We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Did Jesus Walk on Water - or Ice?

One of the consequences of biblical historical literalism is a cottage industry devoted to explaining seemingly impossible biblical events.  Recently, the MSNBC website posted an article entitled, "Did Jesus Walk on Water?  Or Ice?", concerning an international team of climate researchers, which has found that in ancient times under certain conditions ice could possibly have formed on certain parts of the Sea of Galilee.  Their research findings are published (here), if you are interested.

There are three passages in the New Testament that tell the story of Jesus walking on water: Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52, and John 6:16-21.  In Matthew's version, Peter also stepped out of the boat and momentarily walked on water until he realized what he was doing.  These passages tell an amazing story about the power of Christ over chaos, which has been partly ruined in these latter days by the skeptical question of whether or not he actually, historically, really and truly, on a given place & time walked on water.  The researchers themselves note that this ancient "spring ice" (water from springs flowing into the sea) would have been small in area, fooled people into thinking someone was walking on water only at a distance, and apt to happen only once every 30 to 60 years.

This latest explanation of how the story could  be "real" makes no sense at all.  Taking the story as the factual recounting of a historical event, the boat the disciples were in was apparently well out to sea, beyond where the ice could have formed.  And if the forming of ice was so freakish, requiring precise conditions, would it have been thick enough to walk on even close to the shore?  Then, there's the problem that Jesus walked all the way to the boat and got in.  So, if there was ice, the disciples would have known it and not been so entirely astonished at Jesus walking out to them.  And the weather was bad, the waves high according to the story.  How did the ice remain stable enough to be walked on?

Biblical-historical literalism demands that stories like Jesus walking on water must be true or false (we're back to the dualism thing).  Given that demand, either these stories describe a miracle or a natural phenomenon, and usually it is a stretch to explain them naturally—as in this case.  We are left with this story either being an account of a miracle or a lie.  And that is a false choice, one that obscures the true power of the story itself.