In the 3rd century BC, Apollonius of Rhodes composed his famous work Jason and the Argonauts. In that story, a ship encounters a “deadly blast of the north wind [that] seized them in mid-course and carried them toward the Libyan sea for nine whole nights and as many days, until they came far into Syrtis [the legendary shoals and desert coast of Libya where ships become stranded], where there is no getting out again for ships, once they are forced to enter that gulf.” This episode described an actual place found in the southern Mediterranean Sea. This region lies near the present day Gulf of Sidra on Libya’s northern coast. It was dangerous because two ocean channels come together and create shifting sandbars and shoals which ships can run aground upon. The area is nearly 200 miles wide and many miles away from shore. The ancient geographer Strabo described the locations and dimensions of the Syrtis Sands in his writings at the end of the 1st century BC (just prior to the birth of Christ). Strabo wrote: “[S]ailors keep at a distance when voyaging along the coast, taking precautions not to be caught off their guard and driven by winds into these gulfs” (Geography 17:3:20; LCL 8: 197). Another ancient writer and traveler, Dio Chrysostom, described the danger of the Syrtis Sands at the end of the first century A.D. “Those who have once sailed into it find egress impossible; for shoals, cross-currents, and long sand-bars extending a great distance out make the sea utterly impassable” (Discourse 5:8-10; LCL I: 239). Perhaps the best known written account of this region is found in Acts 27:14-17. The ship carrying the apostle Paul to Rome was in danger of being driven onto these very shoals. In fact, Paul’s ship did run aground, but in a different place. However, the sailor’s fear of these sandbars was very real and understandable based upon the earlier quotes from ancient writers. What is the significance of this to the Bible student? Luke wrote the book of Acts in the mid-to-late first century. Numerous archaeological excavations have proven Luke to be an accurate historian of the first order. Here we have ancient writers before and after Luke mentioning the same place. This tells us the Bible is not a fairy tale, but is embedded in factual world history. The people, places, and events recorded in Scripture are quite real.
Posted by: Rob Lester | July 11, 2011
Sands of Syrtis