During the ministry of Jesus, while He lived around the Sea of Galilee and many of His followers were fishermen, Jesus and His disciples often used boats to catch fish or as transportation to different cities or areas on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 9:1; Mark 4:35-38; Luke 5:1-11; John 6:16-24 etc.). Archaeological excavations have uncovered artwork depicting 1st century boats from Galilee, such as a mosaic from Magdala, which give a general idea of what the boats that Jesus used would have looked like. However, the most startling discovery occurred almost by accident. In January of 1986, between the harbors of Gennesar and Magdala, two of the towns occupied during the time of Jesus, fishermen brothers Moshe and Yuval Lofan noticed what appeared to be the remains of an ancient boat encased in mud near the shore of the lake. A severe drought had caused the level of the lake to decrease substantially, and a boat that had been covered by many feet of water and mud was now visible on the shore. These brothers had an interest in archaeology, and finding the remains of an ancient boat was one of their lifelong dreams. A team of archaeologists and specialists in the preservation of ancient remains were called in to extract the boat without damaging it before the rising waters of the sea once again covered it, spending 11 days and nights on the recovery project. The boat, measuring about 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and preserved to a height of 4.5 feet although the hull would have been slightly taller (approximately 8.8 meters long, 2.5 meters wide and 1.25 meters high), was encased in liquid polyethylene glycol to prevent decay and crumbling (Wachsman, “The Galilee Boat: 2,000 Year-Old Hull Recovered Intact”).
Once removed from the lake, further studies were conducted on the boat. Based on radiocarbon tests, pottery found in the boat, and analysis of the nails used in the boat, it was determined that this particular boat was used between about 50 BC and 50 AD, or roughly the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD, meaning that it could have been in use during the life of Jesus and the time that He spent in the Galilee region (Wachsman, “Ancient Boat Discovered in the Sea of Gailee”). While the boat was not complete, the hull was about 70% intact and the nails were barely rusted (Peachy, “Model Building in Nautical Archaeology: The Kinneret Boat”). Research indicated that the boat had undergone repairs and had been in use for many years, but when the hull reached the point that it was no longer viable to repair, the owners removed other components from the boat, such as the deck and mast, and then allowed the hull to sink to the bottom of the lake. Once at the bottom, the boat was slowly encased in mud, which prevented it from being decomposed over time by bacteria. The boat had been built from planks primarily of cedar, along with at least 9 other types of wood, which were connected by mortise and tenon joints and iron nails. The construction of the boat, shallow drafted with a flat bottom, allowed it to float very close to the shore. Studies suggested that this boat would have used a crew of about 5 people consisting of 4 rowers and one to man the sail and steer the boat (Josephus, Wars). However, the 1st century historian from Judea, Josephus, also recorded how these boats were able to hold at least 15 people. Therefore, a group of 13 men, such as Jesus and the 12 Disciples, could have used a boat like this while traveling, fishing, and teaching on the Sea of Galilee. The carrying capacity of the boat was well over the approximately 2,000 pounds that the men and their equipment would have weighed. The boat was placed in a chemical bath for 7 years before being put on display, but now it can be viewed in the Yigal Allon Center at Kibbutz Ginosar. Because of this discovery, an accurate reproduction of a 1st century fishing boat was able to be constructed, based on the recovered boat and ancient artwork depicting ships from the period. Although there is no specific evidence connecting this particular boat with Jesus or any of His disciples, it is the type of boat they would have used, found in the Sea of Galilee, and from the same time period of their lives and ministries. Therefore, it serves as a useful example of boats in Galilee during the time of Jesus, illuminating the historical context of the Gospel narratives.