Apostle Paul's Shipwreck: A Tale of Four Anchors
MALTA -- In recent years, archaeological discoveries from Israel and across the ancient Roman Empire are confirming stories from the Bible.
One of the most exciting accounts in the New Testament is the shipwreck that left the Apostle Paul stranded on a barren piece of land in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
Somewhere around 60 A.D., Paul was en route to Rome on an Alexandrian grain freighter he'd boarded on the Isle of Crete when a fierce northeaster blew the ship off course. It looked like all was lost.
"On the 14th night, we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea when the sailors sensed land approaching. They took soundings and found that the land was 120 feet deep. A short time later, they took soundings again and found that it was 90 feet deep. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, the sailors dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight," Douglas Gresham recounted the biblical narrative.
"When daylight came, they did not recognize the land. But they saw a bay with a sandy beach where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea," Gresham said.
"With the storm still raging, the ship struck a sandbar and began to break apart. With the vessel and her cargo a total loss, the nearly 300 men on board swam for their lives. Miraculously, everyone survived," he continued. "Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta."
And so began a Christian influence in Malta that has continued down through the centuries. Today, Malta is the most religious nation in Europe. Ninety-eight percent of its citizens are members of the Catholic Church.
St. Paul is memorialized across the island, nowhere more than in Saint Paul's Bay where tourists come to visit the Shipwreck Cathedral and see the spot where most believe Paul's ship ran aground nearly 2,000 years ago.
'Crime Scene' Malta
But when former Los Angeles crime scene investigator Bob Cornuke paid a visit to Malta, facts in the biblical narrative didn't fit with the view from Saint Paul's Bay. Those anomalies began a 10-year search for the true location of the apostle's shipwreck.
Cornuke began his search in the pages of the Bible. The crux of the story revolved around the four abandoned anchors. Could they be found?
"I looked at the Bible and I said, 'Could I solve this like it was a crime? Could I take the evidence that exists on the pages of the Bible and actually find these lost anchors that the Bible talks about?'" Cornuke asked himself.
The Book of Acts, chapters 27 and 28, give a very detailed account of the story. From it, Cornuke listed four factors that would have to match up to find the true location:
1. A bay with a beach
2. A reef or sandbar where "two seas meet"
3. The seabed about 90-feet in depth
4. A place the sailors did not recognize
The Maltese Fishermen
To help track these down, Cornuke enlisted a group of men who know the waters around Malta best -- the Maltese fishermen.
"So I started my search by going out with these fishermen who knew the weather, knew the currents, knew the topography of the ocean," he continued. "They took me out and explained to me all the possible places, based on what the Bible narrative says."
Most of Malta is surrounded by cliffs, so Cornuke quickly narrowed the possibilities down to a few bays with beaches.
To figure out which site was most plausible, he looked to Dr. Graham Hutt, an expert on Mediterranean storms.
"I've been studying these storms and weather patterns in the Mediterranean for more than 30 years," Dr. Hutt said. "And it resulted in a book on Malta and North Africa that covers all these issues with the weather."
Dr. Hutt's expertise helped make sense of the clues in the biblical narrative.
"They were really scared of getting dragged down into the Bay of Syrtis so they would have been trying as much as they could to head in a northerly direction, but only actually making northwesterly," he explained.
After dropping anchor, the ship would most likely have been driven up toward the southeast quadrant of the island. The only bay in that area fitting the biblical narrative is the Bay of St. Thomas.
"In my opinion, bearing in mind where they most probably would have been, they would not have been able to round up and head further north than they did," Dr. Hutt continued. "So in my view, St. Thomas Bay is a much more likely place."
CBN News headed to St. Thomas Bay on the southeastern side of Malta. The theory goes that this was the bay written about in Acts 27 and 28.
Now part of the biblical account says the sailors didn't recognize the island and didn't know where they were until the villagers told them. This too supports the theory they landed at this bay because had been on the north side of the island, there were many ports they should have been familiar with.
An Unexpected Discovery
One day, Cornuke made an electrifying discovery. It came by way of an old diver with an incredible story.
"I met a man named Ray Ciancio and he said, 'Hey Bob, back in the early 60s, we dug up four anchors at about 90 feet of depth.'"
The location: Just outside St. Thomas Bay near a dangerous sandbar called the Muxnar Reef.
The anchors were later donated to the National Maritime Museum and expert analysis confirmed they were Roman-era anchors from the right time period. But the divers had no idea at the time what they'd discovered.
"We found the anchors at the end of the 60s, beginning of the 70s," Cianco recalled. "I wouldn't remember the exact year, you know. As I say, it was of no importance to me whatsoever when we found them. It was a 'yippee, we found a piece of lead.'"
Cianco agreed to show us the area where they found the anchors.
"We're coming out to the head of Muxnar Reef. We're going to dive down and see if we can find the site where the anchors were brought up," Cornuke continued.
"So when I went out and looked at the locations where they found these anchors, I looked at the shoreline and it fit with what the Bible said," he explained. "There was a bay with a beach. There was a reef where two seas come together."
"And when I say that anchor, my heart skipped a beat, and I realized I could be standing in the presence of Bible history," he said.
Today, the sea floor is again tranquil and calm, giving no clues to the secrets it may hold. It's impossible to know for sure if this is the spot where Paul's shipwreck occurred, but if nothing else, the idea is prompting some Maltese to rethink their tradition.
Joe Peluso is one of the divers who helped retrieve the anchors in the late 1960s.
"I think it is high time we questioned ourselves," Peluso said. "I myself am convinced that it is more plausible that the shipwreck was on Muxnar, not on St. Paul's Island. We have believed St. Paul's Island, but nobody ever questioned, 'but are you sure?'"
"For me, finding these anchors is not just an archaeological find," Cornuke said. "For me personally it did a lot to enhance my faith. For me they're a symbol of hope."
Today the anchors are tucked away in the corner of Valletta's Maritime Museum, labeled only "Roman Anchors." Most visitors pass them by, having no idea what history they might hold.