Mel'ita (Μελίτη; probably of Phoenician etymology, and signifying refuge, otherwise clay; but according to Hammeker, Miscell. Phoenic. p. 46, so named from its abundance of ash-trees), an island in the Mediterranean, on which the ship which was conveying the apostle Paul as a prisoner to Rome was wrecked, and which was the scene of the interesting circumistances recorded in Ac 27:28 (see J. Ab. Ciantari Diss. apol. de Paulo in Melitam naufragio ejecto,Ven. 1738).
I. Identification of the Locality. — Melita was the ancient name of Malta (see J. F. Wandalin, Diss. de Melita Pauli, Havn. 1707), and also of a small island in the Adriatic, now called Meleda (Μελιτίνη νῆσος, Ptol. 2:17, 39; comp. Pliny, 3:30; Apollon. Rhod. 4:572), and each of these has found warm advocates for its identification with the Melita of Scripture (see Ciantar's edition of Abela's Malta Illustrata, 1:608), the former being the traditionary and long-established opinion (see Ign. Giorgi, Paulus in mari quod nunc Venetus sinus dicitur, naeafragus,Ven. 1730; Jac. de Rhoer, De Pauli ad insul. Melit. naufragio, Traj. ad R. 1743; comp. Bibl. Ital. 11:127; Nov. Miscell. Lips. 4:308; Paulus, Samml. 4:356), liable only to the objection that the part of the Mediterranean in which it is situated was not properly "the Sea of Adria" (Dr. Falconer's Dissertation on St. Paul's Voyage, 1817), which has been shown (see Wetstein's Comment. ad loc.) to be without force (see J. Smith, Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul, Lond. 1848; also Conybeare and Howson's Life of St. Paul, 2:353). As, however, the controversy on this subject has been somewhat voluminous, we will discuss it in detail, referring to other articles for confirmation of the opinions and conclusions here expressed.
1. Arguments in Favor of Malta. —
(1.) We take St. Paul's ship in the condition in which we find her about a day after leaving Fair Havens, i.e. when she was under the lee of Clauda (Ac 27:16). laid to on the starboard tack, and strengthened with "undergirders" SEE SHIP, the boat being just taken on board, and the gale blowing hard from the east-north-east. SEE EUROCLYDON.
(2.) Assuming (what every practiced sailor would allow) that the ship's direction of drift would be about west by north, and her rate of drift about a mile and a half an hour, we come at once to the conclusion, by measuring the distance on the chart, that she would be brought to the coast of Malta on the thirteenth day (see ver. 27).
(3.) A ship drifting in this direction to the place traditionally known as St. Paul's Bay, would come to that spot on the coast without touching any other part of the island previously. The coast, in fact, trends from this bay to the south-east. This may be seen on consulting any map or chart of Malta.
(4.) On Koura Point, which is the south-easterly extremity of the bay, there must infallibly have been breakers, with the wind blowing from the north- east. Now the alarm was certainly caused by breakers, for it took place in the night (ver. 27), and it does not appear that the passengers were at first aware of the danger which became sensible to the quick ear of the "sailors."
(5.) Yet the vessel did not strike; and this corresponds with the position of the point, which would be some little' distance on the port side, or to the left of the vessel.
(6.) Off this point of the coast the soundings are twenty fathoms (ver. 28), and a little farther, in the direction of the supposed drift, they are fifteen fathoms (ver. 28).
(7.) Though the danger was imminent, we shall find from examining the chart that there would still be time to anchor (ver. 29) before striking on the rocks ahead.
(8.) With bad holding-ground there would have been great risk of the ship dragging her anchors. But the bottom of St. Paul's Bay is remarkably tenacious. In Purdy's Sailing Directions (p. 180) it is said of it that "while the cables hold there is no danger, as the anchors will never start."
(9.) The other geological characteristics of the place are in harmony with the narrative, which describes the creek as having in one place a sandy or muddy beach (κόλπον ἔχοντα αἰγιαλόν, ver. 39), and which states that the bow of the ship was held fast in the shore, while the stern was exposed to the action of the waves (ver. 41). For particulars we must refer to the work (mentioned below) of Mr. Smith, an accomplished geologist.
(10.) Another point of local detail is of considerable interest-viz. that, as the ship took the ground, the place was observed to be διθάλασσος, i.e. a connection was noticed between two apparently separate pieces of water. We shall see, on looking at the chart, that this would be the case. The small island of Salmonetta would at first appear to be a part of Malta itself; but the passage would open on the right as the vessel passed to the place of shipwreck.
