“the ancient perspective…saw miracles as striking and significant, but not as indicating that the miracle-worker was anything other than fully human… Jesus’ culture the passive voice was used as a circumlocution for God:  “your sins are forgiven” means “they are forgiven by God”.  Jesus only announces the fact, he does not take the place of God… such a claim – to know the mind of God – would not be unique or especially offensive. ” (EP Sanders – Professor Oxford)

we find a story of a man who
travels around, giving speeches, talking to people, and teaching. He
also exorcizes demons, heals people, and performs a few miracles. For a
modern person with no exposure to religious narratives like this, the
story would sound odd. In the ancient world, though, it would have
sounded familiar because people knew of other stories of teachers who
healed and performed miracles. It was not an uncommon way of talking
about someone supposed to be great. (Dale Martin – Professor Yale)

Jesus says “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5), to which the scribes respond, “It is blasphemy!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  Modern scholars, who seem to assume that something like this exchange actually occurred, read the first remark in light of the second and conclude that Jesus deeply shocked and offended his Jewish audience by daring to speak for God or by putting himself in God’s place by forgiving sins, and so on.  But the connection between illness and sin, and hence healing and the forgiveness of sin, is attested in Judaism both contemporary with an after the lifetime of Jesus.  In the context of a cure, such a comment would barely seem remarkable, must less blasphemous.  So also with speaking on God’s behalf:  within Judaism, priests, prophets, or any inspired person could claim to speak for God. (Paula Fredriksen – Professor Boston, Princeton, Stanford)

["Jonah and the Whale"]  “But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights”. (Jonah 1:17)

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection andwent into the holy city and appeared to many people.  (Matthew 27:51-53)

“… as with many charismatic leaders over the centuries, there gathered stories of exceptional healings, miracles of providing food and drink, even raising apparent corpses from the dead”.  (Diarmaid MacCulloch – Professor Oxford)

“..the only words Jesus is said to have written (in a spurious insertion into John’s Gospel) were in sand.  Nowadays, not only his miracles but also the amazing religious experiences attributed to him in the Gospels, his baptism and transfiguration, are generally dismissed as legendary”.  (John Ashton – Oxford)

“…and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all”.  Luke 13:11 (New International Version)

“Idiots, the lame, the blind, the dumb, are men in whom the devils have established themselves: and all the physicians who heal these infirmities, as though they proceeded from natural causes, are ignorant blockheads….” (Martin Luther)

[Martin Luther, Works 20.84] “A large number of deaf, crippled and blind people are afflicted solely through the malice of the demon. And one must in no wise doubt that plagues, fevers and every sort of evil come from him.” (Martin Luther)

[other Jewish holy men of the first century CE]  Honi [Honi the Circle Drawer - a Jewish holy man] alluded to himself as a son of the divine household…. In regard to Hanina [Hanina ben Dosa]….we are faced with the testimony of the heavenly voice, similar to that heard at the baptism and the Transfiguration of Jesus.., heard not once, but every day:  “The whole world is sustained on account of Hanina, my son”… Hanina ben Dosa was a first century Galilean, probably a younger contemporary of Jesus.   The earliest layers of the rabbinic tradition depict him as… rain… [and also] as a person of outstanding devotion who was a famous healer and a master over the demonic powers.  He was.. rabbinic Judaism’s most prominent wonder-worker whose death marketed the end of the era of the “men of deeds” (mSotah 9:15), but he is also remembered as the author of a small number of moral teachings. … Hanina’s….supernatural transformation of vinegar into oil – similar to the changing of water into wine by Jesus.  Hanina’ daughter in error filled the Sabbath lamp with vinegar and noticed it too late to correct the mistake.  Her father told her to light it and the lamp went on burning all day long”. (Geza Vermes – Professor Oxford)

We find reports at various points of opponents Jesus of being in league with the devil…. Those who loved and worshipped Jesus wouldn’t have invented tales of his being involved in dark arts.  People don’t accuse you of being in league with the devil unless you are doing pretty remarkable things.  (NT Wright – Professor St Andrews and Oxford)

“…some historical anthropologists have speculated that on any given day as much as one-fourth of the population in Jesus’ time was ill, injured, or in need of medical attention”.  (Craig A. Evans – Professor Acadia, Princeton)

“The prominence in the gospel tradition of the accusation that Jesus casts out evils spirits by being in league with Beelzebul, the prince of evil spirits, suggest that it was one of the major ways of discounting Jesus’ miracles used by his opponents”.  (Henry Wansbrough – Oxford)

