Monday, April 09, 2018

The Poseidon Adventure

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mk 4:35-41; par. Mt 8:23-27; Lk 8:22-25).

i) Imagine if you had a friend with the ability to control weather. You'd wonder who or what your friend really was. What was the source of your friend's superhuman ability. Clearly there's more to your friend than meets the idea. 

ii) Notice that unlike Moses or Elijah, Jesus doesn't pray to God to make this happen. There's no indication that his ability to do it is derivative. 

iii) The incident likely reminded the disciples of what the OT says about Yahweh:

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
    doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
    his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
    which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
    their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
    and were at their wits' end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
    and he brought them to their desired haven.
(Ps 107:23-30; cf. Jonah 1:4)

iv) But it runs deeper than that. Modern readers think of storms and squalls as natural forces. But ancient pagans believed in storm gods and sea gods. OT polemical theology trades on this association. In the parting of the Red Sea, Yahweh humiliates the gods of Egypt:

13 You divided the sea by your might;
    you broke the heads of the sea monsters[a] on the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
    you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
(Ps 74:13-14)

 In that day Yahweh with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea (Isa 27:1)

9 Awake, awake, put on strength,
    O arm of the Lord;
awake, as in days of old,
    the generations of long ago.
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
    who pierced the dragon?
10 Was it not you who dried up the sea,
    the waters of the great deep,
who made the depths of the sea a way
    for the redeemed to pass over?
(Isa 51:9-10)

Jewish readers of the Synoptics would be in a position to register the parallels between Jesus and Yahweh. In addition, this had its counterpart in Greco-Roman mythology. Poseidon is  the nemesis of Odysseus. Odysseus antagonized Poseidon. Unfortunately for him, the way home from Troy to Ithaca was by boat, so it took him ten years to return home because the vindictive sea god thwarted him at every turn. And Poseidon had a Roman counterpart (Neptune). 

Gentile readers of the Synoptics would be in a position to draw comparisons between Jesus and Poseidon or Neptune. Modern readers are apt to miss that ancient subtext because we have a scientific view of storms and squalls, but to an ancient reader, incidents like this carry symbolic connotations. It takes a Deity to trounce a Deity. A greater Deity to vanquish a lesser deity. 


  1. Then there's also the incident of Jesus walking on water recorded in Mark 6, Matthew 14 and John 6 (all of which have Jesus say "ego eimi"). As I wrote in one of my blogposts:

    Mark 6:48 has Jesus walking on the sea. Yet Job 9:8 says it is God who alone stretched out the heavens and [alone?] tramples (i.e. walks) on the waves of the sea. Both passages (Mark 4:39 and 6:48) indirectly imply Jesus is divine. God divided the Red Sea for Moses and the Jordan river for Joshua, but Jesus seemed to walk on the sea by His own inherent power and authority, and in a way reminiscent of Old Testament figurative descriptions of God. [see also Ps. 77:19; Isa. 51:10; Job 38:16].

    Bowman and Komoszewski wrote concerning this passage:

    "As various scholars, both conservative and liberal, have observed, the Gospel accounts of Jesus walking on the sea [Mt 14:23-33; Mk 6:47-52; Jn 6:16-21] allude rather clearly to the account in Exodus 14-15 of the Israelites' crossing of the Red Sea. The Israelites walked in `the midst of the sea' (Exod. 14:16, 22, 27, 29 NASB) and crossed to the other side (Exod. 15:16). Likewise, the disciples' boat was `in the middle of the sea' (Mark 6:47 NASB) and they also `crossed over' the sea (Mark 6:53). A strong wind from the east blew across the Red Sea and, close to daybreak, the Egyptians found it increasingly difficult to drive their chariots as they attempted to follow the Israelites (Exod. 14:21, 24-25). Likewise, an adverse wind blew across the Sea of Galilee and, based on the geography, it also would have been blowing from the east; this wind also blew close to daybreak and made it difficult for the disciples to row their boat (Mark 6:48). According to Mark, the disciples had the same problem as the Egyptians: their hearts were hardened (Exod. 14:4, 8, 17; Mark 6:52). ... in this miracle account `Jesus is portrayed as filling the role ... of a greater Moses and of Yahweh. Jesus' response to the disciples' fear encompasses both roles. Moses had told the Israelites, `Take heart!' (tharseite, Exod. 14:13 LXX) and Jesus told the disciples the same thing: `Take heart!' (tharseite, Matt. 14:27; Mark 6:50). But then Jesus added, `It is I [ego eimi]; do not be afraid' (Matt. 14:27; Mark 6:50; John 6:20). This statement echoes statements by the Lord God in Isaiah, where he speaks of a kind of `new Exodus' when the Jews would be restored to their land: `Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; Do not fear, for I am with you; ... so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he [ego eimi] ... I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King:' Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters. (Isa. 43:1-2, 5, 10, 15- 16)." (Bowman, R.M., Jr. Komoszewski, J.E., 2007, "Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ," Kregel: Grand Rapids MI, p.205).


