Book Review, SailingActs by Linford Stutzman

Book Classification : History : Ancient Rome -- Religion : Early Christianity -- Geography & Travel : Middle East -- Sailing

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SailingActs : Following an Ancient Voyage , by Linford Stutzman
Paperback - 300 pages
First Edition, October 2006
Published by Good Books

ISBN 1561485462
ISBN-10: 1-56148-546-2
ISBN-13: 978-1-56148-546-8

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Book Review

Religion and culture professor Linford Stutzman, Ph.D. has an atypical feeling about what it means to understand the lives and beliefs of the first Christians. He is driven to immerse himself in their locations, e.g., to sail to the island of Malta and there reread and contemplate the story in Acts 27 in which Paul the Apostle is shipwrecked there.

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Linford Stutzman ,
SailingActs : Following an Ancient Voyage

Dr. Stutzman and his wife Janet bought a used boat in Greece, then began their fourteen month journey that closely duplicated the path of Paul's ten year journey. The intention was to visit every location that the book of Acts reports that Paul the Apostle visited in the 1st century A.D.

About the Author

Linford Stutzman was born in the logging community of Cascadia, Oregon. He learned many of his carpentry and mechanical skills by working alongside his father who was a farmer, logger, and pastor of the community church. Linford's teenage years were spent in the remote interior of British Columbia, Canada. There he worked for the Canadian forestry service, at fisheries, at a hunting lodge, and in mining exploration while his parents served in a ministry assignment with First Nations people.

Linford and his wife, Janet, have served in various ministry roles over 20 years in Jerusalem, Israel; Munich, Germany; and in Perth, Australia. They have two grown sons, David and Jonathan.

Linford holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America, a master's degree in religion from Eastern Mennonite Seminary, and a bachelor's degree in Bible from Eastern Mennonite University. Since 1993 he has been teaching courses in religion, culture, and mission at Eastern Mennonite University.

Together, Linford and Janet have led Eastern Mennonite University's cross-cultural study semester to the Middle East numerous times, as well as summer-study programs to Albania, Lithuania, Greece, and Turkey.

In the summers, they continue to explore the Mediterranean aboard SailingActs.

- From the Publisher

Why Paul? You may recall that Saul of Tarsus, a persecuter of Christians, was said to have had a mystical revelation "on the road to Damascus". Thereafter he was baptised and renamed himself Paul. He became the most influential of the apostles, for a number of reasons. He was a Jew who was also Roman citizen. He spoke Greek; he had knowledge of Greek philosophy and scholarship. He wrote a greater portion of the New Testament than any other author. Paul was the apostle who traveled the most miles, on foot and by sailboat, to gain converts.

Paul was the only apostle who took to sailing. The Prologue discusses how strongly influential seafarers have always been in history, being the conveyers of many things, including "gold, languages, ... alcohol, weapons, education, new food, germs, and ideas to people who couldn't resist even when they tried." [13]

Some estimate that Paul walked tens of thousands of miles, but one of the things that fascinates the author is the way Paul frequently obtained passage on ships that were operated by commodity businesses.

The author teaches religion and culture at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia. On a path to reproduce the deeds of the revolutionaries who dwelled two millennia ago around the province of Judea and then spread outward, the author is already off to a good start by being the son of a carpenter who leaves home to teach spiritual lessons. Now he would also follow in the footsteps of the apostles in a more literal sense. He writes: "At Samos, we would begin following the actual routes of the Apostle Paul, visiting the sites mentioned in Acts." [87]

During the period May 2004 to July 2005 (see the 4-page itinerary before the Prologue) Dr. and Mrs. Stutzman traveled to Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Malta, Italy and Jordan. The journey involved numerous modes of transportation, and their boat was used for a 815 hour and 4,200 mile portion of it.

They went first to Greece, to buy the boat from a Greek sea captain who likes to go by the name Captain Steve and who had advertised the boat on the Internet. [29]

The boat is 33 feet in length and provides very compact lodging and storage. [See the boat diagrams on page 323.] The boat, constructed in 1979, was in need of some fixing. It came with a radar, but it might as well not have, because that was broken :-) It also came filled with junk that went to the dumpster. [59]

The original name of the boat was the Aldebaran. I recall that Aldebaran is a star, a red giant that is sometimes visualized as one of the eye's of Taurus the Bull. The author didn't favor that that name. Curiously, he doesn't say anywhere that he disliked the name because Aldebaran was the name of a fallen angel in the apocryphal Christian scripture, the Book of Enoch, but, rather, because it is the name of a star. To put it simply, the previous name of the boat was "too irrelevant" [28].

