Nautical fiction of late antiquity: Jews and christians traveling by sea

Reuven Kiperwasser*, Serge Ruzer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The storms threatening ancient sea-travelers were traditionally supposed to be a sign of divine displeasure. The marine voyage with its tempests, famously featuring in the Jonah story, also became a well-known topos in Greco-Roman storytelling. This essay investigates how some Jewish and Christian narrators reworked that topos in light of their particular religious agendas. Their tales thus turn out to be hybrid creatures composed of both biblical and mythological patterns of narration. Several such mythological patterns can be discerned in late antique sea travelogues, including divine intervention calming a stormy tempest; wondrous birds coming to sailors' rescue; and treasure hidden in the depth of the sea, guarded by a monstrous creature. Our study focuses on the final motif, with the texts under discussion mostly originating in the Syro-Mesopotamian Aramaic-speaking cultural sphere-Jewish rabbinic and Syriac Christian milieus. For all our narrators, the sea maintained its perilous appeal and the voyages provided a meaningful liminal experience that challenged their religious outlook. We outline a variety of strategies in dealing with the tension inherent in the sea adventure, some of them tailored to temper the mythic tenor of the background tradition.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationJewish, Christian, and Muslim Travel Experiences
Subtitle of host publication3rd Century BCE-8th Century CE
Publisherde Gruyter
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9783110717488
ISBN (Print)9783110717419
StatePublished - 4 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.


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