“If magic is defined as the use of standard techniques, whether of word (primarily incantations) or act (e.g.  touch, or the use of spittle), then there are some magical traits in the miracle traditions in the gospels.  However… in the gospels there are no lengthy incantations, no lists of esoteric names, and no references to the use of amulets”. (Graham Stanton – Professor Cambridge)

Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.  (John 9:6)

When Jesus said “Your sins are forgiven” he would no doubt be understood to be using a “divine passive”, meaning, “God forgives your sins”.  But this is not a prayer for God to forgive.  It is a unequivocal declaration of God’s forgiveness, as though Jesus claims the right to speak for God.  Indeed he explains that “the Son of Man [Jesus] has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:5-10). … … In the case of Jesus’ exorcisms, it is remarkable that Jesus uses no techniques or incantations, utters no prayer to God, and invokes no name of a powerful being beyond himself.  … … In the whole of early Jewish literature, there seems to be only one other case in which God’s forgiveness is declared by a human being.  It is in a story about the Babylonian king Nabonidus, who narrates how he was seriously ill, prayed to God, and a Jewish exorcist “forgave my sin”.  We do not know exactly what this meant (even the translation is not certain), but it remains the case that Jesus’ practice of declaring God’s forgiveness was perceived in his time as infringing a divine prerogative… … He [Jesus] also exorcised demons.  In that society, demons could be held responsible for disabilities and diseases, but the gospels rarely allude to such a belief…. Though Jesus was by no means the only Jewish exorcist, so far as we know he was the only one to link his exorcism with the new thing that God was doing:  the coming of the kingdom.  (Richard Bauckham – Professor St Andrews, Cambridge)

A standard formula for revelation to prophets is that “the world of the Lord came to” them; then the prophet speaks, not in his or her own name, but in the name of Yahweh “thus says the Lord”. (Michael Coogan – Harvard)

In the course of the months which [Roman Emperor] Vespasian spent at Alexandria, waiting for the regular season of summer winds when the sea could be relied upon, many miracles occurred. These seemed to be indications that Vespasian enjoyed heaven’s blessing and that the gods showed a certain leaning towards him….With a smiling expression and surrounded by an expectant crowd of bystanders, he did what was asked. Instantly the cripple recovered the use of his hand and the light of day dawned again upon his blind companion. Both these incidents are still vouched for by eye-witnesses, though there is now nothing to be gained by lying.  (The Histories by Tacitus)

The story of the healing of the epileptic child, Mark 9:14-29, is the most complex miracle narrative in Mark and presents the most difficult problems for the explanation of its relationship to the parallels in Matthew (17:14-21) and Luke (9:38-43a).  Mark’s version of the story is more than twice as long as the parallel versions in Matthew and Luke…. It seems that Matthew and Luke read a version of this story I their copy of Mark which did not contain the verses of Mark to which they have no parallel.  Especially the phrases and sentences of Mark 9:25-27 which are missing in the other two Synoptic Gospels have the appearance of secondary alterations or additions.  (Helmut Koester – Professor Harvard)

Galilee was reputed to be a place of miracle workers just before and during Jesus’ time.  We hear of miracles performed by many, especially by Honi, Hilkiah the Hasid, Hanan ha-Nehba, Hanina ben Dosa and Eleazar the exorcist.  Honi the Circle Drawer… lived in the middle of the first century BCE and was revered for his efficacious words and prayers.  He was reputed to have performed miraculous works, which conceivably included miracles of hearing, and to have caused rain to fall… Honi may have understood himself to be “a (or the) Son of God… He was stoned to death outside Jerusalem….  .. certain Rabbis also allegedly performed healing miracles, even exorcisms.  Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai (early second century CE) is reputed to have performed a miracle and cast a demon from the daughter of the emperor… The prophets Elijah and Elisha are also reputed to have performed miracles, even raising the dead;  hence, Jesus’ miracles evoked many early traditions among his fellow Jesus.  (Rev. James Charlesworth – Professor Princeton Theological Seminary)

The gospels record a few sayings in which Jesus makes explicit reference to his own unique significance (thought there is extensive debates amongst scholars about their authenticity).  Some of these sayings suggest that Jesus is ordained by God to inaugurate the divine rule on earth.  Others have Jesus openly declare that he is the “Son of God”.  John’s gospel goes furthest by including long discourses in which Jesus reflects on his divine status (the “I am …” discourses)…. More important than words in establishing Jesus’ extraordinary status are miracles… Since the Jewish people believed that God alone had ultimate control over the world, the clear implication was that god was at work in Jesus.  Even those who are not convinced by Jesus’ miracles admit that some supernatural power must be at work – if not God, then Beelzebub the devil.  (Linda Woodhead – Professor Lancaster, Cambridge)

