Jesus Walked on Ice

This article applies a subject called paleolimnology, the study of “freshwater, brackish, salt water environments in the ancient world” to the question of how Jesus may have [appeared to] walk on water. The folks behind it are serious scholars. I collect these pieces, without prejudice to the science or lack thereof, as evidence of the massive influence that the NT record of Jesus maintains even now.

Original website here.

The New Testament story describes Jesus walking on water in the Sea of Galilee but according to a study led by Florida State University Professor of Oceanography Doron Nof, it’s more likely that he walked on an isolated patch of floating ice.

The study points to a rare combination of optimal water and atmospheric conditions for development of a unique, localized freezing phenomenon that Nof and his co-authors call “springs ice.”

In what is now northern Israel, such ice could have formed on the cold freshwater surface of the Sea of Galilee — known as Lake Kinneret by modern-day Israelis — when already chilly temperatures briefly plummeted during one of the two protracted cold periods between 2,500 and 1,500 years ago.

A frozen patch floating on the surface of the small lake would have been difficult to distinguish from the unfrozen water surrounding it. The unfrozen water was comprised of the plumes resulting from salty springs situated along the lake’s western shore in Tabgha — an area where many archeological findings related to Jesus have been documented.

“As natural scientists, we simply explain that unique freezing processes probably happened in that region only a handful of times during the last 12,000 years,” Nof said. “We leave to others the question of whether or not our research explains the biblical account.”

It isn’t the first time the FSU researcher has offered scientific explanations of watery miracles. As a recognized expert in the field of oceanography and limnology — the study of freshwater, saline and brackish environments — Nof made waves worldwide in 1992 with his oceanographic perspective on the parting of the Red Sea.

His latest research appears in the April 2006 Journal of Paleolimnology, a scientific publication that addresses the reconstruction of lake history.

Using paleoceanographic records of the Mediterranean Sea’s surface temperatures along with analytical ice and statistical models, Nof and his colleagues focused on the dynamics of a small section of Lake Kinneret comprising about 10,000 square feet near the salty springs that empty into it. Their analysis supports the likelihood that a brief blast of frigid air descended over the lake and dropped to 25 F (-4 C) for at least two days, coinciding with the chill that had already settled in for a century or more and quite possibly encompassed the decades in which Jesus lived.

If these atmospheric conditions existed simultaneously over a lake such as Kinneret, a floating ice patch could develop above the plumes generated by the salty springs.

Such a perfect combination of conditions on the low-latitude Kinneret might well seem miraculous. In the last 120 centuries, Nof calculates the odds as roughly once in 1,000 years. However, during the life of Jesus the prevailing climate may have favored the more frequent formation of springs ice — about once in 30 to 160 years.

Floating springs ice partially or entirely surrounded by unfrozen water could be virtually impossible for distant observers to discern, particularly if subsequent rains had smoothed its surface; and 2,000 years ago, even those with a better view might not have recognized a natural phenomenon so rare in their corner of the world.

“In today’s climate, the chance of springs ice forming in northern Israel is effectively zero, or about once in more than 10,000 years,” Nof added.

Among numerous honors throughout his career, Nof won the prestigious Nansen Medal from the European Geosciences Union in 2005. He is FSU’s Distinguished Fridtjof Nansen Professor of Physical Oceanography and a member of its Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Institute.

In addition to Nof, the co-authors of “Is There A Paleolimnological Explanation for ‘Walking on Water’ in the Sea of Galilee?” are Professor Ian McKeague (Columbia University biostatistics department and formerly of FSU’s department of statistics) and Professor Nathan Paldor (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, department of atmospheric science).

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6 Comments

Filed under Marginalia, Speculation

6 responses to “Jesus Walked on Ice

  1. Mogget

    Two points, one serious, one not-so-serious:

    1) The formation of the ice floe seems rather unusual in its own right.

    2) How come I never find scientific explanations of Mohammed’s ride to heaven?

  2. a random John

    While at Stanford I attended a lecture by geologists that had found a novel way of cofirming past earthquakes and dating them. They had gone through world history and confirmed all the significant earthquakes. The exception that they were concerned about was the earthquake during the crucifixion. The guy was convinced that they would be able to prove that it happened. The earthquake that is. So far they had been unable to find it.

  3. J. Watkins

    Wow, I’m having an unusually adverse reaction to this idea. Normally things on the edge like this interest me but I’m just so skeptical about this right now. I guess it could have been this but it doesn’t do anything to explain how Peter joined him, started sinking, and then they both safely made it into the boat. I think I still prefer the unexplainable theory for this one better.

