Archive for July, 2010

Acts 27:7-8

Acts 27:7 – (NIV)  “We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone.”

Note 18: Myra to Cnidus

Remember they have just left from the port of Myra and are sailing west.  From Myra to Cnidus is about 130 miles.  Luke says “We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus.” This makes total sense, because they were heading west directly into a west wind.  There are some westerly currents in this area that might have helped them make some headway.

“When the wind did not allow us to hold our course”, This was probably close to Cnidus as they moved farther away from the coast.

Note 19: Cnidus to Crete

Luke continues, “we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite SalmoneIf you look at a map this means they took a very dramatic sharp left turn. They headed South, finally rounding the Eastern coast of Crete (point Salmone). This is probably the lee side of Crete.  Once around the point they would turn and head west again, this time along the southern coast of Crete.

Acts 27:8 – (NIV)  “We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.”

Note 20: Fairhaven

They have a hard time once they rounded the eastern shore of Crete in moving along the southern shore, finally arriving at a place called Fairhaven.  Luke calls Fairhaven “a place, near the town of Lasea.”  In this text, Fairhaven is not referred to as a port or harbor and the description doesn’t sound like it was a port.  In fact, the nearby town of Lasea is mentioned. These descriptions lead me to believe that Fairhaven was probably just an anchorage. An anchorage is a place (an inlet or cove) that offered some protection from, wind, storms or heavy seas.

If you have Google Earth  look up Crete, then look up Lasea.  When I do the map pulls up a location on the Southern coast named, Lasaia.  Close by there are several places that appear they might offer a ship some protection.

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Acts 27:6

Acts 27:6 (NIV)  – “There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board.”

Note 17:

Think back to verse 2 where Luke refers to the first ship they boarded as a ship from Adramyttium. The term of reference ‘a ship from’ simply means that the first ship came from a particular place, Adramyttium.  This was a common expression for ships.  In this verse, however, there is a subtle difference in Luke’s term of reference for the next ship mentioned in verse 6.  Luke refers to the second ship as “an Alexandrian ship”. Rather than referring the ships place of origin, this terminology describes a unique ‘type’ of ship – one with a special purpose and involved in a special trade.

Alexandrian ships were a very specific type of ship.  They were the supertankers of their day and just like supertankers they were involved in the trading system for the most critical product to the Roman World, the delivery of grain to Rome.

Let me use an example:

This morning, Matt and I drove to Decatur in his pickup truck. In Decatur, we saw a Fed-Ex truck bound for Moulton and we climbed aboard.

In this example, both vehicles are trucks.  However, the Fed-Ex truck is involved in a very specific type of work (i.e. the delivery of packages), it is owned by a large company, and that company has a fleet of delivery vehicles to run their business.

When I mentioned a Fed-Ex truck, you instantly had an image in your mind of what I was referring to, what it looks like and certainly what it does.  Two thousand years from now, will people know who Fed-EX was and what their vehicles looked like but most people will probably not have a clue what Matt’s truck looked like.

It is the same with us today looking back 2,000 years at the two ships mentioned in these passages.  An Alexandrian grain ship was a specific description to the people of that time.  They knew what it was, what it did and probably knew what one looked like. Luke knew when he used ‘an Alexandrian ship’ everyone would know what it was AND what it did.  There was a great article written by Dr. Nicolle Hirschfield for The Biblical Archaeologist in 1990, which did an excellent job of bringing together various sources to give us a good description of these ships and their role in antiquity and the Roman world.

The descriptions of these  ships are the first MAJOR building block in the search for this shipwreck.  This gives us our first clue of what went to the bottom of the ocean and what might lie there today.

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Acts 27:4-5

Acts 27:4 (NIV)– “From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us.”

Note 14:

The writer states that they left Sidon “and passed on the lee side of Cyprus because the winds were against us”. (Emphasis added.) The KJV phrases the passage as follows:  “And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.”

The lee side of an island is the side away from the wind.  On the lee side of an island, a ship is protected from the force of a strong wind by the island itself.  Ships and boats often take shelter from a storm by anchoring on the lee side of an island.

When I first read the King James version and it said we sailed under Cyprus, I assumed that meant they sailed to the south (under), meaning Cyprus stays on the right side of the ship.  (We always orient maps and language to what we are used to.)  Thus, in this case, NIV reads better than the KJV or, at the least, it reads more modern and more accurate.  The lee side of Cyprus in this case must have been around the northeast corner, with Cyprus staying on the left side (port side for you lubbers….arrrrg!) of the ship.  The writer also notes the weather and the fact that the wind was against them.

Note 15:

The writer clarifies any misunderstanding about the route in the next verse.

Acts 27:5 (NIV) – “When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia.”

