Jesus’s boat? a wreck that’s becoming a relic

Jesus’s boat? a wreck that’s becoming a relic – ancient boat wreck in the Sea of Galilee

In the New Testament, right after Jesus walked on water and fed 5,000 people on five loaves and two fishes, he crossed the Sea of Galilee in a fishing boat. This year, after a drought caused the sea to recede, Moshe and Yuval Lufan, brothers who live on Kibbutz Ginossar, were scavenging for Roman coins in the muddy bed of the Sea of Galilee when they stumbled upon the side of a very old boat. Was it Jesus’s?

Probably not, but it could have been. When archaeologists ShellyWachsman and Kurt Raveh of Israel’s Department of Antiquities arrived at the site, they dug up a cooking pot from the first century B.C. or the first century A.D. and an oil lamp from the first century B.C. And, based on a knowledge of Mediterranean shipbuilding practices, nautical archaeologist Richard Steffy of Texas A & M tentatively dated the 27-foot boat to between the first century B.C. and the second century A.D.

The boat survived for some twenty centuries only because it had an exceptional burial. Most shipwrecks are consumed by wood-boring organisms, but this one was covered with a layer of oxygen-free silt, in which there was little bacterial activity. The boat decayed slowly, as lignin, a chemical that helps cement wood together, was destroyed by microorganisms and replaced by water. Now only the cell walls of cellulose, which gives wood its structural strength, keep the boat intact.

According to Wachsman, the vessel couldn’t be lifted out of the mud, because ”it had the consistency of soft cheese . . . the wood would simply have crumbled in our hands.” So, after archaeologists had dug away the mud surrounding the boat, Orna Cohen, conservationist at Hebrew University’s archaeology institute, encased it in a thick envelope of polyurethane and floated it, like an enormous marshmallow, to the shore, where it was placed gently in a specially built pool filled with water. There it will be embalmed.

In that process, the water in the wood will be replaced by polyethylene glycol, a synthetic wax. Cohen plans to pour some 35 tons of the wax into the bath and let it soak in for five to seven years.

Though the boat will soon be embalmed, Wachsman says, ”the lastthing in the world we want is for this to turn into a holy relic.” So far, he hasn’t had his way. Pilgrims are flocking to the shore of the Sea of Galilee to glimpse what they believe is Jesus’s boat. They want to touch the wood, but of course that’s not allowed, since even the lightest touch leaves a dent. So they ask Wachsman if they can’t please touch his hands, since he has touched the boat.

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