Wednesday, September 10, 2008

James Crossley, William Lane Craig, and Ghosts

I suppose since I've taken this title for my blog, I should actually blog about the NT from time to time. I was watching James Crossley's debate with William Lane Craig over on Mike Bird's and Joel Willitts' blog and I heard Dr. Crossley say something interesting about the disciples seeing Jesus and thinking he was a ghost (Mk 6:49-50), not someone who was walking around bodily. This was by no means the crux of his argument - he mentioned it once or twice and moved on to other evidence for his position.

All the same, I had just read Jason Robert Combs' (of Yale Div) article in RBL titled, "A Ghost on the Water? An Absurdity in Mark 6:49-50."(1) Combs' argument is that Mark uses this story to show that Jesus is not, in fact, just a ghost by virtue of the fact that he's on the water. Combs goes through primary sources from antiquity showing that it was a common belief that ghosts could not walk upon water.

Mark's "ghost sighting" is characteristic of ancient ghosts stories in three ways:

1) It occurs at night (6:48 - τεταρτην φυλαχην της νυχτος) during the fourth watch, which allowed for there to be some early morning light - (2)which was thought to be necessary to see ghosts, as the ancients did not share our sentiment that spirits luminesce. And 3) it caused the disciples fear.

However, Mark departs drastically from the typical ghost story by having Jesus appear on the water. Combs gives the rhetorical reasoning:
"The disciples' lack of understanding has long been recognized as a Markan theme that appears throughout the Gospel. Here it forms a striking narrative portrayal of cognitive dissonance: the disciples clearly want Jesus to be something that he is not, to the point that they are willing to believe the absurd (JM: That Jesus is a ghost) when Jesus approaches them as something much grander than they had imagined. Gods and divine men walk on water; ghosts do not. But when the disciples see Jesus walking on water, they believe the impossible rather thant he obvious. Mark's insertion of this absurdity, "because they saw him walking on the sea they thought he was a ghost" (6:49), emphasizes in dramatic fashion the discpiles' misconstrual of Jesus' messiahship."

(1)Journal of Biblical Literature; Summer2008, Vol. 127 Issue 2, p345-358.


Anonymous said...

"because they saw him walking on the sea they thought he was a ghost"

Couldn't this statement be taken at face value - that the author intended the figure's ability to walk on water as an intelligible reason for the disciples to believe that he was a ghost. When Mark makes such an explicit assertion, I would be loath to impute all sorts of clever intentions on him - especially since the misidentification fits so neatly with the general failure in Mark of the disciples understanding of Jesus' nature.

Josh McManaway said...

I think Combs' survey of sources from antiquity shows that ancient peoples didn't think it was possible for ghosts to walk on water. Thus, their misidentification is in line with the overall Markan theme, as you've stated. Perhaps I'm not understanding your argument - how does the misidentification's fitting neatly counter Combs' claim?

I will say what I found weakest about Combs' argument was that Mark would himself be acquainted with this tradition, but then again - I'm not quite sure how he'd prove it other than having a direct quote or something along those lines.