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Walking on Water


(1) John 6:16-21
(2a) Mark 6:45-52 = Matt 14:22-27
(2b) Mark 4:35-41 = Matt 8:18,23-27 = Luke 8:22-25



(1) John 6:16-21

6:16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 6:17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 6:18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 6:19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 6:20 But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." 6:21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.


(2a) Mark 6:45-52

6:45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 6:46 After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 6:47 When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 6:48 When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 6:49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 6:50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." 6:51 Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 6:52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

= Matt 14:22-27
14:22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 14:23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 14:24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 14:25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 14:26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 14:27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."


(2b) Mark 4:35-41

4:35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 4:36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 4:37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 4:38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 4:39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 4:40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 4:41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

= Matt 8:18,23-27
8:18 Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. ... 8:23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 8:24 A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 8:25 And they went and woke him up, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" 8:26 And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 8:27 They were amazed, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?"

= Luke 8:22-25
8:22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side of the lake." So they put out, 8:23 and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 8:24 They went to him and woke him up, shouting, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 8:25 He said to them, "Where is your faith?" They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, "Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?"



John Dominic Crossan

Item: 128
Stratum: I (30-60 CE)
Attestation: Double
Historicity: ±

Dennis R. MacDonald

In The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. (Yale UP, 2000), MacDonald devotes a chapter to this story and another to the story in Mark 5:1-20. He begins by noting :

In no gospel does Jesus sail more often than in Mark, and, as far as we now know, no author independent of Mark ever related Jesus to things nautical. ... One of Mark's most enduring innovations was painting traditions about Jesus against a landscape replete with mountains, uninhabited regions, villages, and especially a sea. He presented four of the disciples as erstwhile fishermen who were able to provide Jesus with the boat that would later transport him across the Chinnereth. He told them to have it ready for him, so that he could avoid the crowds, and once used it as his pulpit. The disciples sail with Jesus across the lake several times, enduring a storm and rowing against contrary winds. Once they failed to provision the ship with enough bread, an oversight unpardonable for ancient sailors, who often had to traverse vast expanses. Several episodes echo sailing tales in the Odyssey. (p. 55)

MacDonald points out that Mark seems to have been responsible for the elevation of the Lake Chinnereth, a mere seven miles long and four miles wide, into "a ferocious sea, troubled by storms, mighty winds, and lofty waves." This literary re-imaging of the Galilean lake was already observed by the 3C pagan writer, Porphyry:

Experts in the truth about those places [in Galilee] report that there is no sea there, except they do refer to a small river-fed lake at the foot of the mountain in Galilee near the city Tiberius, a lake easily traversed in small canoes in no more than two hours and insufficiently capricious for waves or storms. So Mark greatly exaggerates the truth when he ludicrously composes the fiction of a nine-hour journey and Jesus striding upon the water in the tenth to find his disciples sailing on the pond [Gk: lakko]. Then he calls it thalassa, not merely a sea but one beset by storms, dreadfully wild, and terrifyingly agitated by the heaving of the waves, so that from these details he could represent Christ as performing a great sign, naming calming a mighty and violent storm and rescuing his scarcely endangered disciples from the deep and open sea. [Porphyry, Contra christianos frag. 55. Tr. by MacDonald and cited on p. 57)

MacDonald cites numerous parallels between the Odyssey and Mark, including shared use of rare vocabulary not found in the Greek (Septuagint) version of the Hebrew Bible.

The details include:

Odyssey [Book 9 | Book 10]

9.563-64 and 10.31

So they went on board quickly [eisbainon]
and sat down
upon the benches, and sitting well in order
struck the gray sea with their oars.

[ For a month Odysseus told Aeolus his tales
while floating on an island.]

But when I ... asked him that I might
depart and requested that he send me
on my way
, he, too, denied me nothing,
but gave me conveyance.
[Odysseus sailed off with twelve ships.
After ten days at sea and at night,]
"an enticing sleep came upon me."

Cf. 13.73-80, where Odysseus slept at the stern [prumnes]
on rugs."

4:1,36, 38a

[H]e boarded a boat [eis ploion embanta]
and sat
on the sea

[Jesus spoke his parables to the crowd
while floating on a boat.]

[W]hen evening had come, he said to them,
"Let us go across to the other side."
And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them,
since he was already in the boat.
Other boats were with him ...


He himself was in the stern [prumne]sleeping
on a cushion.


They opened the bag and all the winds [anemoi] rushed out, and swiftly the storm wind seized them and bore them weeping out to sea.


A great gale of wind [anemou] arose, and waves beat into the boat, so that the boast was already being swamped.


[Cf. 10.27, where Odysseus laments,
"[W]e were lost (apolometh') through our own folly."]

"[A]nd I woke up [egromenos],
and with a start, my spirit churning --
should I leap over the side and drown at once
or grin and bear it, and stay among the living."


[T]hey woke [egeirousin] him up and said to him,
"Teacher, do you not care that we are lost [apollumetha]?"

He woke up [diegertheis] and rebuked the wind,
and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!"
Then the wind ceased and there was a great calm [galene].

MacDonald lists the "dense and sequential" similarities between Mark and Homer:

Odyssey 10.1-69

Odysseus' crew boarded and sat down.

On a floating island Odysseus told stories to Aeolus.

After a month he took his leave, boarded, and sailed
with twelve ships.

Odysseus slept.

The greedy crew opened the sack of winds and created a storm.

The crew groaned.

Odysseus awoke and gave up hope.

Odysseus complained of his crew's folly.

Aeolus was master of the winds.

Mark 4:35-41

Jesus boarded and sat down to teach.

On a floating boat Jesus told his tories to the crowds.

When it was late, Jesus took his leave, and sailed
[with the twelve disciples]. Other boats were with him.

Jesus slept.

A storm arose.

The disciples were helpless and afraid.

Jesus awoke and stilled the storm.

Jesus rebuked the disciples for lack of faith.

Jesus was master of winds and sea.


MacDonald's verdict is worth noting:

Mark seems to have altered Homer's adventure story into a rescue miracle by attributing to Jesus traits not of a hero but of a deity, like Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, the Dioscuri, or Aeolus. Had the disciples read their Homer, they would have known how to answer their own question: "Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?" Jesus was not like Odysseus but like Aeolus, "for Zeus had made that king master of all the winds, with power to calm them down or rouse them as he pleased." (p. 60)

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