(11.) Malta is in the track of ships between Alexandria and Puteoli; and this corresponds with the fact that the "Castor and Pollux," an Alexandrian vessel which ultimately conveyed St. Paul to, Italy, had wintered in the island (Ac 28:11).
(12.) Finally, the course pursued in this conclusion of the voyage, first to Syracuse and then to Rhegium, contributes a last link to the chain of arguments by which we prove that Melita is Malta.
2. Objections to Malta. — The case is established to demonstration. Still it may be worth while to notice one or two objections. It is said, in reference to Ac 27:27, that the wreck took place in the Adriatic or Gulf of Venice. It is urged that a well-known island like Malta could not have been unrecognised (Ac 27:39), nor its inhabitants called "barbarous" (Ac 28:2). And as regards the occurrence recorded in 28:3, stress is laid on the facts that Malta has no poisonous serpents, and hardly any wood. To these objections we reply at once that ADRIA, in the language of the period, denotes not the Gulf of Venice, but the open sea between Crete and Sicily; that it is no wonder if the sailors did not recognise a strange part of the coast on which they were thrown in stormy weather, and that they did recognise the place when they did leave the ship (Ac 28:1); that the kindness recorded of the natives (Ac 28:2,10), shows that they were not "barbarians" in the sense of being savages, and that the word denotes simply that they did not speak Greek; and, lastly, that the population of Malta has increased in an extraordinary manner in recent times, that probably there was abundant wood there formerly, and that with the destruction of the wood many indigenous animals would disappear.
3. Objections to Meleda. — In adducing positive arguments and answering objections, we have indirectly proved that Melita in the Gulf of Venice was not the scene of the shipwreck. But we may add that this island could not have been reached without a miracle under the circumstances of weather described in the narrative; that it is not in the track between Alexandria and Puteoli; that it would not be natural to proceed from it to Rome by means of a voyage embracing Syracuse: and that the soundings on its shore do not agree with what is recorded in the Acts.
4. History of the Controversy.-An amusing passage in Coleridge's Table Talk (p. 185) is worth noticing as the last echo of what is now an extinct controversy. The question has been set at rest forever by Mr. Smith, of Jordan Hill, in his Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul, the first published work in which it was thoroughly investigated from a sailor's point of view. It had, however, been previously treated in the same manner, and with the same results, by admiral Penrose, and copious notes from his. MSS. are given in The Life and Epistles of St. Paul. In that work (2d ed. p. 426, note) are given the names of some of those who carried on the controversy in the last century. The ringleader on the Adriatic side of the question, not unnaturally, was padre Georgi, a Benedictine monk connected with the Venetian or Austrian Meleda, and his Paulus Naufragus is extremely curious. He was, however, not the first to suggest this untenable view. We find it, at a much earlier period, in a Byzantine writer, Const. Porphyrog. De Adm. Imp. (c. 36, vol. ii, p.' 164, of the Bonn ed.).
II. Description and History of the Locality. — (In this portion we chiefly use the statements found in Kitto's Cyclopedia, s.v.)
1. The immediate Scene. — The name of St. Paul's Bay has been given to the place where the shipwreck is supposed to have taken place. This, the sacred historian says. was at "a certain creek with a shore," i.e. a seemingly practicable shore, on which they purposed, if possible, to strand the vessel, as their only apparent chance to escape being broken on the rocks. In attempting this the ship seems to have struck and gone to pieces on the rocky headland at the entrance of the creek. This agrees very well with St. Paul's Bay, more so than with any other creek of the island. This bay is a deep inlet on the north side of the island, being the last indentation of the coast but one from the western extremity of the island. It is about two miles deep, by one mile broad. The harbor which it forms is very unsafe at some distance from the shore, although there is good anchorage in the middle for light vessels. The most dangerous part is the western headland at the entrance of the bay, particularly as there is close to it a small island (Salamone), and a still smaller islet (Salmonetta), the currents and shoals around which are particularly dangerous in stormy weather. It is usually supposed that the vessel struck at this point. From this place the ancient capital of Malta (now Citta Vecchia, Old City) is distinctly seen at the distance of about five miles' and on looking towards the bay from the sop of the church on the summit of the hill whereon the city stands, it is evident that the people of the town night easily from this spot have perceived in the morning that a wreck had taken place; and this is a circumstance which throws a fresh light on some of the circumstances of the deeply interesting transactions which ensued., SEE SHIPWRECK.
