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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Mel´ita, an island in the Mediterranean, on which the ship which was conveying St. Paul as a prisoner to Rome was wrecked, and which was the scene of the interesting circumstances recorded in .

Melita was the ancient name of Malta, and also of a small island in the Adriatic, now called Meleda, and each of these has found warm advocates for its identification with the Melita of Scripture. The received and long-established opinion is undoubtedly in favor of Malta; and those who uphold the claims of Meleda are to be regarded as dissenting from the general conclusion. This dissent proceeds chiefly upon the ground that the ship of St. Paul was 'driven about in (the sea of) Adria.' when wrecked on Melita. But it has been shown from ancient writers, that the name Adria was not, in its ancient acceptation, limited to the present Adriatic Sea, but comprehended the seas of Greece and Sicily, and extended even to Africa. Consequently the only strong argument in favor of Meleda must be regarded as having been entirely overthrown.

The name of St. Paul's Bay has been given to the place where the shipwreck is supposed to have taken place This, the sacred historian says, was at 'a certain creek with a shore,' i.e. a seemingly practicable shore, on which they purposed, if possible, to strand the vessel, as their only apparent chance to escape being broken on the rocks. In attempting this the ship seems to have struck and gone to pieces on the rocky headland at the entrance of the creek This agrees very well with St. Paul's Bay, more so than with any other creek of the island. This bay is a deep inlet on the north side of the island, being the last indentation of the coast but one from the western extremity of the island. It is about two miles deep, by one mile broad. The harbor which it forms is very unsafe at some distance from the shore, although there is good anchorage in the middle for light vessels. The most dangerous part is the western headland at the entrance of the bay, particularly as there is close to it a small island (Salamone), and a still smaller islet (Salamonetta), the currents and shoals around which are particularly dangerous in stormy weather. It is usually supposed that the vessel struck at this point. From this place the ancient capital of Malta (now Citta Vecchia, Old City) is distinctly seen at the distance of about five miles; and on looking towards the bay from the top of the church on the summit of the hill whereon the city stands, it occurred to the present writer that the people of the town might easily from this spot have perceived in the morning that a wreck had taken place; and this is a circumstance which throws a fresh light on some of the circumstances of the deeply interesting transactions which ensued.

The sacred historian calls the inhabitants 'barbarians:'—'the barbarous people showed us no small kindness.' This is far from implying that they were savages or uncivilized men; it merely intimates that they were not of Greek or Roman origin. This description applies to the ancient inhabitants of Malta most accurately; and as it could not apply to the inhabitants of Melida, who were Greeks, this is another argument to show that not Melida but Malta is the Melita of Scripture.

The island of Malta lies in the Mediterranean, about sixty miles south from Cape Passaro in Sicily. It is sixty miles in circumference, twenty in length, and twelve in breadth. Near it, on the west, is a smaller island, called Gozo, about thirty miles in circumference. Malta has no mountains or high hills, and makes no figure from the sea. It is naturally a barren rock, but has been made in parts abundantly fertile by the industry and toil of man. The island was first colonized by the Phoenicians, from whom it was taken by the Greek colonists in Sicily, about B.C. 736; but the Carthaginians began to dispute its possession about B.C. 528, and eventually became entire masters of it. From their hands it passed into those of the Romans B.C. 242, who treated the inhabitants well, making Melita a municipium, and allowing the people to be governed by their own laws. The government was administered by a propraetor, who depended upon the praetor of Sicily; and this office appears to have been held by Publius when Paul was on the island (). On the division of the Roman Empire, Melita belonged to the western portion; but having, in A.D. 553, been recovered from the Vandals by Belisarius, it was afterwards attached to the empire of the East. About the end of the ninth century the island was taken from the Greeks by the Arabs, who made it a dependency upon Sicily, which was also in their possession. The Arabs have left the impress of their aspect language, and many of their customs, upon the present inhabitants, whose dialect is to this day perfectly intelligible to the Arabians and to the Moors of Africa. Malta was taken from the Arabs by the Normans in A.D. 1090, and afterwards underwent other changes till A.D. 1530, when Charles V, who had annexed it to his empire, transferred it to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, whom the Turks had recently dispossessed of Rhodes. Under the knights it became a flourishing state, and was the scene of their greatest glory and most signal exploits. The institution having become unsuited to modern times, the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, commonly called Knights of Malta, gradually fell into decay, and the island was surrendered to the French under Bonaparte when on his way to Egypt in 1798. From them it was retaken by the English with the concurrence and assistance of the natives; and it was to have been restored to the Knights of Malta by the stipulations of the treaty of Amiens; but as no sufficient security for the independence of the Order (composed mostly of Frenchmen) could be obtained, the English retained it in their hands, which necessary infraction of the treaty was the ostensible ground of the war which only ended with the battle of Waterloo. The island is still in the hands of the English, who have lately remodeled the government to meet the wishes of the numerous inhabitants. It has recently become the actual seat of an Anglican bishopric, which however takes its title from Gibraltar out of deference to the existing Roman Catholic bishopric of Malta, a deference not paid to the Oriental churches in recently establishing the Anglican bishopric of Jerusalem.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Melita'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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