was 26.9 feet (8.2 meters) in length, 7.55 feet (2.3 meters) in breadth and 3.94 feet (1.2 meters) in height. The boat would have had the ability to hold up to fifteen people and could have been rowed by 4 or 5 rowers. The boat was also equipped with a sail and was constructed primarily of Lebanese cedar planks and oak frames. Each of these elements match almost exactly the biblical accounts of boats on the Sea of Galilee. In some stories the men are rowing, in others there is a sail. The overall size matches nicely as well, given the number of disciples and the capacity of the boat discovered.

It is believed the boat may have been used by as many as three generations and undergone a number of repairs through the years. While mostly made of cedar, the boat had several planks of a variety of different woods. Some believe this is an indication the original builder could not afford all cedar. Considering the bulk of the boat is made of cedar it is far more likely the other types of wood were used during repairs which would have been necessary during its long lifetime. It is believed the boat eventually became un-repairable and was stripped of all usable items, then intentional sunk.

Boat in storm on Sea of Galilei
While the discovery of this boat offers some amazing insights into the type and size of boats used in the area in its day, does this boat have any real connection to Jesus? It seems highly likely the boat was in use at the time of Jesus and He may have even seen it in use. Since the boat may have been in use while Jesus was in this area there is a possibility the boat was indeed used by Jesus. While possible, it must be considered statistically improbably considering the number of boats which would have been in use on the sea. 

[Historian Flavius Josephus reports there were regularly as many as 230 fishing boats on the Sea on any given day.]

The brothers who discovered the boat reported seeing a rare double rainbow just before finding the boat. Some speculate this was a sign from God leading these men to discover the boat. For those who like to stretch for connections, there is another interesting fact concerning the Jesus Boat. The Bible tells us there were twelve tribes of Israel and Jesus selected twelve disciples to be His followers. It was mentioned earlier a number of different woods were used in the construction/repair of the Jesus Boat. There were in fact twelve different types of wood used. While interesting, it seems to be nothing more than an intriguing coincidence.

The boat is an amazing and important archeological discovery and offers insight into the life and times of Jesus. It is also interesting all the characteristics of boats mentioned in the Bible closely match the attributes of the discovery. Since no boats from this time period had been discovered previously, the rough details mentioned in the Bible could not be confirmed. With this discovery, it can now be confirmed the authors of the Bible accurately recorded the details of the boats in use during the time of Jesus.

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