Series: Israel 2022
“Peter and James and John in a sailboat,
Peter and James and John in a sailboat,
Peter and James and John in a sailboat,
out on the beautiful sea.” 1
The Sea of Galilee. Boats & fishermen. If I had to guess, I would say that there have been fishermen and boats for as long as there has been a sea there in Galilee. And there were certainly fishermen and boats there when Jesus made Capernaum the center of his three-year ministry.
The sea of Galilee is where Jesus called four burly fishermen named Peter, Andrew, James & John to be a part of His ministry, to come “follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.2 Both Matthew and Mark in the Gospels state that Jesus found Peter and Andrew by their boat casting their nets3 and James and John, the sons of Zebedee, working in the boat of their father repairing their nets4 right there on the sea where they had been fishing.
When I sang that song in Sunday School so many years ago, I never thought that one day I would be able to visit Israel and stand on the shore of that great lake. Okay, I may have thought about it and wanted to go but never really thought I’d be able to do so. And, though I have read many articles about archaeological finds in the Holy Land, I never contemplated seeing one of the most amazing archaeological finds of the past fifty years – a boat.
Imagine a simple wooden fishing boat stuck in the mud for just about two thousand years until a drought revealed its resting place in 1986. A boat that is thought to be exactly like the boats of those four apostles: Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
It is called the “Jesus Boat”6 because it has been carbon-dated to @40 BC which puts it right smack dab into the time of Christ…the time when He walked by the Sea and sailed upon its waters in a boat like this. There is, of course, no proof that Jesus ever stepped foot in this particular boat, walked on the water anywhere near it, or calmed the stormy sea from its stern, but there is no proof that He didn’t use this boat either. So, people like to imagine that this very boat, no matter how far-fetched, is actually a boat that Jesus sailed in…so, it has been named for Him.
This ancient fishing boat was found by Moshe and Yuval Lufan5, two brothers, fishermen just like those four disciples of Jesus, who lived at Kibbutz Ginosar5 had been looking for such a boat during a drought when the waters of the lake were very low. The recovery of the boat was a bit of a miracle in and of itself and involved teams from the Kibbutz and from the Israel Antiquities Authority5. Since the mud had preserved the boat for so long, the wood was completely saturated with water and quite spongy and began decomposing quickly with exposure to air. To prevent decomposition, they wrapped the ruins in fiberglass and insulating foam and floated it out to a restoration site where it was submerged in a wax bath for twelve (12) years.
Today the boat is housed in the Yigal Allon Galilee Boat Museum at Kibbutz Ginosar, which is where I saw it. The boat is 27’ (8.27m) long by 7.5’ (2.3m) wide with a maximum preserved height of 4.3’ (1.3m). It is made mostly of cedar wood but includes about 10 different types of wood which seems to indicate that it was in service for a long time (maybe 100 years) and repaired with whatever was available over that time period. It sounds like it was sort of scrapped together and just like I’d imagine a fisherman’s boat to be after many years on the water. By the time it was “retired” (decommissioned??) as no longer useful and sunk into the sea, it was in pretty bad shape.
Inside the boat, some nails, a cook pot, and a lamp were found. I really wonder why these articles would have been left in the boat. I can figure out the nails part…. having a few nails in an old boat would have been necessary just in case a few repairs were needed along the way. But leaving a good lamp and a pot seems odd. Of course, it’s hard to tell when that pot got cracked like that so it might have been worthless at the time.
The historian Flavius Josephus10 says that during the Jewish Revolt in 70 AD, boats were used on the Sea of Galilee by the rebels to escape the Romans and he indicated that there were about two hundred and thirty (230) boats operating on the sea at that time. Although the lake is good-sized, that number seems like quite a lot of boats, but I am reminded that boats were used for just about everything and not just fishing. Commerce and trading goods would be more easily transported to cities across the sea and way more convenient than hauling goods overland. Besides making work easier, taking a ferry boat across the lake would be much more practical and much quicker than walking all the way around along the shore. From scriptures, that is pretty much what Jesus did…. many times He took a boat. Boats are mentioned at least fifty (50) times in the Gospels and were an integral part of Jesus’ ministry in the area.
I stood by that boat in the museum and marveled at the miracle of it having lain in the mud for those two thousand years and then, found, and then preserved. Who knew it would take 12 years in a wax bath? I wondered if this boat could, in fact, be the boat where Peter and Andrew were working when they looked up and saw the Messiah for the first time2, or the one where Jesus stood and rebuked the storm7, or the one where He walked across the water8 to catch up to the disciples who had gone on ahead, or the boat that was rowed to a spot off shore where Jesus stood and spoke to the crowds9…. a boat that featured so prominently throughout the scriptures. I think the experts are probably right – there’s just no way this could be the exact boat that Jesus used…. just no way. But I looked at the boat knowing it was very similar to that boat (or those boats) and my heart…… well, my heart wanted very much at that moment to believe that it was and will always be “the Jesus boat”6.
When I queried Biblehub.org for “boat”, I got a message saying 101 verses had been found and 25 were listed. I decided to omit the listing of scriptural sources for this blog and just included those I found to be most relevant in the blog itself and in the Resources section below.
- Peter and James and John | Hymnary.org
- Holy Bible, Matthew 4:19 & Mark 1:17, NKJV
- Holy Bible, Matthew 4:18 & Mark 1:16, NKJV
- Holy Bible, Matthew 4:21 & Mark 1:20, NKJV
- Sea of Galilee Boat – Wikipedia
- Jesus Boat | The Jesus Boat | Galilee Boat | 1st century Galilee Boat | The Boat of Jesus | Jesusboat.com
- Holy Bible, Luke 8:24, NKJV
- Holy Bible, Matthew 14:25, NKJV
- Holy Bible, Luke 5:3, NKJV
- Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book II, Whiston chapter 21, Whiston section 8 (tufts.edu); Flavius Josephus. The Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated by. William Whiston, A.M. Auburn and Buffalo. John E. Beardsley. 1895.
ICYMI (In case you missed it) – Previous blogs in the Israel 2022 series:
Israel 2022: Pinch Yourself – April 4, 2022
Israel 2022: Caesarea Maritima – Birding Boomers – April 11, 2022
Israel 2022: Contested on Mount Carmel – Birding Boomers – April 20, 2022
Israel 2022: In This Valley – Birding Boomers – April 30, 2022