St. Paul’s Voyage to Rome
According to the New Testament, St. Paul made four voyages, only the last of which is described at some length, in the last pages of The Acts of the Apostles. It was a hazardous journey beset by tempests, mishaps and shipwreck. But in the end, St. Paul arrived in Rome, his destination. The historian Fik Meijer has examined the Biblical account of St. Paul’s journey in some detail and placed it in the context of what we know today about navigation in antiquity and later. His conclusions are startling.
While the author of The Acts extols St. Paul as the hero of the story, the only one to keep a cool head in adversity, Meijer demonstrates that God’s apostle acted like an utter fool. His behaviour on the voyage flew in the face of all navigational sense. That those on board did not pay for his folly with their lives was due entirely to the skill of the captain and crew who, luckily, took no notice of St. Paul’s conceit.
In his searching analysis of the final chapters of The Acts and his exposure of St. Paul as an inveterate landlubber, Meijer pays close attention to the text, combining that with a familiarity with nautical conditions in the Mediterranean Sea in St. Paul’s day. Meijer describes winds, currents, types of vessels, travelling times and navigational methods in order to arrive at a scrupulous reconstruction of St. Paul’s eventful voyage. His sources are not confined to classical antiquity, but go back to Egyptian sailing practices and forward to the Middle Ages and even to modern navigational methods in the Mediterranean.
As a result, St. Paul’s Voyage to Rome is more than an exciting search for historical truth, which The Acts of the Apostles veils as much as it reveals. The book also provides a fascinating glimpse of shipping at the beginning of the first millenium. Shrewdly and entertainingly, Meijer takes us on his own peregrinations, which turn out to be as exciting and eventful as St. Paul’s own.