Malta—An Island of Hospitality
THEY had just been through a long ordeal at sea, climaxed by shipwreck. Wet and very tired, they all made it safely to a beach on the island of Malta. You can imagine their appreciation when the people of Malta came to their aid, lighting a fire to warm them and dry their clothes, and to make them feel welcome. A doctor who was among these survivors wrote that the Maltese showed them “extraordinary human kindness.”
That event, which highlighted the hospitality of the Maltese people, took place over 19 centuries ago. You can read about it in the Bible, chapters 27 and 28 of the Acts of Apostles. Has Malta changed since that time?
The Island’s Colorful History
Situated right at the center of the Mediterranean, 60 miles (97 km) to the south of Sicily and about 220 miles (355 km) north of Libya, Malta is thought by many to have been the peak of a mountain that once existed on a stretch of land that may have joined Italy and North Africa. What there is now is a group of small islands, the largest one of which covers a total land area of 95 square miles (246 km2).
Starting with about 800 B.C.E., Malta became a trading post on the Phoenician copper route from Palestine to Cornwall, England. A Phoenician colony took root, and it is mainly to this group that the present-day Maltese seem to owe their origins. After a period of Greek rule, Malta came under the Romans. Subsequently, it was controlled by the Arabs, the Knights of St. John, the French in Napoleon’s time, and the British. All left evidence of their various cultures. Finally, Malta became a self-governing republic in December 1973.
Malta’s Modern Role
Malta’s strategic position is again making these islands very attractive as a base for shipping. Today Malta is offering itself as a link for friendly relations between European and North African countries.
Also, big freighters from Latin-American countries, Australia and the Far East unload their cargoes in Malta, to be reloaded onto smaller merchant ships that serve the Mediterranean region. Thus Malta is becoming a prosperous trading post again, just as it was 2,000 years ago.
The Maltese Language
The doctor mentioned in the introduction to this article is the Christian disciple Luke who, in Acts chapter 28, verses 1 and 2, referred to the people of Malta as “foreign-speaking people.” Yes, the Maltese speak their own language, Malti, a Semitic language that has now incorporated many modifications from European tongues. It is unique in being the only Semitic dialect written in Roman characters.
Since the language sounds something like Arabic, the speaker of Malti can easily be understood by any speaker of Arabic, be he from neighboring Libya or Tunisia or from distant Lebanon or Egypt. For example, the oft uttered word of welcome “Mernba” is very similar to the Arabic equivalent. Furthermore, English is still the official second language in Malta, so the vast majority of the Maltese people speak English, and many speak Italian too. This multilingual ability gives the Maltese an added advantage in their expression of hospitality.
The present population of about a third of a million makes this archipelago nation among the most densely populated areas in the world, with 1,000 persons per sq. km, excluding the thousands of tourists who also populate the land. Because of this, thousands of Maltese have emigrated, and it is estimated that today there are more than another third of a million Maltese scattered all over the world, particularly in Australia, Canada and the United States.
Among Malta’s major industries today is tourism. The islands are attractive because of the sun and the sea. There are also places of special interest because of their connection with the past. One of these is Ghar Dalam.
It is a cave situated at the bottom of a dry valley. It is not the stalactites and the stalagmites that are of special importance here, but the bones of animals. These are one big heap, right from the entrance all the way to the very far end of the cave. Bones of animals that do not inhabit the island—hippopotamuses, pygmy elephants and red deer—can be seen here. Interestingly, no one complete skeleton has been discovered at Ghar Dalam, indicating that the carcasses of these animals were evidently crushed together as they were washed down a onetime torrent valley. When? The only explanation that fits the known facts links it with the flood of Noah’s day.
Malta’s way of life is similar in many ways to that of ancient Palestine. Sheep and goats can be seen together in herds, as referred to by Jesus. (Matt. 25:32, 33) The material used to build houses is the same kind of easily cut limestone that was used in the building of Solomon’s temple 3,000 years ago. And around April and September some bird trappers may still be seen with camouflaged nets snaring some of the migratory birds, in a manner like that employed when Psalm 91:3 was written. This has also been one way in which ornithologists have enhanced their understanding of bird migration.—See also Jeremiah 5:26.
The Apostle Paul in Malta
Among those who survived the shipwreck on Malta in about 58/59 C.E. was the zealous apostle Paul, an outstanding exponent of God’s Word. During his three-month stay on the island, undoubtedly he worked hard to convey the good news from the Bible to the then pagan people of Malta. Indeed, Paul must have been very popular as he performed acts of healing, because when he left we are told that he was showered with gifts of gratitude. (Acts 28:9, 10) To this day the apostle Paul is held in high esteem among the Maltese people. Yet it has been only very recently that the Holy Scriptures, from which Paul preached, have been made available in Malti.
Happily, under the present constitution, freedom of religion has been assured in predominantly Roman Catholic Malta. When you now visit the island you will find a thriving congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses holding regular meetings in its own Kingdom Hall. The work of the preaching of the “good news of the kingdom,” started here by Paul 19 centuries ago, continues to flourish.—Matt. 24:14.
The apostle Paul, the physician Luke and their fellow travelers were made very welcome back there in the first century C.E., not only by officials such as Publius, who is mentioned in the account in Acts, but also by the common people. The Maltese people today make visitors just as welcome as their forebears did in the past, for, in Malta, hospitality is still a way of life.