  4. Mogget

    I wouldn’t think of actually believing that’s how it happened. I just collect these stories because they show that despite the passage of time and the shift in mindset, we can’t really free ourselves from the NT.

    Another facet of this same fascination is, I think, the excitment over release of the Da Vinci Code next month. From the historical standpoint, it’s crape’, but it still shows how high the level of interest is.

    I’ve been looking around for the story related by arJ above, but haven’t really come onto it yet.

  5. a random John

    Mogget,

    I wish I could remember a reference. Here is something that looks related:

    http://scicom.ucsc.edu/SciNotes/9801/text/shake.html

  6. Mogget

    Ah, Amos Nur. Very good. I’ve ordered up some of his work.

    Thanks again.

    And in the process of googling Nur, here’s a fragment of a longer talk by Colin Humphrey, a materials science prof at Cambridge with interest in these matters:

    “Let’s see if this statement of Dawkins, that every miracle amounts to a violation of the normal running of the natural world, is correct by considering the miracle in the Old Testament of water from a rock which is described in just two verses in the Old Testament book of Exodus: “The Lord said to Moses ‘Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.’ So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel ” (Exodus 17:5-6).

    I wonder what we think about that short description. Let me make two small points about the text. First, “strike the rock”. The Hebrew word used implies a rather heavy strike. The King James Bible translates this as “smite the rock”, which implies that Moses raised his staff and gave the rock a good thump. The other point which is interesting is that the rock is called “the rock at Horeb” suggesting not a small rock, but a large and maybe a well known rock. So that’s the story, and of course it raises the question of whether rocks can give out water. To those of us living in the UK , I expect our immediate reaction is that this miracle is a scientific impossibility. At first sight, this miracle, to use the words of Dawkins, “violates the normal running of the natural world.”

    Let’s think scientifically about this. For a rock to give out water it has to be able to store water and so it has to be porous. Porous rocks exist, for example, sandstone and limestone, which can absorb huge quantities of water from rain. In fact when they are underground we use them as aquifers, natural reservoirs of water, and we sink wells and boreholes into them to extract the water.

    I was at Liverpool University before coming to Cambridge University and lived in a place called West Kirby , in a house built on the side of a sandstone hill. The back garden rose up steeply and there was a sandstone cliff about ten or twelve feet high which had been cut through in Victorian times. Hours after a rainstorm had finished, water would still be flowing out of this rock. So water can be stored in these porous rocks, but if they are above ground in England , the water is not kept in, it flows out. However if you go to a desert region, rocks weather in a rather different way from in England because of sandstorms, which at high speed sweep sand and organic matter from decaying plants and animals on to the rocks. Over time, rocks in the desert can develop a hard impervious crust, a bit like cement, and this is due to weathering. Modern Bedouin call this hard crust “desert varnish”, and it provides a smooth surface for their rock art. If the crust of a porous rock is broken by a sharp blow, water can indeed flow out and this is an effect which is well known to hydrogeologists.

    Bob has mentioned my book “The Miracles of Exodus” so I will read out an interesting quotation from it – this is by a former British governor of Sinai, Major Jarvis, who wrote a book called Yesterday and TodayinSinai in 1936. He says: “The striking of a rock at Refadim by Moses and the gushing forth of water sounds like a veritable miracle but the writer (Major Jarvis) has actually seen it happen. Some of the Sinai Camel Corps had halted in a wadi [a dried up river stream] and were digging in the loose gravel accumulated at one of the rocky sides to obtain water that was slowly trickling down through the limestone rock. The men were working slowly and the Colour Sergeant said “Give it to me” and, seizing a shovel from one of the men, he began to dig with great vigour. One of his lusty blows hit the rock, when the polished hard face that forms on weathered limestone cracked and fell away exposing the soft porous rock beneath, and out of the porous rock came a great gush of clear water. It is regrettable that the Sudanese Camel Corps hailed their non-commissioned officer with shouts of ‘What ho, the prophet Moses!’.”

    So you see that when we look at the water from the rock miracle scientifically it does not “violate the normal running of the natural world,” and a similar event is well documented. To bring matters right up to date, I happened to be searching the Internet and I found this Associated Press report dated Wednesday 25 February 2004 – so this really is up-to-date – “NASA Rover Drills Martian Rock for Water. The six-wheeled Rover used the rock- abrasion tool on its instrument-tipped arm to grind a fraction of an inch into the surface of a rock called “ El Capitan ”. The rock’s weathered surface was ground away, so that the Rover could examine the material underneath.”

    See…nobody can let it alone…