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Jesus’ Power over the Sea

In the Ancient Near East, there is a recurring story of a god defeating a sea monster, summarized by Professor Mark Leuchter’s lecture “The Devil Made Me Do It: The Ancient Mythology Behind Personal Moral Struggle in Early Judaism” (13:50-21:00 minute mark). The sea symbolizes chaos (think of issues like flooding, drowning, and the terrifying creatures), but the god beats back anarchy to establish an ordered realm for civilization to flourish. The ancient Israelites also retold how their deity conquered the sea monster (cf. Job 26:12; 41; Psalm 74:13-14; Isaiah 27:1). Alternatively, in the creation story in Genesis 1, there is no combat at all and God is sovereign over the formless and void waters (1:2).

Is Jesus doing what only the God of Israel can do in Mark 6:47-52 as argued in Dr. Pitre’s post? He notes a possible allusion to Job 9:8 in the Greek translation (i.e. the Septuagint or “LXX”) where Yahweh walks on the sea, points out that Jesus may reply to the disciples using the divine name “I am” (though he notes that the New Revised Standard Version simply translates ego eimi as “it is I”), and notes Jesus’ aim to pass by the disciples just as Yahweh’s divine glory was revealed when passing by Moses. It could be added that the disciples respond with the appropriate reverence in Matthew 14:33, while in Mark 6:51-52 they remain as oblivious as ever. But is it possible that God can extend such authority over the forces of chaos to a delegated human representative?

I will call attention to three posts. First, James Crossley’s posts Jewish parallels to the kind of nature miracles Jesus performs. Thus, Philo describes the natural elements obeying Moses (Life of Moses 1.155-56). The interesting moral of the tale of Rabbi Eliezer’s miraculous feats is that charismatic authority alone cannot dictate legal interpretations. Of course, there are other figures mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus and the Rabbis promoting miraculous signs (e.g., Theudas promised to divide the Jordan River, the Egyptian claimed that the walls of Jerusalem would fall at his command, Honi the circle-drawer would not move from a designated spot until it rained).

Second, in Andrew Perriman’s review of Richard Hay’s book, he proposes that there is an echo of Moses leading the people through the waters (Psalm 77:19-20) so that the Israelites could pass over (Joshua 4:23; Nehemiah 9:11 LXX). This accords with Mark’s opening announcement about a new exodus (1:2-3), the oppressors are drowned in the Sea (5:13), and the miracle at sea is followed by the provision of food for the people.

Finally, Perriman also reviews the suggestion by Daniel Kirk and Stephen Young that Yahweh who stills the sea (Psalm 89:9-10) also sets the king’s hands on the sea and rivers (Psalm 89:25). Perriman is not persuaded, arguing that it is more likely an allusion to the extent of David’s empire (see Psalm 79:12; 71:8). I am curious to see how Daniel Kirk might respond, but I wonder if the suggestion has more merit. After all, Psalm 89 reflects the ideology of kingship and the disappointment that the royal dynasty of David ceased during the Babylonian exile, so it fits the theme that Yahweh subdued the forces of chaos in establishing David’s rule yet chaos has overtaken them. I wonder if the midrash on Genesis 1:2 (Genesis Rabbah 2.4) that Crossley brought up implies that the spirit of the Messiah (Messiah’s pre-existent spirit or the divine spirit anointing the Messiah?) is superior to the power of chaos too?

In Mark’s Gospel, God has anointed Jesus as the Human to rule over the powers of darkness and to liberate his people from it. Jesus supersedes Moses and king David.

 

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