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CHAPTER XIV.

THE VOYAGE TO ROME

In describing the voyage from Cæsareia to Malta, we are guided by the excellent work of James Smith, Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul (third edition, 1866); but as there are some points of interest which he has not explained satisfactorily, we shall briefly describe the voyage, and treat more elaborately such points as need to be added to Smith’s results.

1. CÆSAREIA TO MYRA.

A convoy of prisoners was starting for Rome under charge of a centurion of the Augustan cohort, and a detachment of soldiers; and Paul was sent along with it. He, of course, occupied a very different position from the other prisoners. He was a man of distinction, a Roman citizen who had appealed for trial to the supreme court in Rome. The others had been in all probability already condemned to death, and were going to supply the perpetual demand which Rome made on the provinces for human victims to amuse the populace by their death in the arena.

The cohorts of the Roman legions never bore surnames, and it would therefore seem that this “Augustan cohort” was one of the auxiliary cohorts, which had regularly one or more surnames. But the duty which is here performed by the centurion was never performed by an auxiliary officer, but only by an officer of a legion. It would therefore appear that an auxiliary officer is here represented in a position which he could not hold.

But, when we recollect (1) that Luke regularly uses the terms of educated conversation, not the strict technical names, and (2) that he was a Greek who was careless of Roman forms or names, we shall not seek in this case to treat the Greek term (σπεῖρα Σεβαστή) as a translation of a correct Roman name; but we shall look for a body in the Roman service which was likely to be called “the troop of the Emperor” by the persons in whose society Luke moved at the time. We give the answer to which Mommsen seems to incline Berlin Akad. Sitzungsber, 1895, p. 501, adding the evidence of Luke’s style, but otherwise quoting Mommsen. First we ask what officer would be likely to perform the duty here assigned to Julius. It would naturally be a legionary centurion on detached service for communication between the Emperor and his armies in the provinces (as described on p. 348). That the centurion whom Luke alludes to was one of this body is confirmed by the fact that, when he reached Rome, he handed Paul over to his chief. We conclude, then, that the “troop of the Emperor” was a popular colloquial way of describing the corps of officer-couriers; and we thus gather from Acts an interesting fact, elsewhere unattested but in perfect conformity with the known facts.

Luke uses the first person throughout the following narrative; and he was therefore in Paul's company. But how was this permitted? It is hardly possible to suppose that the prisoner’s friends were allowed to accompany him. Pliny mentions a case in point (Epist. III 16). Paetus was brought a prisoner from Illyricum to Rome, and his wife Arria vainly begged leave to accompany him; several slaves were permitted to go with him as waiters, valets, etc., and Arria offered herself alone to perform all their duties; but her prayer was refused. The analogy shows how Luke and Aristarchus accompanied Paul: they must have gone as his slaves, not merely performing the duties of slaves (as Arria offered to do), but actually passing as slaves. In this way not merely had Paul faithful friends always beside him; his importance in the eyes of the centurion was much enhanced, and that was of great importance. The narrative clearly implies that Paul enjoyed much respect during this voyage, such as a penniless traveller without a servant to attend on him would never receive either in the first century or the nineteenth.

In the harbour of Cæsareia there was no convenient ship about to sail for Rome; and the convoy was put on board of an Adramyttian ship which was going to make a voyage along the coast towns of the province Asia. Communication direct with Rome might be found in some of the great Asian harbours, or, failing any suitable ship in the late season, the prisoners might be taken (like Ignatius half a century later) by Troas and Philippi and the land road to Dyrrachium, and thence to Brundisium and Rome.

The direct run from Lycia to the Syrian coast was often made, but it is hardly possible that a direct run from Syria back to Myra was ever attempted by ancient ships. They never ventured on such a run except when a steady wind was blowing which could be trusted to last. But westerly breezes blow with great steadiness through the summer months in the Levant; and it is certain that ancient ships westward bound sailed east of Cyprus, as the Adramyttian ship now did. Luke explains why they sailed on this side of Cyprus; and he must, therefore, have expected to take the other side. Now, a sailor or a person accustomed to these seas would not have thought of making any explanation, for the course of the ship was the normal one. But Luke had come to Sidon from Myra by the west side of Cyprus, and he, therefore, was impressed. with the difference, and (contrary to his. usual custom) he gives a formal explanation; and his explanation stamps him as a stranger to these seas.

The ship worked slowly along the Cilician and Pamphylian coast, as the sailors availed themselves of temporary local land breezes and of the steady westward current that runs along the coast. The description given in the Periodoi of Barnabas of a voyage from Seleuceia in Syria to Cyprus in the face of a prevailing steady westerly wind, the work of a person familiar with the circumstances, illustrates perfectly the voyage on this occasion. The Adramyttian ship crept on from point to point up the coast, taking advantage of every opportunity to make a few miles, and lying at anchor in the shelter of the winding coast, when the westerly wind made progress impossible.

Smith in his masterly work collects several other examples of the same course which was adopted by the Adramyttian ship. Modern sailing ships, even with their superior rig, have several times been forced by the steady westerly wind towards the north, keeping east of Cyprus, and using the breezes which blow at intervals from the Caramanian coast.

In this description there is an addition made in the Later Syriac version and some other authorities, which Westcott and Hort put in the margin as one “which appears to have a reasonable probability of being the true reading”. The ship, in this addition, is said to have spent fifteen days in beating along the Cyprio-Pamphylian coast. This addition obviously suits the situation, and may be unhesitatingly accepted as true, whether as written by Luke or as a well-informed gloss. Most probably it is Lukan, for Luke gives rough statements of the time throughout this voyage; and an exact estimate at this point is quite in his style. It perhaps dropped out of most MSS., as wanting interest for later generations. If we may judge from the Periodoi Barnabæ, the coasting voyage was accomplished comparatively rapidly as far as Myra (see also p. 320).

