Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Today the historical accuracy of Jesus’ “startling deeds” is widely recognized among scholars, yet the line between miracle and magic in the Greco-Roman world of the first century was often difficult to establish. Some scholars claim that there is no difference between the two, therefore Jesus can be labeled as a magician. But magicians used complicated rituals and intelligible spells, whereas Jesus did not. His adversaries, in fact, never attacked him with the charge of magic, although some said that he was in league with Satan.
One of the criteria used by scholars to establish the historical accuracy of the gospels accounts is the criterion of multiple attestation, which focuses on Jesus’ sayings or deeds that are attested in more than one source. Only one miracle is mentioned in all the four gospels, and that is the multiplication of the bread and the fish. Yet, while I have no doubt about Jesus’ exceptional healing power, I must confess that I have a hard time believing that he could feed four thousand people with seven loads of bread and a few fish, but I’m working on it.
In The Business of Heaven C.S.Lewis wrote about this particular miracle with his usual wit:
“Once in the desert, Satan had tempted Him to make bread out of stones. He refused the suggestion. The Son does nothing except what he sees the Father do; perhaps we may without boldness surmise that the direct change from stone to bread appeared to be not quite in the hereditary style. Little bread into much bread is quite a different matter. Every year God makes a little corn into much corn.”
The calming of the storm and the feeding of the four thousand both fall into the category of the so-called “nature miracles”. Even Catholic scholars, such as Reverend J.P. Meier, are skeptical about their plausibility because they are unheard of in the natural world, whereas healing still happen today in religious settings, so it’s not so difficult to give them credit.
Being born in Naples, I’ve heard of a particular nature miracle for as long as I can remember. It concerns the liquefaction of Saint Gennaro’s blood, a martyr who was beheaded by the Romans. His hardened blood is kept in an ampoule in the Cathedral, where the miracle happens twice a year, on the first Saturday of May and on the 19th of September. Before the service, the Neapolitans carry statues of saints in a procession, following the silver bust of S. Gennaro. Later, in the Cathedral, the priests show the ampoule to the people, while a group of women pray ecstatically until the blood liquefies. Then the bells start ringing, and the crowd pushes its way through to take a closer look at the ampoule.
This miracle has a precise meaning to the natives of Naples, namely that no major disaster is expected to
strike the city in the near future. Actually, when in 1980 the blood did not liquefy, an earthquake occurred
which took the lives of two thousand people, and when the miracle failed to happen in 1528, the plague
broke out in Naples. The Vatican removed Saint Gennaro from its list of saints on the ground of insufficient
historical documentation, but the Neapolitans rebelled to this decision, almost causing a riot, so the Saint
was reinstated. However, the Vatican does not count the phenomenon of the liquefaction of blood as a
proof of sainthood. In spite of that, my mom paid attention to its successful accomplishment , and as a child I
I did too.
at 3:38 PM