Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Walking on the Sea

According to Roger Aus, Matthew, Mark and John have based the walking on water story on Exodus 14-15. Roger Aus says that they also based the story on an incident involving Gaius Caligula' building a bridge over the bay between Baiae and Puteoli just west of modern Naples. Aus assert that Matthew, Mark and John created an equivalent incident for Jesus.[i] Josephus and Seneca locate the account sometime in 40 CE. Josephus says that Gaius considered himself “lord of the sea”.

This is what Josephus tells us about Gaius Caligula who reigned as emperor from 37-41 CE:

“And other pranks he did like a madman; as when he laid a bridge from the city Dicearchia, which belongs to Campania, to Misenum, another city upon the sea-side, from one promontory to another, of the length of thirty furlongs, as measured over the sea. And this was done because he esteemed it to be a most tedious thing to row over it in a small ship, and thought withal that it became him to make that bridge, since he was lord of the sea, and might oblige it to give marks of obedience as well as the earth; so he enclosed the whole bay within his bridge, and drove his chariot over it; and thought that, as he was a god, it was fit for him to travel over such roads as this was.”[ii]

There is another aspect to the story that has been noted by Steven Notley. Luke had no knowledge of the Christian toponym "Sea of Galilee".[iii] Luke (e.g. 5:1-2) instead uses the appropriate term limne and "Lake of Gennesaret" which Josephus and I Macc uses.[iv]

The lake is traversed by the Jordan, and is situated in a deep depression, its surface being 682 feet below sea-level. It is 20 kilometers long and about 9 kilometers wide. Josephus says 140 stades long, 40 wide which is very close.

If Aus and Notley are correct, Luke not using the material is evidence that he has a higher standard for his geography and history and/or that Luke predates Matthew, Mark and John.

[i] Aus, Roger, Caught in the act, walking on the sea, and the release of Barabbas revisited, (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1998).
[ii] Ant. 19.1.1.
[iii] For Matthew, see 4:18; 15:29; Mark 1:16; 7:31 and John 6:1.
[iv] War, III. x. 8; Antiq. xviii.2, 1; see also 1 Macc 11:67.

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