In the harbour of Myra, the centurion found an Alexandrian ship on a voyage towards Italy. He embarked his convoy on board of this ship. It is characteristic of the style of Luke that he does not mention the class of ship or the reason of its voyage from Alexandria to Italy; but simply tells facts as they occur. Now, Egypt was one of the granaries of Rome; and the corn trade between Egypt and Rome was of the first importance and of great magnitude. There is, therefore, a reasonable probability that this ship was carrying corn to Rome; and this inference is confirmed by Luke himself, who mentions in v. 38 that the cargo was grain.

A ship-captain familiar with the Levant informed me that he had known ships going west from Egypt keep well to the north, in order to avail themselves of the shelter of the Cretan coast. No ancient ship would have ventured to keep so much out to sea as to run intentionally from Egypt to Crete direct, and moreover the winds would rarely have permitted it; but it is probable that this Alexandrian ship had sailed direct to Myra across the Levant. The steady westerly Breezes which prevented ships from making the direct run from Sidon, were favourable for the direct run from Alexandria. Probably this course was a customary one during a certain season of the year from Alexandria to Italy. Any one who has the slightest knowledge of “the way of a ship in the sea,” will recognise that, with a steady wind near west, this was the ideally best course; while if the breeze shifted a little towards the north, it would be forced into a Syrian port; and, as we know from other sources, that was often the case.

As we saw (p. 298), Myra was one of the great harbours of the Egyptian service. It is, therefore, unnecessary and incorrect to say, as is often done, that the Alexandrian ship had been blown out of its course. The ship was on its regular and ordinary course, and had quite probably been making a specially good run, for in the autumn there was always risk of the wind shifting round towards the north, and with the wind N.W. the Alexandrian ships could only fetch the Syrian coast.

A voyage which Lucian, in his dialogue The Ship, describes as made by a large Egyptian corn-ship, may be accepted as a fair description of what might occur in the first or second century; and it illustrates well the course of both the Alexandrian and the Adramyttian ship. Lucian’s Ship attempted to run direct from Alexandria to Myra. It was off the west point of Cyprus (Cape Akamas) on the seventh day of its voyage, but was thence blown to Sidon by a west wind so strong that the ship had to run before it. On the tenth day from Sidon it was caught in a storm at the Chelidonian islands and nearly wrecked; ten days from Sidon to the islands would correspond to fully thirteen from Cæsareia to Myra. Thereafter its course was very slow; it failed to keep the proper course to the south of Crete; and at last it reached Piræus on the seventieth day from Alexandria.

2. FROM MYRA TO FAIR HAVENS.

(XXVII 7) AND WHEN WE HAD SAILED SLOWLY MANY DAYS, AND WERE COME WITH DIFFICULTY OFF CNIDOS, AS THE WIND DID NOT PERMIT our straight course ONWARDS, WE SAILED UNDER THE LEE OF CRETE, OFF Cape SALMONE; (8) AND COASTING ALONG IT WITH DIFFICULTY, WE CAME UNTO A CERTAIN PLACE CALLED FAIR HAVENS, NIGH TO WHICH WAS A CITY LASEA.

From Myra the course of both the Adramyttian and the Alexandrian ship would coincide as far as Cnidos. But they found great difficulty in making the course, which implies that strong westerly winds blew most of the time. After a very slow voyage they came opposite Cnidos; but they were not able to run across to Cythera (a course that was sometimes attempted, if we can accept Lucian’s dialogue The Ship, as rounded on possible facts) on account of strong northerly winds blowing steadily in the Ægean, and threatening to force any ship on the north coast of Crete, which was dangerous from its paucity of harbours Accordingly, the choice was open either to put in to Cnidos, and wait a fair wind, or to run for the east and south coast of Crete. The latter alternative was preferred in the advanced season; and they rounded the eastern promontory, Salmone (protected by it from a north-westerly wind), and began anew to work slowly to the west under the shelter of the land. They kept their course along the shore with difficulty until they reached a place named Fair Havens, near the city Lasea, which, as Smith has shown conclusively, is the small bay, two leagues east of Cape Matala, still bearing the same name (in the modern Greek dialect Λιμεωνασ Καλούς); and there they lay for a considerable time. It is not stated in the narrative why they stayed so long at this point, but the reason is clear to a sailor or a yachtsman: as Smith points out, Fair Havens is the nearest shelter on the east of Cape Matala, whilst west of that cape the coast trends away to the north, and no longer affords any protection from the north or north-west winds, and therefore they could go no farther so long as the wind was in that quarter.

The voyage to Cnidos had been slow and hard, and the course along Crete was made with difficulty. At the best that part of the voyage must always have been troublesome, and as the difficulty was unusually great in this case, we cannot allow less time between Myra and Fair Havens than from September 1 to 25. The arrival at Fair Havens is fixed by the narrative; and thus we get the approximate date, August 17, for the beginning of the voyage from Cæsareia.

