Jesus on the Sea of Galilee

Following on from my previous posts about the Feeding of the 5000 being a parable rather than historical, the same can be said about Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. He’s said to have instantly calmed its stormy waves – “a windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped”. Normally, after the wind drops, it’s an age before the waves calm down, but not here! And on another occasion when his disciples were in a “boat battered by the waves”, Jesus “came walking towards them on the sea”. As before, let’s look for material in the Hebrew Bible which can supply inspiration for these stories.

(i) In Genesis 1, buried in darkness, the ocean deeps are buffeted by a powerful wind. This image, also found in the myths of surrounding peoples, is symbolic of the pre-existing chaos before God created stability and order. In the myths of the ancient near east, including those of the Israelites, the stormy sea stands for the ever-present risk of the return of chaos, to be guarded against by invocation of the gods who have the power to keep it at bay.

(ii) In Genesis 6, in retribution for the disorderly wickedness of human beings, God temporarily allows chaos to return. “All the fountains of the great deep burst open”, and the entire earth is again submerged beneath a flood. Eventually, however, (as in Genesis 1) “God caused a wind to blow over the earth and the waters receded”. Proper order was restored, due to divine power being exercised over nature.

(iii) In Exodus 14, when the escaping Israelites reached the ‘Red Sea’, “Yahweh drove the sea apart by a strong east wind and made the sea into dry land”. The stormy waters were blown back and the Israelites crossed. They were pursued by the Egyptians, but “the water returned and covered the chariots and all the army of Pharaoh – not so much as one of them survived”. Once again, God could both tame and unleash the catastrophic waters.

(iv) In 2 Kings 6, in a different example of power over water, when an axe-head is accidentally dropped into a river, the prophet Elisha causes it to rise and float on the surface of the waters, so it can be retrieved. This very conveniently takes us to Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee. These stories of the sea being calmed, and of walking on the water, are derived from those age-old mythic symbols of the divine power that can uphold order and keep chaos at bay. That divine power, the stories suggest, is embodied in Jesus. 

And so, at the Bible’s end, we now understand the image in Revelation 21 : “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more”. The age-old battle against that ever-present threat of watery chaos is finally won, and divine order will forever reign. Hallelujah!

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