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Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Melita

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The scene of Paul's shipwreck (Acts 27-28). Not the Melita now Meleda in the gulf of Venice near Dalmatia; but the Melita between Sicily and Africa, Malta, where tradition names the place of the wreck "Paul's bay" (Mr. Smith, of Jordan Hill, Shipwreck of Paul). After leaving Fair Havens in Crete, and while sailing along its S. coast, the wind blew from E.N.E. (Euraquilon in the Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus manuscripts instead of Euroclydon), carrying them under the lee of the island Clauda (or Cauda, Vaticanus manuscript), 20 miles to the S.W. The Greek (Acts 27:15, antofthalmein ) is, "when the ship could not keep her eyes to the wind"; either figuratively, or literally eyes were carved or painted on the bows of the ship, an eastern usage still existing. Here, to enable the ship to weather the storm, they hoisted the boat on board, "undergirded the vessel" (trapping it by passing four or five turns of cable round the hull), and "lowered the gear" (chalasantes to skeuos not "struck sail," which if they had done they would have been driven directly toward the Syrtis or quicksand), i.e. brought down the topsails and heavy yard with sail attached.

They then turned the ship's head to the N. on the starboard tack. the only course whereby to escape falling into the Syrtis. Thus, for 13 days they drifted through Adria, i.e. the middle of the Mediterranean between Crete and Sicily. If we deduce the ship's course from that of the wind, from the angle of the ship's head with the wind, and from the leeway, she must have drifted nearly W. by N., the precise bearing of the N. of Malta from the S. of Clauda. The rate of drift would average a mile and a half an hour, so that in 13 days she would pass over 468 miles; and Malta is from Clauda, just 476 miles. The striking coincidence at once identifies Malta as the scene, and confirms Luke's accuracy. On the 14th night "the seamen deemed that land was approaching them" (Greek), probably hearing the surf breaking. A ship entering Paul's bay from E. must pass within a quarter of a mile the point of Koura; but before reaching it the land is too low and too far to be seen in a dark night, but at this distance the breakers may be heard and also if the night admit, be seen.

The "land" then is the point of Koura E. of Paul's bay. A ship drifting W. by N. toward Paul's bay would come to it without touching any other part of the island, for the coast trends from this bay to the S.E. On Koura point, the bay's S.E. extremity, there must have been breakers with the wind blowing from N.E. Sounding they first found 20 fathoms, and a little further 15; and, fearing rocks ahead, east four anchors from the stern. Purdy (Sailing Directions) remarks on the tenaciousness of the bottom in Paul's bay, "while the cables hold there is no danger, the anchors will never start." After the frustrated attempt of the shipmen to flee in a boat, they lightened the ship of its wheat (brought from Egypt, the great granary of Italy, Acts 27:6); they knew not the land (for Paul's bay is remote from the great harbor, and has no marked features to enable the Alexandrian seamen to know it), but discovered "a creek having a sandy beach (aigialon ) into which they determined if possible to strand the ship."

They cut the anchor cables, which had been let down at the stern rather than the bow, with the ulterior design of running her aground. Ships were steered by two paddles, one on each quarter. They were lifted out of water during anchorage in a gale, and secured by "rudder bands." These now they "loosed" in getting the ship again under weigh. Then "they hoisted up the foresail (not 'mainsail,' artemon ) to the wind and made toward shore; and falling into a place where two seas met (Salmonetta, an island at the W. of Paul's bay, which from their anchorage they could not have known to be one, is separated from the mainland by a channel 100 yards wide communicating with the outer sea; just in the sound within Salmonetta was probably where two seas met) they ran the ship aground, and the forepart stuck fast, but the hinder was broken with the waves."

The rocks of Malta disintegrate into minute particles of sand and day, which when acted on by currents form a deposit of tenacious day; in still water of creeks without currents, at a depth undisturbed by waves, mud is found. A ship, driven by the wind into a creek, would strike a bottom of mud, graduating into tenacious clay; in this the forepart would stick fast. while the stern would be exposed to the violence of the waves. Captain Smyth's chart shows that after passing Koura point the ship coming from the E. passes over twenty fathoms, and pursuing the same direction after a short interval fifteen, a quarter of a mile from the shore which is here "girt with mural precipices."

The W. side of the bay, where the ship was driven, is rocky but has two creeks, one of which (Mestara) has still a sandy beach, and the other had one formerly, though now worn away by the sea. The Castor and Pollux after wintering in Melita proceeded with Paul to Puteoli (Acts 28:11-13) by way of Syracuse and Rhegium. Therefore Melita lay on the regular route between Alexandria and Puteoli, which Malta does; and Syracuse, 80 miles off, and Rhegium would be the natural track from the neighboring Malta. "They knew the island" (Acts 28:1) when they landed as Melita. The natives are called "barbarians" (Acts 28:2) not as savages, but as speaking neither Greek nor Latin (Romans 1:14), but a Phoenician or Punic dialect corrupted by foreign idioms of the mixed population.

The disappearance of vipers now is due to the clearing away of the woods that sheltered them. The "no little kindness" of the natives shows they were no savages. Publius is called (Acts 28:7)" chief man of the island," not from his "possessions," his father being still alive, but as lieutenant of the printer of Sicily, to whose province Malta was attached (Cicero, Verr. 2:4, section 18). Two inscriptions, Greek and Latin, in Civita Vecchia in Malta record the title "the chief (protos , primus ) of the Maltese." Paul healed diseases and received in return "many honors" and "necessaries" (Acts 28:9-10). Melita was famous for honey, fruit, cotton fabrics, building stone, and a breed of dogs. Shortly before Paul's visit his piratical Cilician countrymen made Melita their haunt; but the Christianity which he introduced has continued since, though sadly corrupted by superstition. The knights of John flourished here in later times.


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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Melita'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/fbd/m/melita.html. 1949.

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