3. THE COUNCIL.

(XXVII 9) AND WHEN A LONG TIME ELAPSED, AND SAILING WAS NOW DANGEROUS (AS THE FAST ALSO WAS ALREADY OVER), PAUL OFFERED HIS ADVICE (10) IN THESE WORDS: “SIRS, I PERCEIVE THAT THE VOYAGE IS LIKELY TO BE ACCOMPANIED WITH HARDSHIP AND MUCH LOSS, NOT MERELY TO SHIP AND CARGO, BUT ALSO TO OUR LIVES”. (11) BUT THE CENTURION WAS INFLUENCED MORE BY THE SAILING-MASTER AND THE CAPTAIN THAN BY WHAT PAUL SAID. (12) AND, AS THE HAVEN WAS BADLY SITUATED FOR WINTERING IN, THE MAJORITY of the council APPROVED THE PLAN TO GET UNDER WEIGH FROM THENCE, AND ENDEAVOUR TO MAKE PHŒNIX AS A STATION TO WINTER IN—A HARBOUR THAT FACES SOUTH-WEST AND NORTH-WEST.

The great Fast fell in 59 on Oct. 5, and, as Paul and Aristarchus observed the Fast, Luke uses it as an indication of date. The dangerous season for navigation lasted from Sept. 14 to Nov. 11, when all navigation on the open sea was discontinued. The ship reached Fair Havens in the latter part of September, and was detained there by a continuance of unfavourable winds until after Oct. 5. We might be disposed to infer that the Feast of Tabernacles, Oct. 10, fell after they left Fair Havens, otherwise Luke would have mentioned it rather than the Fast, as making the danger more apparent. The picturesque ceremonies of the Tabernacles would have remained in Luke’s mind; but at sea they were not possible; and the Fast was therefore the fact that impressed him, as it was observed by Paul and Aristarchus.

In these circumstances a meeting was held to consider the situation, at which Paul was present, as a person of rank whose convenience was to some extent consulted, whose experience as a traveller was known to be great. It is characteristic of Luke’s style not to mention formally that a council was held. He goes straight to what was the important point in his estimation, viz., Paul’s advice; then he explains why Paul’s advice was not taken; and in the explanation it comes out in what circumstances the advice was given. The whole scene forms, in point of narrative method, an exact parallel to the interview at Paphos (p. 75). We notice also that Luke as a mere servant could not have been present at the council, and depended on Paul’s report; and his account follows the order in which Paul would describe the proceedings. We can imagine that Paul on coming forth, did not formally relate to his two friends that the council met, that the chairman laid the business before it, and so on, but burst forth with his apprehension that “they had made a mistake in not taking the prudent course”.

At the council it is implied that the centurion was president, while the captain and sailing-master were merely advisers. To our modern ideas the captain is supreme on the deck of his ship; and, even if he held a meeting to decide on such a point as the best harbour to lay up in, or consulted the wishes of a distinguished officer in the military service, yet the ultimate decision would lie with himself. Here the ultimate decision lies with the centurion, and he takes the advice of the captain. The centurion, therefore, is represented as the commanding officer, which implies that the ship was a Government ship, and the centurion ranked as the highest officer on board. That, doubtless, is true to the facts of the Roman service. The provisioning of the vast city of Rome, situated in a country where farming had ceased to pay owing to the ruinous foreign competition in grain, was the most serious and pressing department of the Imperial administration. Whatever else the Emperor might neglect, this he could not neglect and live. In the urban populace he was holding a wild beast by the ear; and, if he did not feed it, the beast would tear him to pieces. With ancient means of transport, the task was a hundred times harder than it would be now; and the service of ships on which Rome was entirely dependent was not left to private enterprise, but was a State department. It is, therefore, an error of the Authorised and Revised Versions to speak of the owner (ναύκληρος) of this Alexandrian ship:5757The owners of private merchant ships were distinguished as ἔμποροι from the captains, in a Delian inscription εἰς Βιθυνίαν ἔμποροι καὶ ναύκληροι, Bulletin de Corresp. Hellen. 1880, p. 222. the ship belonged to the Alexandrian fleet in the Imperial service. The captains of the fleet5858οἰ ναύκληροι του πορευτικου Ἀλεξανδρείνου στύλου, Kaibel, Inscript. Grac. in Italia, No. 918. made dedications on account of safe passage at Ostia, and Seneca sat in his house at Puteoli and watched the advance ships sail in announcing the approach of the Alexandrian fleet (Ep. Mor. 77). Passengers were landed at Puteoli; but cargo was carried on to Ostia. As a general rule the ships sailed in fleets; but, of course, incidental reasons often kept one ship apart (as we see in XXVIII 11, and in the opening of Lucian’s dialogue The Ship).

Now, there was not in Rome that strict separation between the naval and the military services which now exists. There was only one service; the same person was at one moment admiral of a fleet, at another general of a land army and an officer might pass from one branch to the other. The land-service, however, ranked higher, and a legionary centurion was certainly of superior rank to the captain of a vessel of the Alexandrian fleet. In this case, then, the centurion sat as president of the council. Naturally, he would not interfere in navigation, for his life might pay the forfeit of any error, but the selection of a port for wintering in was more in his line. Now, it was the regular practice for all Roman officials, who often had to take responsibility in cases in which they were not competent alone to estimate all the facts, to summon a council (consilium) of experienced and competent advisers before coming to a decision. Such was the nature of the meeting here described.

The centurion, very properly, was guided in this matter, against the advice of Paul, by the opinion of his professional advisers, who were anxious to get on as far as possible before navigation ceased on November 11, and it was resolved to take any fair opportunity of reaching the harbour of Phoenix, which was not only further on, but also better protected.

In the council-scene, then, when we put events in their sequence in time, and add those facts of the situation which Luke assumes as familiar to his readers, we have a vivid and striking incident, agreeing with the general type of Roman procedure, and yet giving us information about life on board a Government transport such as we could not find in any other part of ancient literature.

