In 1986, two Israeli fishermen from a kibbutz near Mary Magdalene's hometown made a remarkable discovery: an ancient wooden boat that had plied the Sea of Galilee during the time of Jesus. It had been buried in mud and thus protected from oxygen and hungry microorganisms.
The Yigal Allon Museum now houses the Jesus Boat. The current exhibit is attractive, but unfinished. To attract more visitors (and to help maintain and improve the museum), Christian media executive Don Stillman joined forces with the family of Gonny Kossonogi, daughter of the famous Israeli general Yigal Allon, to form Jesus Boat Inc. In 2009 the group produced a book (The Jesus Boat, by Christian Stillman), a DVD (The Jesus Boat Revealed), a website (JesusBoatMuseum.com), a replica of the boat at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, and a multimedia tour of American megachurches.
The church presentations, which have continued into 2010, include talks by Kurt Raveh, one of the specialists who supervised efforts to excavate and preserve the boat. On Raveh's recent visit to the United States, David Neff, editor in chief of the Christianity Today Media Group, talked about the discovery with the marine archaeologist, who excavates ancient shipwrecks for the University of Haifa's Department of Maritime Civilizations.
How did you get involved in Israel's marine archaeology?
When the Yom Kippur War started in 1973, Israel asked for volunteers, and I signed up for two weeks. That has become 36 years.
I found myself a beautiful spot on the Mediterranean near Caesarea and the ancient ruins of Dor, King Solomon's major port. I got involved in archaeology there, first as a hobby, then as a profession. I joined the excavations at Tel Dor in the beginning. That excavation ...