The lee side of Cyprus was along the north side and both of the countries referenced in this verse are north of Cyprus.  Therefore, the ship had to pass between these two countries and Cyprus.

Note 16:

Myra is due north of Alexandria Egypt.  By virtue of its location, Myra was a major port in the eastern empire.  Ships sailing from Alexandria to Rome could not go directly northwest to Rome at this time of year because the prevailing winds would be from the west.  Thus, many would have to follow an indirect route by first sailing north to Myra then southwest toward Italy.    The Greek writer Lucian records that it took nine days for his ship to sail from Sidon to Myra by this route.

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Source and Versions

July 15, 2010 2 comments

The Source

If you want to follow along with the text you can get a Bible and read Acts chapter 27. Any good translation of the Bible can be used. I generally use the following three versions:

The New International Version (NIV),

The New American Standard Version (NAS)

The King James Version (KJV).

Why read Three Versions?

Answer: If all of us could read original Greek, there would be NO need for multiple versions of the Bible.

I bet you don’t read Greek and I am quite sure that I don’t read Greek.  Since “it’s all Greek to us” and we don’t read that language there are people in this world who try to give us a text we can read.  King James is one example.  This was an attempt to translates the original Greek and put it in the language that more people understood, English, in that case an Old English. Today, much of that old English style is not used or read, with it’s thee, thou and verily. So people have written more modern versions with more current language, like the New American Standard.  Each version uses the original Greek text but puts it in a form that easier for us to read.  Each version uses slightly different words or phrases to describe the same events and words in the text.  Versions are NOT an attempt to change the original txt but rather to make it easier for us to understand what they meant.

If we read multiple versions, when taken together they paint a more exact picture of the original meaning of the story.

Online Bible

If you would like to read the text on-line, I recommend a site called Blue Letter ( I use this site because it gives me immediate access to three different versions of the bible with the click of a button.

Here are the links to these versions:

The New International Version (recommended)


The New American Standard Version.


The King James Version

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Background to Acts 27

The Background of the Voyage

The first step in the hunt for any shipwreck is to do as much research as possible, in as many research papers as possible.  You must dig through ALL available information and documents.  In this case, that means this search must start with the Bible.  Our research for the historical accuracy of this wreck will not end with reading the bible, but that is where we find all the basics that make up this case study.

The details concerning this shipwreck are found in the Bible, in the Book of Acts.  Most experts conclude that Luke, a physician, a companion and fellow worker with Paul, was the writer of both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

The Apostle Paul was arrested and spent two years in prison in Caesarea, which is on the Mediterranean coast of Israel.  The Apostle Paul had been accused of crimes by the Jewish leaders and was put on trial before the Governor, Festus and visiting King Agrippa.  During his trial, Paul demanded his right, as a Roman citizen, to be tried by Caesar. Festus agreed and sent Paul to Rome to stand trial.  That brings us to Acts 27

Acts 27

The details of the voyage, which took Paul and Luke to Rome, start in Acts 27.  The group of soldiers and prisoners were under the command of a Roman centurion named Julius.  They set sail from Caesarea and made a couple of stops before they landed at Myra in Lycia.  Here they boarded a second ship, an Alexandrian Ship, bound for Rome.  Beginning in Acts 27:6 the text starts to lay out the details of the voyage and the sinking.  They were sailing late in the sailing season and very soon the ship and the 276 people on board were all caught up in a great storm (much like a very large Hurricane, blowing out of the East-Northeast).  They fought the storm, but soon gave up all hope of rescue and the ship was driven across the Mediterranean Sea.

Fourteen days later the ship would be driven aground and wrecked on a remote island in the Mediterranean. However, everyone on board was saved and managed to get safely on shore.  After three months, Paul and Luke would continue the journey to Rome where Paul was eventually tried before Caesar and ultimately put to death.  Of course, I have left out most of the details in this overview, but I promise we will review them in a future post.

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Acts 27:3

Acts 27:3 – (NIV) – “The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.”

Note 8: Time Frame

In verse 3, Luke records the first stop of the trip “the next day we landed at Sidon”. Sidon is approximately 67 miles north of Caesarea.  This is a comfortable distance to make in a single day, especially if there are good winds.  In this passage, Luke DOES NOT mention anything about the weather or the wind, both of which he mentions quite often after verse 3.  Judging from the distance traveled and the time it took, they must have had good wind blowing from the West.

Note 9: About Sidon

Sidon was a Phoenician town on the Mediterranean in north Palestine.  It was famous for industry and commerce (along with the city of Tyre) so it is a logical stop for any trading vessel. Today it is located in Lebanon.

Note 10: Julius “consideration” of Paul

The New International Version (NIV) states verse 3 this way- “and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.”

The New American Standard (NAS) version states verse 3 this way “and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care.”