There has been a good deal of discussion as to the description of the harbour Phoenix, the modern Lutro, “the only secure harbour in all winds on the south coast of Crete “. This, however, faces the east, not the west. Smith tries to interpret the Greek words in that sense; but it must be observed that Luke never saw the harbour, and merely speaks on Paul’s report of the professional opinion. It is possible that the sailors described the entrance as one in which inward-bound ships looked towards N.W. and S.W., and that in transmission from mouth to mouth, the wrong impression was given that the harbour looked N.W. and S.W.

4. THE STORM.

(XXVII 13) AND WHEN A MODERATE SOUTHERLY BREEZE AROSE, SUPPOSING THAT THEY HAD GOT THEIR OPPORTUNITY,5959Literally, had got their purpose. THEY WEIGHED ANCHOR AND SAILED ALONG THE CRETAN COAST CLOSE IN. (14) BUT AFTER NO LONG TIME THERE STRUCK DOWN FROM THE ISLAND A TYPHONIC WIND, WHICH GOES BY THE NAME EURAQUILO. (15) AND WHEN THE SHIP WAS CAUGHT BY IT, AND COULD NOT FACE THE WIND, WE GAVE WAY AND LET THE SHIP DRIVE. (16) AND, WHEN WE RAN UNDER THE LEE OF A SMALL ISLAND, CAUDA BY NAME, WE WERE ABLE WITH DIFFICULTY TO HAUL IN THE BOAT. (17) AND HAVING UNDERGIRDING IT; AND BEING IN TERROR LEST THEY BE CAST ON “THE GREAT QUICKSANDS,” THEY REDUCED SAIL, AND LET THE SHIP DRIFT IN THAT POSITION (viz., laid-to under storm-sails).

One morning, after the council, their chance came with a moderate south wind, which favoured their westerly voyage. At this point the writer says that they went close inshore; and this emphatic statement, after they had been on a coasting voyage for weeks, must in a careful writer have some special force. Cape Matala projected well out to the south about six miles west of Fair Havens, and it needed all their sailing power to clear it on a straight course. From Luke’s emphasis we gather that it was for some time doubtful whether they could weather the point; and in the bright late autumn morning we can imagine every one gathered on the deck, watching the wind, the coast and the cape ahead. If the wind went round a point towards the west, they would fail; and the anxious hour has left its record in the single word of v. 13 (ἀσσον), while the inability of some scribes or editors to imagine the scene has left its record in the alteration (θασσον).

After passing Cape Matala, they had before them a fair course with a favouring breeze across the broad opening of the Gulf of Messara. But before they had got halfway across the open bay,6060Seventeen miles from shore on their course, according Smith. there came a sudden change, such as is characteristic of that sea, where “southerly winds almost invariably shift to a violent northerly wind”. There struck down from the Cretan mountains, which towered above them to the height of over 7000 feet, a sudden eddying squall from about east- north-east. Every one who has any experience of sailing on lakes or bays overhung by mountains will appreciate the epithet “typhonic,” which Luke uses. As a ship-captain recently said to me in relating an anecdote of his own experience in the Cretan waters, “the wind comes down from those mountains fit to blow the ship out of the water”.

An ancient ship with one huge sail was exposed to extreme danger from such a blast; the straining of the great sail on the single mast was more than the hull could bear; and the ship was exposed to a risk which modern vessels do not fear, foundering in the open sea. It appears that they were not able to slacken sail quickly; and, had the ship been kept up towards the wind, the strain would have shaken her to pieces. Even when they let the ship go, the leverage on her hull must have been tremendous, and would in a short time have sent her to the bottom. Paul, who had once already narrowly escaped from such a wreck, drifting on a spar or swimming for a night and a day (II Cor. XI 25), justified in his advice at Fair Havens not to run the risk of coasting further in the dangerous season on a coast where such sudden squalls are a common feature. In this case the ship was saved by getting into calmer water under the shelter of an island, Cauda (now Gozzo), about twenty-three miles to leeward.

At this point Smith notices the precision of Luke’s terminology. In v. 4 they sailed under the lee of Cyprus, keeping northwards with a westerly wind on the beam (ὑπεπλεύσαμεν); here they ran before a wind under the lee of Cauda (ὑποδραμόντες).

The sailors knew that their only hope was in the smoother water behind Cauda, and kept her up accordingly with her head to the wind, so that she would make no headway, but merely drifted with her right side towards the wind (“on the starboard tack”).

Here three distinct operations were performed; and it is noteworthy that Luke mentions first among them, not the one which was the most important or necessary, but the one in which he himself took part, viz., hauling in the boat. In the light breeze it had been left to tow behind, and the squall had come down too suddenly to haul it in. While the other operations required skill, any one could haul on a rope, and Luke was pressed into the service. The boat was waterlogged by this time; and the historian notes feelingly what hard work it was to get it in, v. 16.

While this was going on, ropes were got out, and the ship undergirded to strengthen her against the storm and the straining of her timbers. The scholars who discuss nautical subjects seem all agreed that undergirders were put longitudinally round the ship (i.e., horizontal girders passed round stem and stern). If any of them will show how it was possible to perform this operation during a storm, I shall be ready to accept their opinion; but meantime (without entering on the question what “undergirders,” ὑποζώματα, were in Athenian triremes) I must with Smith believe that cables were passed underneath round the ship transversely to hold the timbers together. This is a possible operation in the circumstances, and a useful one.

