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by Irene Butler
(For Travel Writers' Tales)

It's more than the room's cool temperature that sends chills down my spine. The hull of the "Ancient Galilee Boat" my husband Rick and I are gazing upon was the type of boat used by fishermen and for ferrying people and goods on the Sea of Galilee during the time Jesus preached along these shores, which earned it the appellation "Jesus boat".

It is mind-boggling as to how this wooden vessel, or most of it, survived being buried beneath the sea for 2000 years. The top of this 8.2 metres long boat is missing due to being exposed to Galilee's sweet water (as it is actually a lake), whereas the bottom is believed to have been instantaneously engulfed in a preserving blanket of thick mud. Thus saved from decomposition is a shell 2.3 metres in breadth and maximum height of 1.2 metres. It once flaunted a sail to catch the winds, and capacity enough for four oarsmen, a helmsman and a dozen passengers-or a substantial catch of fish. It now rests on an iron frame within Yigal Allon Center Museum, which edges Ginosar Kibbutz (communal farm) on the sea's north-western shores where it was discovered.

Imagine the stir in1986 when during a severe draught that lowered the sea's waters, Moshe and Yuval, fishermen brothers from this kibbutz, found a row of wood prongs sticking out of the mud. Luckily they were also amateur archaeologists and alerted the Antiquities Authority, who brought an archaeological excavation team of the highest calibre to the site. It took eleven days of intensive labour to rescue this fragile shell. "A platform was suspended above the vessel for excavators to lie on while removing mud, thus minimizing handling," says the museum's expert Marina. "Continually spraying water on exposed wood kept it from drying too rapidly and shrinking." The freed hull was then cocooned in fiberglass and polyurethane foam to once again float on Galilee, this time to a specially designed conservation facility." A seven-year-long regime in a tank of solutions was undertaken to replace the water in the soggy wood with wax, thus keeping its form and preventing infestation of larvae hatching from two-millennium-old eggs.

Carbon-14 tests confirm the boat was constructed and used between 100 BCE and 70 CE, leaving me to wonder what circumstance ended its use. Perhaps it was sunk in the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 67 CE. Or was it simply swallowed by mud during a violent storm? "The boat, made mostly of cedar and oak, was repaired over its lifetime with bits and plugs of ten other woods," says Marina, "some repairs more professional than others." This gives a very human dimension to its story, with the added possibility of Jesus seeing it on the lake, or leaning against it while talking to its owner, or perchance it was the boat He sailed in with his disciples….or not. It is enough to know this craft was raised from the mud after 2000 years to be relished by ours and future generations.

Venturing further north along the shores of Galilee we come to Capernaum. Now predominantly archaeological ruins, at the time Jesus came from Nazareth it was a fishing village. Gospels relate it was in Capernaum that Jesus recruited four fishermen apostles - Peter, James, Andrew and John, and where He performed many miracles. The ruins of the 4th century synagogue we stand in is built atop the synagogue where Jesus taught. Nearby is the modern octagonal church built in 1990 over a 5th century church, which in turn was constructed over the site of St. Peter's traditional house-a glass floor allows us to view the stone ruins of his home. Around these structures are remnants of Roman houses attesting to its being a prosperous town for merchants and farmers as well as fishermen.

Further along on a slight rise before the water's edge is the Monastery of the Twelve Apostles, built in 1025 over the ruins of a previous church. The iconography on the inside is stunning, depicting scenes from gospels, such as Jesus calming the storm and the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Outside again we follow a path to the sea where, sitting on rocks with only the sounds of lapping waves and songbirds in treetops, we ponder how Jesus may have sat in this very spot. We leave with a heady feeling at having walked the shores of Galilee, through ruins and relics steeped in historic events and biblical passages as inextricably linked as threads in a bolt of multi-coloured cloth.


Travel Writers' Tales is an independent newspaper syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers.


Israel Ministry of Tourism:
Yigal Allon Centre & Museum:

PHOTOS: By Rick Butler

1.Ancient Galilee Boat a.k.a. Jesus Boat
2. Preservation tank for Galilee Boat
3. 4th Century Synagogue
4. Roman ruins
5. Monastery of the Twelve Apostles


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