Both verses really say the same thing, but I believe the NAS uses a more accurate translation of what was meant.  But, either way, the information sounds a little strange to us today.  We do not think of kindness or consideration as features of federal custody today.  Under today’s system, there is no way any prisoner would be released to their friends to be cared for.  However according to historical records, during Roman times things were different and the practice of having family and friends care for a prisoners’ needs was common.

The passage certainly reports on the centurion’s actions toward Paul and a seemingly kind motive.  This attitude may only be Luke’s interpretation of Julius’ actions or it may be that Julius truly acted out of kindness or consideration.  There are at least three explanations:  (1) Julius acted out of Kindness, (2) Julius followed common practice of the day and Luke views the actions as kindness, (3) Julius was following the earlier precedent of Governor Felix toward Paul , or some combination of the above.

Note 11: Releasing of a prisoner

Whatever the reason, Luke records the incident and attributes kindness and consideration as part of the motive of the centurion.  In Acts 24:23, we find a similar action, occurring earlier in Paul’s two year imprisonment.

Acts 24:23 – NIV

He [Felix, the Governor] ordered the centurion [unknown identity] to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.

This passage shows that Paul was given some amount of freedom, in context probably released, yet remained under guard. At that occasion Paul’s friends were allowed to take care of his needs during his imprisonment.

There is historical evidence that Roman prisoners were often taken care of by friends, and were often accompanied by servants or slaves.  The families sometimes supplied prisoners food everyday.  For the most part, the Roman authorities didn’t care if a prisoner lived or died, so as a practical matter, they didn’t go out of their way to care for the ordinary needs of prisoners. (A novel concept – prisoners providing for their own care and housing, instead of being a burden on the state.)

Note 12: Accuracy

Over the years I have heard many comments about this passage, one of which is that “the story can’t be true because Roman centurions weren’t known for being kind. They would never do this.”  I believe that statement is only partially true.  Acts 10:1 contains the story of another centurion named Cornelius.  Cornelius became the first gentile (non-Jew) converted to Christianity.

Acts 10:2 states

He [Cornelius] and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.

Another centurion is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke accounts:

Luke 7:3-5

The centurion [name unknown] heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.  When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” Jewish elders pleading on behalf of the centurion?

Roman Centurions were the backbone of the Roman Legions that conquered and held the known world. Yes, they were the meanest of the mean.  Many were blood thirsty and ruthless.  But they were also highly disciplined soldiers who knew how to carry out orders to a tee, and the consequences of not doing their duty were severe.  I can find nothing in this passage that disqualifies it as truthful.  The centurion did what he was allowed to do, whether out of kindness or convenience.  The actions of the centurion in this passage also have no bearing on the outcome of the shipwreck.

Note 13- So why include the information?

Why would Luke include information in his narrative that he must know would be doubted later?  It appears to hurt the believability of the story if you include it so why not just leave it out.  I would have. I personally would not have included the information about the kindness or release, especially if it were not 100% true.  Unless I thought my role was to record what happened exactly as it happened, then I would dutifully report what I saw.

This leads me to the conclusion that Luke included these events in his narrative, because this is what he saw and his perception of why they happened, so he recorded it as part of his narrative of the trip.

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Acts 27:2

Acts 27:2 – (NIV) – “We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea (launched).  Aristarchus, a Macedonian [Greek] from Thessalonica, was with us.”

Note 4:

The starting point of the journey was the Harbor of Caesarea Maritima, which is on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. The harbor at Caesarea was constructed by Herod the Great, from about 25–13 BC and it is one of the greatest feats of engineering ever built by man.  Today, much of the ruins of Caesarea, still exist.  Today, a great deal of the harbor is available for visitors to see and they have three diving tours of the ruins.  There is a Hippodrome (horse and chariot stadium). Caesarea is a “must see” if you ever go to Israel.

Note 5:

Notice the NIV version states “We boarded a ship ‘from’ Adramyttium”. The phrase translated here as ‘from’ generally means that this was the home port of this vessel or the vessel “belongs’ to this port.  Adramyttium was a port city, with a good harbor on the NW coast of modern Turkey.  This statement implies that this was probably a trading vessel and went on a regular route up and down the coast.

We can glean some additional pieces of information from this verse.

First, the ship does not appear to be headed to Italy as it’s final destination.  It was “about to sail along [North – up] the coast”, They were likely involved in trade along the way and to winter in its home port of Adramyttium.

Second, it was “about to sail”. Later in the narrative, we learn it was late in the sailing season.  So it is possible that the immediate departure mentioned here may have been a consideration, at least to Julius, the centurion.  By sailing immediately he might be trying to avoid having to winter in some remote port or maybe even having to resort to land travel to complete the journey to Rome.