Luke mentions last what a sailor would mention first, the most delicate and indispensable operation, viz., leaving up just enough of sail to keep the ship’s head to the wind, and bringing down everything else that could be got down. It is not certain that he fully understood this operation, but perhaps the Greek (χαλάσαντες τὸ σκεῦος) might be taken as a technical term denoting the entire series of operations, slackening sail, but leaving some spread for a special purpose.

This operation was intended to guard against the danger of being driven on the great quicksands of the African coast, the Syrtes. These were still far distant; but the sailors knew that at this late season the wind might last many days. The wind was blowing straight on the sands; and it was absolutely necessary, not merely to delay the ship’s motion towards them, but to turn it in a different direction. In the Gulf of Messara, the wind had been an eddying blast under the mountains; but further out it was a steady, strong east-north-easterly gale.

Dragging stones or weights at the end of ropes from the stern, which is the meaning elicited by some German commentators and writers on nautical matters, might be useful in other circumstances; but how that meaning can be got from the Greek words (χαλάσαντες τὸ σκεῦος), I confess that I cannot see. Moreover, as we have said, what the sailors wished was not merely to delay their course towards the Syrtes, but to turn their course in another direction.

Accordingly, the ship drifted, with her head to the north, steadied by a low sail, making lee-way proportionate to the power of the wind and waves on her broadside. As Smith shows in detail, the resultant rate of motion would vary, according to the size of the ship and the force of the wind, between ¾ and 2 miles per hour; and the probable mean rate in this case would be about 1½ miles per hour; while the direction would approximate to 8° north of west. The ship would continue to drift in the same way as long as the wind blew the same, and the timbers and sails held; and at the calculated rates, if it was under Cauda towards evening, it would on the fourteenth night be near Malta.

5. DRIFTING.

(XXVII 18) AND, AS WE LABOURED EXCEEDINGLY WITH THE STORM, THE NEXT DAY THEY BEGAN TO THROW THE FREIGHT OVERBOARD, (19) AND ON THE THIRD DAY WE CAST OUT, WITH OUR OWN HANDS ACTUALLY, THE SHIP’S FURNITURE. (20) AND AS NEITHER SUN NOR STARS WERE VISIBLE FOR MANY DAYS, AND A SEVERE STORM WAS PRESSING HARD ON US, ALL HOPE THAT WE SHOULD BE SAVED WAS GRADUALLY TAKEN AWAY. (21) AND WHEN THERE HAD BEEN LONG ABSTINENCE FROM FOOD, THEN PAUL STOOD FORTH IN MIDST OF THEM, AND SAID: “THE RIGHT COURSE, GENTLEMEN, WAS TO HEARKEN TO ME, AND NOT TO SET (22) AND MY ADVICE TO YOU IN THE PRESENT IS TO TAKE HEART; FOR LOSS OF LIFE THERE SHALL BE NONE AMONG YOU, BUT OF THE SHIP. (23) FOR THERE STOOD BY ME THIS NIGHT AN ANGEL OF THE GOD WHOSE I AM, WHOM ALSO I SERVE, (24) SAYING: ‘FEAR NOT, PAUL; THOU MUST STAND BEFORE CÆSAR; AND, LO! THERE HAVE BEEN GRANTED THEE BY GOD ALL THEY THAT SAIL WITH THEE’. (25) WHEREFORE TAKE HEART, GENTLEMEN; FOR I BELIEVE GOD, THAT IT SHALL BE SO AS IT HATH BEEN SPOKEN UNTO ME. (26) HOWBEIT WE MUST BE CAST ON SOME ISLAND.”

In their situation the great danger was of foundering through leakage caused by the constant straining due to the sail and the force of the waves on the broadside, which ancient vessels were not strong enough to stand. To lessen the danger, the sailors began to tighten the ship, by throwing away the cargo. On the day after, the whole company, Luke among them, sacrificed the ship’s equipment. v. 19 is a climax; “with our own hands we threw away all the ship’s fittings and equipment,” the extreme act of sacrifice. The first person, used in the Authorised Version, occurs only in some less authoritative MSS., but greatly increases the effect. The sailors threw overboard part of the cargo; and the passengers and supernumeraries, in eager anxiety to do something, threw overboard whatever movables they found, which was of little or no practical use, but they were eager to do something. This makes a striking picture of growing panic; but the third person, which appears in the great MSS., is ineffective, and makes no climax.

One of the miserable accompaniments of a storm at sea is the difficulty of obtaining food; and, if that is so in a modern vessel, it must have been much worse in an ancient merchant ship, inconveniently crowded with sailors and passengers. Moreover, the sacrifice of the ship’s furniture must have greatly increased the difficulty of preparing food.

Worse than all, the leakage was steadily growing from the straining of the mast, and yet they dared not cut the mast away, as it alone helped them to work off the dreaded African sands. Day after day the crew sat doing nothing, eating nothing, waiting till the ship should sink. In such a situation the experience of many cases shows that some individual, often one not hitherto prominent, and not rarely a woman, comes forward to cheer the company to the hope of escape and the courage of work; and many a desperate situation has been overcome by the energy thus imparted. In this case Paul stood forth in the midst of the helpless, panic-struck crowd. When caution was suitable (v. 10), he had been the prudent, cautious adviser, warning the council of prospective danger. But now, amidst panic and despair, he appears cool, confident, assured of safety; and he speaks in the only tone that could cheer such an audience as his, the tone of an inspired messenger. In a vision he has learned that all are to escape; and he adds that an island is to be the means of safety.