    1. In Catholic scholar Brant Pitre's book he writes [italics removed]:

      //..First, notice that Mark’s account says that Jesus “meant to pass by” the disciples when he was walking on the water (Mark 6:48). This is rather odd. Where was Jesus going? The key to unlocking this otherwise baffling detail lies in Jewish Scripture. In the Old Testament, the expression “passing by” is repeatedly used to describe what God does when he appears to human beings.23 Consider the biblical accounts of God appearing to Moses and Elijah:

      [The LORD said to Moses:] “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’…[A]nd while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.…” The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exodus 33:19, 22; 34:6)
      [God said to Elijah:] “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by. (1 Kings 19:11)
      Notice here that in the theophany to Moses, God not only “passes by”; he also proclaims his divine name. In the light of this Old Testament background, the emphasis on Jesus’s “passing by” signals that he is not just a prophet performing a miracle. He is a divine person revealing his power and his name. As New Testament scholar Adela Yarbro Collins writes of Mark’s account: “Jesus is being portrayed here as divine.”24

      Second, the Gospel of Matthew contains its own unique clue that Jesus is revealing his divine identity. For Matthew also tells us how Simon Peter and the disciples react to seeing Jesus walking on the water:


    2. And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:28-33)
      Note well that the disciples’ response to the wonder they have just witnessed is to fall down and worship Jesus. It is true that the Greek word for “worship” (proskyneō) can be used to refer either to homage given to human beings (such as kings) or the worship given to the one God alone. In any given case, the meaning depends on the context. However, as Larry Hurtado and other scholars have shown, in the Gospel of Matthew, the word “worship” (Greek proskyneō) is used “only in the sense of genuine worship of Jesus,” the kind of Jewish worship ordinarily given only to “the one God.”25 In other words, the disciples recognize that Jesus has just manifested divine power over the sea, and, as a result, they worship him as divine. As W. D. Davies and Dale Allison write: “What matters is not that Jesus has done the seemingly impossible but that he has performed actions which the Old Testament associates with YHWH alone.”26 In the words of the recent Jewish Annotated New Testament: the disciples’ reference to Jesus here as the “Son of God” is an indication of “Jesus’s divine nature.”27

      Does this mean that the disciples grasp the full implications of who Jesus is after the stilling of the storm? Not at all. As their responses to the eventual crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus show, they still have a lot to learn.28 But what it does mean is that the Synoptic Gospels do in fact depict Jesus as “having existed in eternity past,” as “the creator of the universe,” and as equal with “the one true God.”29 For, as any first-century Jew would have understood, Jesus’s pre-existence and identity with the one Creator God are precisely what follow from him using as his own the divine name “I am” that had been revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 3:14). Perhaps that is why the Gospel tells us that when his Jewish disciples see Jesus walking on water and saying “I am,” they fall down and worship him.//

      He summarizes his points in a video HERE.

    3. The second quote is from chapter ten of Pitre's book The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ

  2. I have to say that this is a GREAT blogpost by Steve.

    Modern readers are apt to miss that ancient subtext because we have a scientific view of storms and squalls, but to an ancient reader, incidents like this carry symbolic connotations.


    1. This blogpost by Steve should be read along with his other blogpost The Coneheads. Since this one illustrates some of the principles of that one.