In January 1986, two brothers, Moshe and Yuval Lufan who were members of neighboring Kibbutz Ginosar, discovered the wreck of a 2,000-year-old ancient fishing boat lying in the mud of the Sea of Galilee. The brothers were avid amateur archaeologists with a knack for discovering artifacts from Israeli’s past.
The boat was discovered in an area several hundred meters ‘offshore’ that had become exposed when the lake receded after two years of severe drought.
While the boat has not (yet?) been connected with any specific person or event, the discovery of the wreck of a 2,000 year old fishing boat in the Sea of Galilee can’t help but conjure up associations, which have made it a popular destination for both Christian and Jewish pilgrims and led some to dub it “The Jesus Boat”: Jesus spent considerable time with fishermen along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, among them Simon Peter, Andrew and the James and John the sons Zebedee.
In the Gospel according to John (6:16-24), Jesus shocked some of his disciples, who traveled by boat to Capernaum, when he walked across the water towards them. Flavius Josephus tells of a ‘naval’ battle that took place on the Sea of Galilee between Jewish rebels and Roman legionnaires in 67 C.E. during the Great Revolt.
The Lufan brothers reported their discovery to the Israeli authorities, who later sent out a team of archaeologists to investigate. After initial inspection by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority, a massive, round-the-clock salvage operation was launched to recover the boat before the waters of the lake rose and covered it again.
The boat’s recovery became a major conservation achievement as it was freed from the mud, while efforts were simultaneously made to preserve its wood, packed in fiberglass and polyurethane and floated free. After over a decade of conservation work, the boat was put on public display.
While the recovered boat is popularly called “The Jesus Boat,” it is officially called as the “Sea of Galilee Boat,” and also known as The Ancient Galilee Boat.” As for the find’s dimensions, it consists of a fisherman boat’s hull measuring 8.3 meters (27.23 feet) long, 7.5 meters (7.5 feet) wide, 1.3 meters (4.2 feet) deep. A boat of this type would have been able to carry up to fifteen people. Experts believe the boat to be from the 1st century AD, or approximately 120 BC to 40 AD, dating the boat back to Jesus’ existence and the period he spent in Galilee.
According to scholars, the boat is a combination of a ferry and a fishing boat, and might even have been used as a warship against the Romans. However, for over a million Christians who have seen the boat over the years, and for those who are looking forward to see it in the future, the boat will always be the “Jesus Boat.”
On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to the disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Today the boat may be viewed at the Beit Yigal Alon Museum and Education Center, where a short film tells the story of its discovery, conservation and original construction.
When planning a pilgrimage or a conventional tour in Israel, you should include a visit to the Jesus Boat to your bucket list. This is truly a one-of-a-kind artifact.
The museum is accessible.
On Road 90 just south of Kfar Nachum junction