6. LAND.

(XXVII 27) BUT WHEN THE FOURTEENTH NIGHT WAS COME, AS WE WERE DRIVEN TO AND FRO IN THE ADRIA, TOWARDS MIDNIGHT THE SAILORS SURMISED THAT SOME LAND WAS NEARING THEM; (28) AND THEY SOUNDED, AND FOUND TWENTY FATHOMS; AND AFTER A LITTLE SPACE THEY SOUNDED AGAIN, AND FOUND FIFTEEN FATHOMS. (29) AND FEARING LEST HAPLY WE SHOULD BE CAST ON ROCKY GROUND THEY LET GO FOUR ANCHORS FROM THE STERN, AND PRAYED THAT DAY COME ON. (30) AND AS THE SAILORS WERE SEEKING TO MAKE THEIR ESCAPE FROM THE SHIP, AND HAD LOWERED THE BOAT INTO THE SEA, UNDER PRETENCE OF LAYING OUT ANCHORS FROM THE BOW, (31) PAUL SAID TO THE CENTURION AND THE SOLDIERS, “UNLESS THESE ABIDE IN THE SHIP, YOU CANNOT BE SAVED”. (32) THEN THE SOLDIERS CUT AWAY THE ROPES OF THE BOAT AND LET HER FALL AWAY. (33) AND WHILE THE DAY WAS COMING ON, PAUL BESOUGHT THEM ALL TO TAKE SOME FOOD, SAYING: “THIS DAY IS THE FOURTEENTH DAY THAT YOU WATCH AND CONTINUE FASTING, AND HAVE TAKEN NOTHING. (34) WHEREFORE, I BESEECH YOU TO TAKE SOME FOOD, FOR THIS IS FOR YOUR SAFETY; FOR THERE SHALL NOT A HAIR PERISH FROM THE HEAD OF ANY OF YOU.” (35) AND WHEN HE HAD SAID THIS HE TOOK BREAD AND GAVE THANKS TO GOD IN THE PRESENCE OF ALL; AND HE BRAKE IT, AND BEGAN TO EAT. (36) THEN WERE THEY ALL OF GOOD CHEER, AND THEMSELVES ALSO TOOK SOME FOOD. (37) AND WE WERE IN ALL ON THE SHIP 276 SOULS. (38) AND WHEN THEY HAD EATEN ENOUGH, THEY PROCEEDED TO LIGHTEN THE SHIP, THROWING OUT THE WHEAT INTO THE SEA.

Luke seems to have had the landsman’s idea that they drifted to and fro in the Mediterranean. A sailor would have known that they drifted in a uniform direction; but it seems hardly possible to accept Smith’s idea that the Greek word (διαφερομένων) can denote a straight drifting course.

The name Adria has caused some difficulty. It was originally narrower in application; but in the usage of sailors it grew wider as time passed, and Luke uses the term that he heard on shipboard, where the sailors called the sea that lay between Malta, Italy, Greece, and Crete “the Adria”. As usual, Luke’s terminology is that of life and conversation, not of literature. Strabo the geographer, who wrote about A.D. 19, says that the Ionian sea on the west of Greece was “a part of what is now called Adria,” implying that contemporary popular usage was wider than ancient usage. In later usage the name was still more widely applied: in the fifth century “the Adria” extended to the coast of Cyrene; and mediæval sailors distinguished the Adriatic, as the whole Eastern half of the Mediterranean, from the Ægean sea (see p. 298).

On the fourteenth midnight, the practised senses of the sailors detected that land was nearing: probably, as Smith suggests, they heard the breakers, and, as an interesting confirmation of his suggestion, one old Latin version reads “that land was resounding”.6161Resonare Gig. Compared with προσαχειν, B, as Prof. Rendel Harris suggests to me, this implies an early Greek reading προσηχειν. was now necessary to choose where they should beach the vessel; for the sound of the breakers warned them that the coast was dangerous. In the dark no choice was possible; and they therefore were forced to anchor. With a strong wind blowing it was doubtful whether the cables and anchors would hold; therefore, to give themselves every chance, they let go four anchors. Smith quotes from the sailing directions that in St. Paul’s Bay (the traditional scene of the wreck), “while the cables hold there is no danger, as the anchors will never start”. He also points out that a ship drifting from Cauda could not get into the bay without passing near the low rocky point of Koura, which bounds it on the east. The breakers here warned the sailors; and the charts show that after passing the point the ship would pass over 20 fathoms and then over 15 fathoms depth on her course, W. by N.

Anchoring by the stern was unusual; but in their situation it had great advantages. Had they anchored by the bow, the ship would have swung round from the wind; and, when afterwards they wished to run her ashore, it would have been far harder to manage her when lying with her prow pointing to the wind and away from the shore. But, as they were, they had merely to cut the cables, unlash the rudders, and put up a little foresail (v. 40); and they had the ship at once under command to beach her at any spot they might select.

As the ship was now lying at anchor near some land, the sailors were about to save themselves by the boat and abandon the ship to its fate without enough skilled hands to work it; but Paul, vigilant ever, detected their design, and prevented it. Then, in order that the company might have strength for the hard work that awaited them at daybreak, he encouraged them once more with the assurance of safety, urged them to eat with a view thereto, and himself set the example. There is perhaps an intention in v. 35 to represent Paul as acting like Jesus at the last Passover; and the resemblance is more pointed if the words added in one MS. and some versions are original, “giving also to us”. But it would be necessary to understand “us” to mean only Luke and Aristarchus (as Dr. Blass agrees); and this is harsh after the word has been so often used in a much wider sense. It is characteristic of Christianity in all periods to seek after resemblances between the Founder and any great hero of the faith at some crisis of history; and this addition seems a later touch to bring out the resemblance.

