*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 10th of February 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

A very happy Feast of the Shipwreck of St. Paul, which is celebrated today on the sovereign island nation of Malta in the Mediterranean. Malta is technically an archipelago- and is almost equidistant to Sicily in the north and Libya in North Africa to the south.

Today Malta is one of the most Christian countries in Europe and the world. It has a small population (roughly 1/2 a million), but some 98% identify as Christian- the majority being Catholic. And this makes sense! After all, the heading in your Bible for Acts 28 might tell you that Paul was shipwrecked on Malta, and from there, the island was converted en masse. Except- we don’t actually know if Paul shipwrecked on Malta, and that puts us in a tricky place.

[And as a note- I believe that Paul was shipwrecked on an island- was saved miraculously- healed the sick, etc… this isn’t a story about your Bible being untrustworthy, but rather those headings in your study Bibles].

I’m not going to aim for a sacred cow like this without bringing some receipts- let me take you to a 2007 article in the Catholic Historical Review by Mario Buhagiar- a professor at the University of Malta.

In this article, Buhagiar points to the fact that there is no evidence before the 6th century that Malta was assumed to be the island mentioned in the 28th chapter of Acts. He points us to several topographical maps and commentaries from the Middle Ages that noted the island but never connected it and the island of the famed shipwreck. And while Dr. Buhagiar is not alone in making this assertion- there is a cottage industry of rebuttals against anyone who might suggest that Malta- while a fascinating country with a rich tradition in church history- just wasn’t the place that Paul and his crew landed.

Why would the Maltese make this up? Because the Greek word in the book of Acts is Melita, which looks like Malta. And, it would make sense that Malta could be the location because it would be en route to Rome, where Paul was headed. But there were also islands in the region called Meleda and Mileto, and location names change over time and are lost to history. Sometimes “we aren’t sure” is a better answer than “well, we’ve always believed this.”

But back to Malta- it has one of the more unique histories in the region- so much so that even today, the Maltese language is the only Semitic language with an Arabic influence and a Latin alphabet. They have been Phoenician, Roman, ruled by Arabic Muslims, conquered by the Normans (yes, those Normans) attacked by Suleiman the Great in one of the more dramatic military events in the Early Modern World, became the home base for the Knights of St. John- also known as the Hospitallers or Knights of Malta. Napoleon conquered them became a British Protectorate- which was the site of a significant battle in World War II. And a bunch of movies has been filmed there- such as World War Z, Murder on the Orient Express, and the criminally underrated White Squall from 1996 with Jeff Bridges and Scott Wolf.

Regardless of a possibly erroneous origin story (and how many origin stories are pious myths?), the island has had a remarkable run as a microcosm of struggles in the Mediterranean between Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, and more.

I’m not done with the story of Malta- I’ve read far too much over the past week not to put some of this stuff to use- so look out for that. In the meantime- let’s wish our Maltese friends a very happy Feast of the Shipwreck of St. Paul- and we can note that they’ve got a fun tradition there- it’s just more “tradition” than “history.”

The Last Word for today comes from Acts 28- let’s read from verse 7 right after the shipwreck:

7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. 8 It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. 9 After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They bestowed many honors on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of February 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose favorite things inspired by Malta include the dog, the falcon, and the Malteser, a British candy that tastes like Whoppers- Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man holding his tongue regarding the Rams, and I just saw that you can’t stream White Squall- a 3.99 rental it shall be. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.