It is apparent that this group never planned to go to Adramyttium.  Once again it appears (to me at least) that when Luke mentions the home (and ultimate destination) of the ship again seems to be just a matter observation on his part.  It appears that he hears information and  simply writes down the information.  This is his writing style and how the narrative will develop.

Note 6:

Luke states “Aristarchus, a Macedonian [Greek] from Thessalonica, was with us”. Aristarchus, was an early Christian and is actually mentioned in a few other passages of the New Testament. He accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey. Along with Gaius, another Macedonian, Aristarchus was seized by the mob at Ephesus (Acts 19:29). Acts 20:4 tells us that Aristarchus returned with Paul from Greece to Asia.

At Caesarea, Aristarchus was placed on this ship with Paul.  Whether he traveled with Paul all the way to Rome is not recorded and some people contend that he left the ship at Myra. Whether he was a prisoner is also not known.  However, he is described as Paul’s “fellow prisoner” and “fellow laborer” in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 1:24, respectively.  Aristarchus has no role in the later events of this story and he is not mentioned again in Acts 27.

Note 7:

In this passage we learn more about the pattern of Luke’s work. Remember, the pattern of a witness can determine if they are a reliable eyewitness and how much weight to place in their version of events.  In these passages Luke provides “extra” information that does not help develop any storyline.  In fact he adds information seems to detract from a main storyline.  However, he does show is a pattern of personal observation and writing style.

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Hello and welcome to my blog about Acts 27 from the New Testament of the Bible. The story contained in Acts 27 is about the voyage of Paul the Apostle being transported to Rome to stand trail before Caesar. The ship was caught up in a terrible storm and was shipwrecked on an island. The writer of the book of Acts is generally considered to be Luke, a physician, companion and fellow worker of Paul. The purpose of this blog is to examine the account provided by Luke as an eyewitness account of the events of this voyage and wrecking.

My examination of the text will be from shipwreck hunter’s standpoint. I am not out to study it as an inspired text. My analysis only covers how it is written and what it says. I must examine Luke’s text as I would any report of events and the Bible a historical document, not less not more. I want to know if the account sound logical and correct when compared to other shipwreck accounts. I will tell you up front that I have examined many other shipwreck accounts, from other centuries, including survivor statements, court records, court-martial testimony, admiralty hearings, ship logs, newspaper accounts and just plain word of mouth stories. There are certain things that happen with regularity in most shipwrecks, a common list of actions. This pattern of events helps determine which accounts are reliable and which are designed to “paint a picture rather than relate the facts”.

I am not trying to convert anyone to my religious beliefs or even my conclusion about this particular account. I am not a Bible scholar, but I am quite versed in shipwreck stories and shipwreck projects. I have studied this particular story in depth and more than once over the last twenty years. My study of Luke’s account has led me to the conclusion that his is an account from an eyewitness and survivor of this wreck. It more than passes the ‘smell test’ of authenticity. But read it for yourself and make up your own mind.

You may elect to just read the post or you may comment. Please be my guest and feel free to disagree with my conclusions or questions me, I actually have pretty thick skin. Feel free to discuss the text with others. If you elect to comment, all I ask is to please be respectful of other people and their opinions.

Thank you

John Harkins

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Acts 27:1

Acts 27:1 – (NIV) – “When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment.”

Note 1: Julius

The group, including the prisoner Paul, was delivered over to a Roman centurion, who as the official representative of Caesar and Roman power, would control everything about getting them to Rome from Caesarea. I find it interesting Luke, mentions the Roman centurion by name, Julius. Luke, will generally refer to him as “the centurion”, which sounds more official and formal.

I am not quite sure why Luke mentions his name at all since he does not use his name much or develop his character later. The centurion actually does play a role in the events.    In his capacity as commander he will also save Paul and the other prisoners lives.    It is also interesting to note that Julius, by name, is never mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.

Note 2: Imperial Regiment

Also, Luke mentions that Julius belonged to the Imperial Regiment.  I am unsure why he mentions this fact. It has no apparent bearing on the story.

The Imperial Regiment (Legion) is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible and there is no specific reference to it in any other historical documents.

It appears that Luke mentions the Legion he was attached to simply because that was information he knew and he was recording the facts he had available to him.

This fact itself is not important to the events or to his account, but including them is part of his style of presenting complete information.

Note 3: Luke’s Style

Luke seems to mention this information just because they were part of the trip and he was simply writing down what he encounter along the way.  There seems to be no ulterior motive to either mention or not mention theses facts, he is just relating the facts of the trip.  In this entire story we find time and again that Luke records information simply because he made the observations during the trip and writes the observations as part of his narrative.  Many times the facts he relates will have no bearing on the story at all.

These passages are beginning to establish the normal writing style for Luke.


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