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Jesus’s Imperial Power over the Sea

I am presenting at the Regional SBL/AAR conference at St. Mary’s University on Friday, May 5 from 2:30 – 3:00 pm. Here is my abstract:

A theoretical problem in some academic studies on the subject of Christology is their tendency to restrict the analysis to the Second Temple Jewish context and bracket off any influences from the wider Graeco-Roman world, while simultaneously insisting that the earliest Christologies transcended all of the known Jewish precedents about intermediary agents as well (cf. Smith 1990; Arnal 2005; Crossley 2008; Litwa 2014). Adela Collins (1994) adopts a better approach in contextualizing the nature miracles in the canonical Gospels in light of the Jewish and Graeco-Roman background. Nevertheless, there remains a significant scholarly debate about whether there is an implicit “high Christology” in the Markan pericope where Jesus walks on the water (cf. Mark 6:45-52). Should this scene be interpreted as a divine theophany (e.g. Job 9:8; 38:16) or were there Jewish parallels about extraordinary humans performing miraculous feats over the natural elements (e.g. Exod 14:21–29; Josh 3:14-17; 2 Kings 2:8; Philo, Moses 1.55-58; b. Baba Metzia 59b)? Daniel Kirk and Stephen Young (2014) find a compromise between the two positions in that Psalm 89:25 (LXX Ps 88:26) extends Yahweh’s power to restrain the forces of chaos symbolized by the sea to the Davidic monarch. This paper will further compare Jesus’ royal authority over the chaotic waters to the pretensions of imperial rulers to exercise mastery over the sea (cf. Winn 2008; Cotter 2010; Kirk 2016; Kok 2016). This is one more example of how Mark re-applies imperial imagery to Jesus through the process of colonial mimicry (cf. Benny Liew 1999).

The main point of this blurb is that we should read the claims of the Gospels within the wider context of the Graeco-Roman world. While emperors and rulers may have had the imperial pretensions to have mastery over the waters, Jesus reveals that he is in control over the forces of chaos as the true Lord of the cosmos. If you want to see how I understand Mark’s Christology in general, or how the human and divine christologies enshrined in the canon can contribute to a total systematic theology about the Person of Jesus, see my post at Bible and Interpretation and my article for the Journal of the Early Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting.

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