Did Jesus walk on water?

Is Jesus standing on ice in this image? Source: Trimmer, Sarah. A Series of Prints of the New Testament. London, 1790. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Wikimedia Commons.

A miracle subjected to science…for the holidays…

Timeline, 2007:  A New Testament story has become so symbolic the ability of Jesus Christ to transcend the natural world that its single catchphrase—walking on water—encapsulates the idea of one who can perform miracles. There is even a lizard, the basilisk lizard, that is sometimes called the “Jesus Christ lizard” because it can sprint across the surface of a pond. Of course, the lizard relies on the laws of physics and the surface tension of the water to accomplish this feat.

Now, according to researchers at Florida State University, it’s possible that a person stepping off the shore of the Sea of Galilee 2000 years ago might well have stepped onto a layer of ice thick enough to bear a man’s weight. The researchers stop short, however, of designating theirs as the true explanation for the presumed miracle of Christ’s walk on water.

How a mere mortal might walk on water

To tackle a natural explanation of walking on the surface of the Sea of Galilee—which is Israel’s largest freshwater lake and known to Israelis as Lake Kinneret—Nof’s team turned to the Mediterranean. They took core samples from the bottom of the sea and used the layers to infer weather patterns from 2500 to 2000 years ago. The cores contain layers of shells, and the animals these shells represent give clues about prevailing temperatures over time. The team found that at the time of Jesus, the Mediterranean was about 4 degrees cooler. Because water heats or cools slowly relative to air, the air temperature must have been even colder.

Based on this and other inferences, they determined that temperatures around the time Jesus and his disciples lived may well have fallen into the 20-F range during cold periods. Today, Lake Kinneret does not see such low temperatures, and the chances of ice forming on its surface are about once every 10,000 years…in other words, never. But 2000 years ago, the chances might have been as high as once every 30 to 60 years, according to the researchers.

Spring ice is no miracle

One factor influencing their conclusion is the saltwater spring in the area, which could produce a plume of saltwater underlying the freshwater. Thus, when the air temperature dropped below freezing, only the top part of the lake responded to the temperature and only the top part of the lake froze. A lake that seemed liquid could, as a result, have had a sheet of ice, possibly 4 to 6 inches thick, lying unseen near its surface. The researchers call this phenomenon “spring ice.”

In the story of the New Testament, which is repeated in three of the four gospel accounts, Jesus is on the shore of the lake as a fishing boat with some of his disciples approaches, tossed and battered in a raging storm. To the disciples’ amazement, Jesus steps from the shore and walks to them, across the surface of the water. The disciple Peter, who is on the boat, also tries to step into the water and walk on its surface, but he sinks. Jesus calms the storm and saves them.

Theology aside…

Nof’s idea not surprisingly elicited a lot of controversy, and at least a few people have taken non-theological issue with the conclusions. For example, relatively quiet, calm conditions would be required for spring ice to form, yet the fishermen were described as being caught in a storm with high winds and huge waves that threatened their craft. In addition, the New Testament accounts make reference to their using oars, and being on a ship and using oars over a layer of ice would have been difficult, at least. Jesus himself might have had to wear crampons to avoid falling on the divine rear-end when stepping onto the ice. And there is also the issue of what happened with poor Peter, who either could not walk on water because his faith faltered or found no ice on which to walk.

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About ejwillingham
Sciwriter/editor/autism-ADHD parent. SciMaven @ http://doublexscience.blogspot.com/. I speak my pieces @ http://daisymayfattypants.blogspot.com/ & @ http://thebiologyfiles.blogspot.com/

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