A museum on the Sea of Galilee is home to an ancient fishing vessel that has been dubbed the “Jesus boat.” The Yigal Alon Museum, also known as the Jesus Boat Museum, has cared for the 2,000-year-old craft since its discovery in 1986. Archaeologists, scientists, Biblical text, carbon dating, and a first-century mosaic found near the site confirm that this was the type of boat used by fishermen during the life of Jesus Christ.
The 1986 discovery was made on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee by two brothers, fishermen from Kibbutz Ginosar, Moshe and Yuval Lufan. The area had experienced a terrible drought which had left part of an object visible in the mud after the waters receded. The brothers said a double rainbow appeared in the sky when they found it.
A team of volunteers from the Kibbutz Ginosar and archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority spent 12 days clearing away the mud. They found the boat looking well preserved despite it having filled with silt when it sank 2,000 years. The mud surrounding the lower hull had helped slow the decay process; however, the inner cells of the wood contained water where decay had already taken place. This meant that the timbers were soft and spongy.
The excavation team planned on keeping the boat in one piece. They devised a platform suspended over the fragile vessel so they could lay on it while clearing the mud out of the inner hull without touching it. They had to keep the exposed part of the boat from drying out to avoid shrinkage and losing its shape. Workers continued non-stop, 24 hours a day, with clearing away mud and spraying water on the wooden vessel. In order to transport it to the conservation facility, fiberglass ribs were put inside the boat which was then completely encased with polyurethane foam. This not only protected the craft but also made it possible for it to safely float on water for the first time in 2,000 years.
It took seven years to complete the conservation process. Before any work began, tests were done to determine the age, types of wood used, degrees of decay, and a method of conversation that would allow the boat to be displayed in a museum. This involved treating the wood with a synthetic water-soluble wax called polythene glycol. The wax replaced the water-damaged cells which stabilized the wood and allowed it to dry. Nails and pottery pieces found at the excavation site were confirmed to be from the same time period. A mosaic from the first century depicts a boat of the same shape sailing on the Sea of Galilee.
There is no solid evidence that this specific craft was the one used by Jesus and his disciples as described in the New Testament. Tests and scholars agree though that this represents a typical fishing boat and ferry used during the time of Christ and so it is referred to as the Jesus boat or the Sea of Galilee boat. Its construction matched the pattern seen in Mediterranean ships between 100 B.C. to 200 A.D. Some of the various timbers are very narrow or do not fit properly. Some pieces of wood seem to have been recycled. The hull is mainly made of Lebanese cedar but also contains 10 other types of wood. This could either indicate a shortage of wood or that the boat owner could not afford it.
Its length was approximately 25.5 feet, width was 7.5 feet, and height was 4.1 feet. It would have had four men rowing and one helmsman. In addition, it could have carried up to 15 more people. It could have also had a single square sail. Whether or not the Yigal Alon Museum is displaying the actual boat used by Jesus Christ and his disciples is something no one will probably ever know. The existence of a boat found at the Sea of Galilee from that time period is significant for historical purposes as well as for Christians and Jews around the world.
By: Cynthia Collins
Jesus Boat Museum