The new owners decided to rename their boat SailingActs. They enjoyed finding multiple meanings in the new name, including the fact that they would be "acting as if we knew what we were doing as we sailed the Mediterranean." [29] Likewise, not being very experienced at sailing, Stutzman writes, while traveling on the Mediterranean, he meditated on what Paul must have meant by the phrase "living by faith." [58]

Dr. and Mrs. Stutzman motivated themselves for the trip by giving each other sailing classes and sailing equipment as Christmas presents. [19] Then they would be about as prepared as they would ever be to set out for "countless unknown harbors." [58]

Most remarkable is the way the author interpreted every aspect of the terrain in the historical context. Inevitably he conjectured about what this or that feature -- the size of an island, the straightness of a road, the roughness of the waves, the slope of the hillside over which one has to carry belongings -- might have meant to a traveler who came this way long ago to preach the Good News of Jesus.

Our travelers would daily ponder the meaning a scriptural passage in the context of the geographical scenery as it is viewed. "We spend the remainder of the day among the archaeological ruins of the once glittering city of Ephesus, rereading Act 20 and thinking of Paul's amazing experiences in that place." [110]

The author finds significance in the realization: "Here we are, getting a life raft just before sailing the same stretch of open water that ended in shipwreck for Paul, I thought." [288]

Some thoughts are of water and others of land. The Mediterranean offered rougher waters than they expected. Weather at sea can be more dangerous than weather on land. The land also has a story. The Romans constructed tens of thousands of miles of sturdy stone roads which remain in use twenty centuries later.

SailingActs includes some humorous (to me) accounts of how much paperwork and other government bureaucracy was required to buy the boat and authorize the trip. [27-28, 48-50, 53-55]. While trying to get passports stamped, the author got into an argument with a Greek customs official about rules and regulations, which led to a police officer being called. [121] The author was thereby inspired to reconsider Paul's controversial words in Acts 17:1 recommending "submission" to government authorities, a viewpoint which apparently didn't impede Paul on the occasion that he "escaped authorities in Damascus over the wall in a basket." With subtle humor, Professor Stutzman adds, "I began to wonder if emulating his pattern in Damascus might be the best way to leave Greek islands." [122]

Cultures differ. I found this scene remarkable. The author stopped at an information center in Turkey and inquired whether there were any archaeological sites related to Paul. "We are Muslims" was the first response received, but then he also received directions to some old buildings in the countryside, in the village of Sille. [201-202] See references to events in Sille in the Book of Acts. [203] On their last evening in Turkey they found it humorous to be eating sundaes at McDonalds, and then they sailed all night to Cyprus. [218]

Another cultural consideration is the organization and unity, and the ultimate collapse, of the Roman empire. The author, who describes himself as "a committed pacifist", discusses the military power and brutality of the that empire. [113] The visit to the theater in Ephesus led to thoughts about how historians interpret the social role of gladiators. [111] But the experience of sailing remained at the center. "It was Pompey's military victory over piracy that made it possible for Paul to sail the Mediterranean in relative safety, I thought." [113]

On other occasions, the adventure took place on terra firma. Stutzman took a ride on his motor scooter "off the main road" and through the farmlands adjacent to the Meander River, a path which Paul navigated in 57 A.D. as part of a return trip to Jerusalem. [112] On that particular day he left his wife behind as he ventured out on what she called "that stinky scooter." [112]

The author's purpose in eight of the nine countries on the itinerary was to reconsider the passages in Acts in light of what appeared before his eyes. The trip to Jordan was mostly just a vacation.

Our travelers intended orginally to sell the boat upon completion of the journey. They decided to keep it, and they occasionally return to the Mediterranean waters.

Reference information includes maps, sailing diagrams, specifications and glossary, and the travel itinerary and statistics. Best of all -- four glossy inserts with a total of 60 color photographs.

You can even link to a podcast of an interview with the author (.mp3 file size about 8 million bytes).

Book review by Mike Lepore for

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Book Description from the Publisher

Seafaring isn't for the faint of heart. It wasn't for the Apostle Paul in the first century A.D.-- shipwrecked, imprisoned, and often a stranger in foreign lands.

And it turned out to be a heart-stopping task some 2,000 years later when Linford Stutzman, a religion professor, and his wife undertook a 14-month journey by sailboat. They visited every site where St. Paul stopped on his tumultuous missionary journeys.

SailingActs traces this 21st-century voyage from Volos, Greece, to Rome, Italy, by car, by foot, by motorized scooter, but mostly on a 33-foot boat, logging more than 3,600 nautical miles over two sailing seasons.

Stutzman's knowledge of 1st-century Rome's socio-political setting is an informative backdrop to St. Paul's activities and writings.

The book includes dozens of photos, maps showing the couple's travel routes, a list of all the repairs and replacements Stutzman made to the aging boat (which he negotiated to buy sight-unseen), and an itinerary of places they visited.

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