Questions From Readers
Some have claimed that Paul was not shipwrecked on the island of Malta, south of Sicily, but on another island. Where was he shipwrecked?
This question refers to a rather recent proposal that the apostle Paul was shipwrecked, not on the island of Malta, but on Cephalonia (or, Kefallinía) near Corfu in the Ionian Sea, off western Greece. The inspired record tells us that Paul set out from Caesarea in the custody of the Roman centurion Julius, together with other soldiers and Paul’s companions. As illustrated on the map, they sailed to Sidon and Myra. Changing to a large grain ship from Alexandria, Egypt, they proceeded westward to Cnidus. They could not hold to the proposed route across the Aegean Sea past the tip of Greece and on to Rome. Strong winds forced them south toward Crete and under lee of its shores. There they stopped at the harbor Fair Havens. Upon putting “out to sea from Crete,” the ship was “violently seized” by “a tempestuous wind called Euroaquilo.” The heavy grain ship was “tossed to and fro on the sea” until the 14th night. Finally, all 276 persons were shipwrecked on an island that the Greek text of the Holy Scriptures names Me·liʹte.—Acts 27:1–28:1.
Over the years, various suggestions have been made as to the identity of this island, Me·liʹte. Some have thought that it was the island Melite Illyrica, now known as Mljet, in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Croatia. But this seems unlikely, since the northern location of Mljet is difficult to harmonize with the next stages of Paul’s journey, namely Syracuse, Sicily, and then the west coast of Italy.—Acts 28:11-13.
Most Bible translators have concluded that Me·liʹte refers to the island Melite Africanus, now known as Malta. The last port of call for the ship carrying Paul was Fair Havens, on Crete. Then a tempestuous wind forced the ship westward toward Cauda. The wind kept driving the ship for many days. It is entirely reasonable that the gale-driven ship would go farther west and reach Malta.
Considering the prevailing wind and “the direction and rate of drift,” Conybeare and Howson noted in their book The Life and Epistles of St. Paul: “The distance between Clauda [or, Cauda] and Malta is rather less than 480 miles [770 kilometers]. The coincidence is so remarkable, that it seems hardly possible to believe that the land, to which the sailors on the fourteenth night [approached] could be any other place than Malta. The probability is overwhelming.”
While alternative identifications may be offered, a shipwreck at Malta shown on the accompanying map seems to fit the Biblical record.
[Map/Picture on page 31]
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