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E. I.Smith

St. Paul, Malta, and the Egyptian Shipwrecked Sailor

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As I was re-reading the Bible, I came across a story detailing St. Paul's journey to Rome to face trial for his Christian preaching in Palestine (Acts 28:1–6). This story has some pretty neat parallels to an ancient Egyptian story that has religious overtones in its own right.

In this story, which takes place circa A.D. 60, the Apostle Paul and his fellow prisoners were shipwrecked on the Island of Malta, an island approximately 425 miles south of Rome. On Malta, St. Paul was bitten on his hand by a viper; being unfazed by the attack, St. Paul shook the beast off into a fire to the amazement of the native Maltans.

This story has parallels to the Egyptian "Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor" (circa 2000 B.C.) in which an Egyptian sailor is shipwrecked on an island, and while offering burnt offerings to the gods, met a giant serpent claiming to be the “Lord of Punt,” Punt being an important trading partner with Egypt. The serpent then makes the sailor’s acquaintance and asks the sailor to make him a good name in his hometown once he leaves the island. The serpent then gives the sailor gifts, of among other things, spices, incense, elephants' tusks, giraffe’s tails, greyhounds, and baboons.

This image is a public domain image of the approximate location of the land of Punt.


Edited by E. I.Smith

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I can see some loose parallels; although the account of Paul, being written by an eyewitness, is more likely to be an actual historical events.

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A parallel is no surprise, for two reasons. Firstly we tend to spot similarities by nature (it's the basis of being able to recognise danger, other people, hunt animals, find forage, read books, or generally create outlandish conspiracy theories). Secondly Christianity has rather shamelessly rebranded beliefs, legends, and sacred sites to suit their needs since it became powerful in the latter stages of the Roman Empire.

Interestingly enough however where Christianity became powerful was in the west, with Rome's power fading and it's half of SPQR evaporating from outside pressure and internal squabbles. In the east, where Constantine had based his power with the bulk of Roman wealth, the greek form of Christianity never did achieve the same hold on the populace and actually dwindled over the centuries. One suspects that hardship fosters hope in faith and so forth, whereas the comparatively well off east saw little need for formal worship.


Why has god allowed us to become weaker and more miserable than all the tribal peoples? Why has he allowed us to be defeated by the barbarians, and subjected to the rule of our enemies? We enjoy immodest behaviour, the goths detest it. We avoid purity, they love it. Fornication is considered by them a crime and a danger, we honour it.

 Salvian (priest from Marseille, 440's)

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