A great windstorm arose . . . so that the boat was already being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Mark 4:35–41
The Sea of Galilee can get rough quickly when winds burst down from the Golan Heights. As Jesus and his disciples sailed across the water (Mark 4:35-41), such a gale threatened to sink their boat. Roused from sleep, Jesus spoke words we long to hear when in trouble: “Peace! Be still!”
Kibbutz Ginosar on the west shore of the sea displays a first century (!) boat about the size the disciples would have used. When drought lowered water to unprecedented levels in 1986, amateur archeologists found a 27-foot fishing vessel submerged and preserved in mudflats off Magdala (also called Migdal), just south of Ginosar. Racing against rising tide, archeologists worked around the clock to salvage the fragile vessel.
From a boat like this Peter, James and John fished for a livelihood. Jesus taught crowds on the shore from such a vessel, and used a similar boat for retreat when ministry led to exhaustion. “Peace! Be still” rings in my ears when I see this first-century hull. A scale model at Ginosar suggests that the craft had a deck under which Jesus could have crawled to sleep.
Much as I like to associate this boat with the peace that Jesus brings to stormy seas, it is more likely that the vessel was witness to bloodbath. During the Jewish Revolt of AD 66–70, the city Magdala was one of the last strongholds against Rome in the north.
Prevented from attacking Magdala by land because of its city wall, the Tenth Legion of the Roman army approached by sea. First-century historian Josephus reports that a lopsided sea battle ensued, and many Jews soon were in the water. If they lifted their heads up above the water, they were killed by darts or caught by the Romans. If they attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans “cut off either their heads or their hands.” The sea turned crimson.
The following day there was “a terrible stink, and a very sad sight.” Some 6500 had died in the battle; shipwrecks and bloated corpses littered the shoreline. The Romans executed 1200 prisoners of war at nearby Tiberias, sent 6000 as slaves for Nero’s building projects in Greece, and consigned tens of thousands more to slavery.
Although Jesus calmed the Sea of Galilee a generation before the Jewish Revolt, the four Gospels were written during or soon after that conflict. In that charged environment, accounts of Jesus in the Gospels must have had both spiritual and political overtones. Followers of Jesus may have understood his “Peace! Be still!” command as addressing both the violence of a windstorm on the Sea of Galilee and violence of war that filled its waters with blood.
Jesus, who calmed violent weather, called his followers to receive and to practice peace even in the winds of war.
© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************************
I invite you to enter your email address in the designated box at the edge of this webpage (if you have not already subscribed), and click Follow. You’ll get a notice every three weeks when I put up a new blog post.
Join me for a Peace-Pilgrim bible study tour to Jordan, Israel and Palestine this fall. See Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015. For a tour in 2016, see https://tourmagination.com/tours/by-date/2016-tours/498-jordan-palestine-israel-a-journey-of-hope