Jesus Walks on Water

Josephson

Member
“And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away… But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God…”
– Matthew 14:22-33​
“The nature of the lake Asphaltitis [The Dead Sea] is also worth describing. It is, as I have said already, bitter and unfruitful. It is so light [or thick] that it bears up the heaviest things that are thrown into it; nor is it easy for any one to make things sink therein to the bottom, if he had a mind so to do. Accordingly, when Vespasian went to see it, he commanded that some who could not swim should have their hands tied behind them, and be thrown into the deep, when it so happened that they all swam as if a wind had forced them upwards.”
– The Wars Of The Jews, Book IV 8:4​

The common words here are "sink", "wind", "sea", "commanded/constrained" and common images of Vespasian as their lord and Simon the rebel who gets conquered/disciple, floating on top of the water.

Notice how Jesus “constrained” his disciples to “go before him”. An interesting choice of words, why didn't he command them or ask them or something like that. It is the only time Jesus “constrains” someone to do something against their will and it is to “go before him” where he is not going, into the sea. This is clearly mocking the description from Josephus about Vespasian tying Simon (probably just some captured rebels;) up and throwing them in the water and there is this magic “wind” that keeps them on top of the water seems to scare everyone. Josephus thinks he is international, hellenistic, well educated, from a good family and the son of the living God of the entire inhabitable Earth, but he was apparently unaware of Archimedes' work on buoyancy more than three hundred years before him, such a mere rustic was he! Only an ignorant, son of a slave nation would see this and think it was a miracle and describe it as a “wind forcing them up”. "And as soon as they got into the ship it was like the wind stopped" hehe, stupid guy. Anyway, that is what the Bible mockingly suggests.

“…He was a man not only unworthy of the high priesthood, but that did not well know what the high priesthood was, such a mere rustic was he! yet did they hail this man, without his own consent, out of the country, as if they were acting a play upon the stage, and adorned him with a counterfeit thee; they also put upon him the sacred garments, and upon every occasion instructed him what he was to do…”
– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book IV, 3:7-8​
 

Jerry Russell

Administrator
Staff member
Josephson, I'm not so sure about your interpretation here. Josephus seems to be well aware of Archimedes' principles of buoyancy. He also seems to know that salt water weighs more than fresh water, and so objects are more buoyant in salt water. He may have the idea that the difference between salt water and fresh is greater than it really is. But, the difference is very pronounced when it comes to human beings, who are mostly made of water.

I think the joke is that those rebels thrown into the water by Vespasian might have floated, but are unlikely to have survived the ordeal. It's very similar to the 'fishing for men' parable, in which Jesus and his disciples naively re-enact a sea battle without understanding what they are re-enacting. The joke is on the Christians and the Jewish rebels, not Josephus.
 

Josephson

Member
If Josephus had had a solid understanding of buoyancy he would not have said the water "is so light", it is in fact the exact opposite, the salt laden water is much heavier than fresh water, thus leading to increased buoyancy. And then again he says "they all swam as if a wind had forced them upwards." It sounds like he believes in fairies or thinks that buoyancy is the effect of some strange magic. To a physicist this sounds a bit ridiculous, so in the book of Matthew, having a "boisterous wind" or a "contrary wind" to lift them up when they walk on the water really seems to be mocking Josephus' understanding of basic first century physics. But Josephus almost always sounds a bit ridiculous and silly in his writings, I think I would have mocked him too if I were an ancient Greek.

The part about the disciples is another joke, yes. I swam already in the Dead Sea, though, and I am pretty sure that even if I had my arms and legs tied I would still survive being thrown in there. Unless they were trying to kill them I don't see why they would have died and there is no indication here that those thrown in died, but it also doesn't say they lived, so who knows?
 

Josephson

Member
The "or thick" part is in square brackets because it was added by the translator Whiston who was trying to clarify Josephus' nonsense, something he felt was necessary to do frequently in translating Josephus.
 

Jerry Russell

Administrator
Staff member
The idea that salt water is "light" or "thick", as an explanation of the extra buoyancy, would be an example of "folk physics". It's not at all uncommon for lay people to have simplified understandings; which, I suppose, could be targets for humorous lampoons. As to whether the rebels survived, I suppose it might depend how far from shore they were, and how strong the wind. Maybe it's beside the point, they were certainly humiliated & frightened.

Both interpretations (Josephus or the rebels & Christians as targets of the satire) seem possible. We proceed to evaluate more evidence. Meanwhile, the case for some sort of literary dependency gets stronger and stronger.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naïve_physics
 
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