7. PAUL’S ACTION ON THE SHIP.

The account of the voyage as a whole is commonly accepted by critics as the most trustworthy part of Acts and as “one of the most instructive documents for the knowledge of ancient seamanship,” (Holtzmann on XXVII 4, p. 421). But in it many critics detect the style of the later hand, the supposed second-century writer that made the work out of good and early documents, and addressed his compilation to Theophilus. Many hold that this writer inserted vv. 21-26, and some assign to him also vv. 33-35, because the character there attributed to Paul is quite different from his character in the genuine old document, especially vv. 10 and 31; in the original parts Paul is represented as a simple passenger, cautious to a degree, suffering from hunger, apprehensive of the future, keenly alive to prospective danger, and anxious to provide against it: on the other hand, in vv. 21-26 he knows that their safety is assured; he speaks as the prophet, not the anxious passenger; he occupies a position apart from, and on a higher plane than human.

This is a fair hypothesis, and deserves fair and dispassionate consideration; no one whose mind is not already definitely made up on all questions can pass it by; and only those who feel that they understand the entire narrative in every turn and phrase and allusion would willingly pass it by, for every real student knows how frequently his knowledge is increased by changing his point of view.

We may at once grant that the narrative would go on without any obvious awkwardness if 21-26 were omitted, which is of course true of many a paragraph describing some special incident in a historical work.

But it is half-hearted and useless to cut out 21-26 as an interpolation without cutting out 33-38; there, too, Paul is represented as the prophet and the consoler on a higher plane, though he is also the mere passenger suffering from hunger, and alive to the fact that the safety of all depends on their taking food and being fit for active exertion in the morning. Some critics go so far as to cut out vv. 33-35. But it is not possible to cut these out alone; there is an obvious want of sequence between 32 and 36, and Holtzmann therefore seems to accept 33-35. But if they are accepted I fail to see any reason for rejecting 21-26; these two passages are so closely akin in purport and bearing on the context that they must go together; and all the mischief attributed to 21-26 as placing Paul on a higher plane is done in 33-35.

Further, the excision of 21-26 would cut away a vital part of the narrative. (1) These verses contain the additional fact, natural in itself and assumed in v. 34 as already known, that the crew and passengers were starving and weak. (2) They fit well into the context, for they follow naturally after the spiritlessness described in v. 20, and Paul begins by claiming attention on the ground of his former advice (advice that is accepted by the critics as genuine because it is different in tone from the supposed interpolation). “In former circumstances,” says he, “I gave you different, but salutary advice, which to your cost you disregarded; listen to me now when I tell you that you shall escape.” The method of escape, the only method that a sailor could believe to be probable, is added as a concluding encouragement.

But let us cut out every verse that puts Paul on a higher plane, and observe the narrative that would result: Paul twice comes forward with advice that is cautiously prudent, and shows keen regard to the chance of safety. If that is all the character he displayed throughout the voyage, why do we study the man and his fate? All experience shows that in such a situation there is often found some one to encourage the rest; and, if Paul had not been the man to comfort and cheer his despairing shipmates, he would never have impressed himself on history or made himself an interest to all succeeding time. The world’s history stamps the interpolation-theory here as false.

Moreover, the letters of Paul put before us a totally different character from this prudent calculator of chances. The Paul of Acts XXVII is the Paul of the Epistles: the Paul who remains on the interpolation theory could never have written the Epistles.

Finally, the reason why the historian dwells at such length on the voyage lies mainly in vv. 21-26 and 33-38. In the voyage he pictures Paul on a higher plane than common men, advising more skillfully than the skilled mariners, maintaining hope and courage when all were in despair, and breathing his hope and courage into others, playing the part of a true Roman in a Roman ship, looked up to even by the centurion, and in his single self the saviour of the lives of all. But the interpolation-theory would cut out the centre of the picture.

There remains no reason to reject vv. 21-26 which I can discover, except that it introduces the superhuman element. That is an argument to which I have no reply. It is quite a tenable position in the present stage of science and knowledge to maintain that every narrative which contains elements of the marvellous must be an unhistorical and untrustworthy narrative. But let us have the plain and honest reasons; those who defend that perfectly fair position should not try to throw in front of it as outworks flimsy and uncritical reasons, which cannot satisfy for a moment any one that has not his mind made up beforehand on that fundamental premise. But the superhuman element is inextricably involved in this book: you cannot cut it out by any critical process that will bear scrutiny. You must accept all or leave all.

8. ON SHORE.

(XXVII 39) AND WHEN IT WAS DAY THEY DID NOT RECOGNISE THE LAND; BUT THEY WERE AWARE OF A SORT OF BAY OR CREEK WITH A SANDY BEACH, AND THEY TOOK COUNSEL, IF POSSIBLE, TO DRIVE THE SHIP UP ON IT. (40.) AND CASTING OFF THE ANCHORS, THEY LEFT THEM IN THE SEA, WHILST LOOSING THE FASTENINGS OF THE RUDDERS, AND SETTING THE FORESAIL TO THE BREEZE, THEY HELD FOR, THE OPEN BEACH. (41) AND CHANCING ON A BANK BETWEEN TWO SEAS, THEY DROVE THE SHIP ON IT; AND THE PROW STRUCK AND REMAINED IMMOVABLE, BUT THE AFTER PART BEGAN TO BREAK UP FROM THE VIOLENCE. (42) AND THE SOLDIERS COUNSEL WAS TO KILL THE PRISONERS, LEST ANY SHOULD SWIM AWAY AND ESCAPE; (43) BUT THE CENTURION, WISHING TO SAVE PAUL, STAYED THEM FROM THEIR PURPOSE, AND BADE THEM THAT COULD SWIM TO LEAP OVERBOARD AND GET FIRST TO LAND, (44) AND THE REST, SOME ON PLANKS, AND SOME ON PIECES FROM THE SHIP. AND SO IT CAME TO PASS THAT ALL ESCAPED SAFE TO THE LAND.

