The voyages of Paul to his first captivity in Rome found in Acts 27 took place from 60-61 AD on the bible timeline. At one point on this trip, the sailors express fear of the Syrtis Sands (Acts 27:17.) You have to wonder why sailors in the ocean would be afraid of sand. Here is why. According to ancient historians and geographers such as Dio Chrysostom and Strabo, who lived at about the same time as Luke and Paul the sands are shallow gulfs off the coast of Africa. There is a greater and lesser gulf. We know these today as the Gulf of Sirte off the coast of Libya and the Gulf of Gabes off of Tunisia. Once caught in the gulf it is impossible for a large sailing vessel to pull back out or to land safely on the rocky shoals.
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The Gulf has fearsome cross currents and long sand bars extending miles out to sea. Once caught inside a ship is either destroyed on the rocks or marooned on a sandbar miles from shore. The ship taking Paul to Rome was one of the largest of its day as it carried a heavy load of grain. If the ship was caught in the quicksands of Syrtis death was inevitable. The sailors had good reason to fear.
More information on Paul and the Syrtis Sands
A detailed timeline of Paul’s journey For detailed historical references to the Syrtis Sands and more visit Gordon Franz’s excellent blog
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