2. The Island in General.-The island of Malta lies in the Mediterranean, about sixty miles south from Cape Passaro, in Sicily. It is about seventeen miles in length, and nine or ten in breadth. Near it, on the west, is a smaller island; called Gozo, the ancient Gaulos. Malta has no mountains or high hills, and makes no figure from the sea. It is naturally a barren rock, but has been made in parts abundantly fertile by the industry and toil of man. It was famous for its honey an d fruits, for its cotton-fabrics, for excellent building stone, and for a wellknown breed of dogs. A few years before St. Paul's visit, crsairs from his native province of Cilicia made Melita. a frequent resort; and through subsequent periods of its history, Vandal and Arabian, it was often associated with piracy, The Christianity, however, introduced by Paul was never extinct. Melita, from its position in the Mediterranean, and from the excellence of its harbors, has always been important both in commerce and war.
The island was first colonized by the Phoenicians (hence the term "barbarian," that is, neither Greek nor Roman, used in the sacred narrative, Ac 28:2), from whom it was taken by the Greek colonists in Sicily, about BC. 736; but the Carthaginians began to dispute its possession about BC. 528, and eventually became entire masters of it. The Phoenician language, in a corrupted form, continued to be spoken there in St. Paul's day (Gesenius, Versuch ub. malt. Sprache, Leips. 1810). From the Carthaginians it passed to the Romans in the Second Punic War, BC. 242, who treated the inhabitants well, making Melita a municipium, and allowing the people to be governed by their own laws. The government was administered by a proprietor, who depended upon the pruetor of Sicily; and this office appears to have been held by Publius when Paul was on the island (Ac 28:7). Its chief officer (under the governor of Sicily) appears from inscriptions to have had the special title of πρῶτος Μελιταίων, or Primus Melitensium, and this is the very phrase which Luke uses (Ac 28:7). Mr. Smith could not find these inscriptions. There seems, however, no reason whatever to doubt their authenticity (see Bochart, Opera, 1:502; Abela, Descr. Melitca, p. 146, appended to the last volume of the Antiquities of Grsevius; and Bockh, Corp. Insc. 3:5754). On the division of the Roman empire, Melita belonged to the western-portion; but having, in AD. 553, been recovered from the Vandals by Belisarius, it was afterwards attached to the empire of the East. About the end of the 9th century the island was taken from the Greeks by the Arabs, who made it a dependency upon Sicily, which was also in their possession. The Arabs have left the impress of their aspect, language, and many of their customs upon the present inhabitants, whose dialect is to this day perfectly intelligible to the Arabians and to the Moors of Africa. Malta was taken from the Arabs by the Normans in AD. 1090, and afterwards underwent other changes till AD. 1530, when Charles V, who had annexed it'to his empire, transferred it to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, whom the Turks had recently dispossessed of Rhodes. Under the knights it became a flourishing state, and was the scene of their greatest glory and most signal exploits (see Porter, Malta and its Knights, Lond. 1872). The institution having become unsuited to modern times, the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, commonly called Knights of Malta, gradually fell into decay, and the island was surrendered to the French under Bonaparte when on his way to Egypt in 1798. From them it was retaken by the English with the concurrence and assistance of the natives; and it was to have been restored to the Knights of Malta by the stipulations of the treaty of Amiens; but as no sufficient security for the independence of the order (composed mostly of Frenchmen) could be obtained, the English retained it in their hands; and this necessary infraction of the treaty was the ostensible ground of the war which only ended with the battle of Waterloo. The island is still in the hands of the English, who have lately remodelled the government to meet the wishes of the numerous inhabitants. It has recently become the actual seat of an Anglican bishopric, which, however, takes its title from Gibraltar out of deference to the existing Catholic bishopric of Malta. See, in addition to the works above cited, P. Carlo, Origine della Fede in Malta (Milan, 1759) ; Carstens, De apothesi Pauli in Melita (Lubec, 1754); L. de Boisgelin, Malte ancienne et moderne (Par. 1809); Bartlett's Overland Route (Lond.1851), p. 3-118; Smith's Dict. of Class. Geogr. s.v. Melita; M'Culloch's Gazetteer, s.v. Malta; also the observations and travels cited by Engelmann, Bibl. Geog. (see Index, s.v. Malta); and the monographs cited by Volbeding, Index Program. p. 84. SEE PAUL.