No description could be more clear and precise, selecting the essential points and omitting all others. Smith quotes some interesting parallels from modern narratives of shipwreck. Some doubt has arisen whether “the bank between two seas” was a shoal separated from the shore by deep water, or, as Smith says, a neck of land projecting towards the island of Salmonetta, which shelters St. Paul’s Bay on the north-west. But the active term “drove the ship on it” (ἐπέκειλαν) implies purpose, and decides in Smith’s favour. The fact that they “chanced on a ridge between two seas” might at the first glance seem to imply want of purpose; but, as Smith points out, they could not, while lying at anchor, see the exact character of the spot. They selected a promising point, and as they approached they found that luck had led them to the isthmus between the island and the mainland. In their situation the main object was to get the ship close up to the shore, and safe from being rapidly and utterly smashed up by the waves. No place could have better favoured their purpose. The ship (which probably drew eighteen feet of water) “struck a bottom of mud, graduating into tenacious clay, into which the fore part would fix itself, and be held fast, while the stern was exposed to the force of the waves”. Thus the foreship was held together, until every passenger got safe to dry land. Only the rarest conjunction of favourable circumstances could have brought about such a fortunate ending to their apparently hopeless situation; and one of the completest services that has ever been rendered to New Testament scholarship is James Smith’s proof that all these circumstances are united in St. Paul’s Bay. The only difficulty to which he has applied a rather violent solution is the sandy beach: at the traditional point where the ship was run ashore there is no sandy beach; but he considers that it is “now worn away by the wasting action of the sea”. On this detail only local knowledge would justify an opinion,

In v. 41 “the violence” is rate expression used by a person standing on the shore and watching the waves smash up the ship: he does not need to specify the kind of violence. This expression takes us on to the beach, and makes us gaze on the scene. The humblest scribe can supply κυμάτων here, and most of them have done so.

9. MALTA.

(XXVIII 1) AND WHEN WE WERE ESCAPED, THEN WE LEARNT THAT THE ISLAND IS CALLED MELITA. (2) AND THE BARBARIANS SHOWED US NO COMMON KINDNESS; FOR THEY KINDLED A FIRE, AND WELCOMED US ALL, BECAUSE OF THE PRESENT RAIN AND BECAUSE OF THE COLD. (3) BUT WHEN PAUL HAD GATHERED A BUNDLE OF STICKS AND LAID THEM ON THE FIRE, A VIPER CAME OUT BY REASON OF THE HEAT AND FASTENED ON HIS HAND. (4) AND WHEN THE BARBARIANS SAW THE BEAST HANGING FROM HIS HAND, THEY SAID TO ONE ANOTHER, “NO DOUBT THIS MAN IS A MURDERER, WHOM, THOUGH HE HATH ESCAPED FROM THE SEA, YET JUSTICE WILL NOT SUFFER TO LIVE”. (5) HOWBEIT HE SHOOK OFF THE BEAST INTO THE FIRE, AND TOOK NO HARM. (6) BUT THEY EXPECTED THAT HE WOULD HAVE SWOLLEN OR FALLEN DOWN DEAD SUDDENLY; BUT WHEN THEY WERE LONG IN EXPECTATION AND BEHELD NOTHING AMISS COME TO HIM, THEY CHANGED THEIR MINDS, AND SAID THAT HE WAS A GOD. (7) NOW IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF THAT PLACE WERE LANDS BELONGING TO THE FIRST man OF THE ISLAND, NAMED POPLIUS, WHO RECEIVED US AND ENTERTAINED US THREE DAYS COURTEOUSLY. (8) AND IT WAS SO THAT THE FATHER OF POPLIUS LAY SICK OF A FEVER AND DYSENTERY; AND PAUL ENTERED IN UNTO HIM, AND PRAYED, AND LAYING HIS HANDS ON HIM HEALED HIM. (9) AND WHEN THIS WAS DONE THE REST ALSO WHICH HAD DISEASES IN THE ISLAND CAME AND WERE CURED; (10) WHO ALSO HONOURED US WITH MANY HONOURS, AND WHEN WE SAILED PUT ON BOARD SUCH THINGS AS WE NEEDED.

The name Poplius is the Greek form of the prænomen Publius; but it is not probable that this official would be called by a simple prænomen. Poplius might perhaps be the Greek rendering of the nomen Popilius. Yet possibly the peasantry around spoke familiarly of “Publius” his prænomen simply; and Luke (who has no sympathy for Roman nomenclature) took the name that he heard in common use. The title “first” technically correct in Melita: it has inscriptional authority.

Doubtless many of the sailors had been at Malta before, for eastern ships bound for Rome must have often touched at the island, v. 11. “But St. Paul’s Bay is remote from the great harbour, and possesses no marked features by which it could be recognised” from the anchorage in the bay.

The objections which have been advanced, that there are now no vipers in the island, and only one place where any wood grows, are too trivial to deserve notice. Such changes are natural and probable in a small island, populous and long civilised.

The term “barbarians,” v. 2, is characteristic of the nationality of the writer. It does not indicate rudeness or uncivilised habits, but merely non-Greek birth; and it is difficult to imagine that a Syrian or a Jew or any one but a Greek would have applied the name to the people of Malta, who had been in contact with Phoenicians and Romans for many centuries.


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