[things that believers were said to be able to do]   7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.   (1 Corinthians 12:7-12)

There are, of course, also interesting parallels in the narratives of the two figures [“Gautama the Buddha and Jesus the Christ”].   Both have miraculous births; the future greatness of both is recognised by sages at religious ceremonies (Jesus’ presentation in the temple and Gautama’s naming at his father’s court); both undergo a period of testing or temptation; and both perform miracles.  (Peggy Morgan – Oxford)

How can we define “magic” in contrast to “religion,” for example – or should we even try to do so? (Sarah Iles Johnston – Professor Ohio, Princeton)

Beyond the birth stories, the main areas of overlap with the Old Testament occur with the great nature miracles, (feeding the five thousand, stilling the storm, walking on the water) and with the supernatural events which follow the crucifixion – particularly Jesus’ bodily ascension into Heaven, which echoes Elijah’s ascension into heaven in a chariot of fire… in many of [these cases] it seems likely that the fact of a close parallel with the Old Testament means that the evangelists used this as his source rather than evidence from the life of Jesus himself. … … Now more than five hundred years before the Gospels were written or Jesus lived, the editor of the Book of Kings set down this story about the prophet Elisha:  “ A man came bringing twenty loaves of barley, and fresh ears of grain in his sack, and Elisha said “give to the men that they may eat”.  But his servant said “How am I to set this before a hundred men?”  So he repeated “give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord” The shall eat and have some left” So he set if t before them.  And they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord”.   (2 Kings 4:41-42)  How are we to explain this quite extraordinary coincidence?….  … The third possibility, and the view most widely held by scholars today, is that the early Christian writers in trying to answer the question Who was Jesus? Naturally turned to the Old Testament for their categories of explanation.  He was the second Moses, a prophet greater than Elijah, and the expected Messiah.  So they built upon the simple stories they knew about Jesus by overlaying them with details of what a second Moses must have been like or the prophesied Messiah must have done.  And if they had no direct information about a particularly aspect of Jesus’ life, well, they had in the Old Testament both the source and the motive for simply creating a story themselves.  (Don Cupitt and Peter Armstrong – Cambridge and BBC)

42Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat.”43His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’”44So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD. (2 Kings 4:42-44)

Their attitude to historical and biographical accuracy was, as the commentary will show, that of their own day rather than of ours, and even by the standards of their own day it was “popular” rather than scholarly.  And likewise the categories of thought in which they understood their Master and his work were essentially those of the first century; for example, they expected the end of the world very soon and they believed, as did the great majority of their contemporaries, both Jews and pagans, in the presence and evil activities of demons everywhere, and the possibility of overcoming them by miraculous means (mostly clearly in Matthew).  (Denis Nineham – Professor Cambridge, Professor Oxford)

It would seem strange that no miraculous intervention prevented Auschwitz or Hiroshima, while the purposes apparently forwarded by some of the miracles acclaimed in traditional Christian faith seem trivial by comparison (Maurice Wiles – Professor Oxford)

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”4 “Woman,why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  (John 2:1-11)

The closest equivalent to a catalogue of miracles surviving from classical Greece is the late fourth century temple record of Epidaurus.  Here we read, for instance, how Asclepius restored sight to a person so blind that the organ of sight itself, the eye, was missing; we are told that sceptical bystanders had initially shared our assumption that such a cure was not merely likely but impossible.  Like many miracle stories, this story and others similar to it in the same instruction have the specific function of demonstrating the power of the wonder-worker; they are a product of the fervid special atmosphere of a healing cult.  (Robert Parker – Professor Oxford)

As soon as he [Augustus] began to talk, it chanced that the frogs were making a great noise at this grandfather’s country place’ he bade them be silent, and they say that since then no frog has ever croaked there.” (Suetonius, Aug. 94.7)

Another apparently key persuasive force was the appeal to powerful, miraculous and charismatic / spiritual phenomena (healings, exorcism, ecstatic speech) accompanying the message Paul preached (see Gal 3:5; cf 1 Cor 2:4).  (Margaret M. Mitchell – Professor Birmingham)

In the interval between the death of Jesus (c. 30 CE) and the composition of the first gospel (Mark, around 70 CE), the sayings of Jesus, like those of other holy men and philosophers, were remembered, rendered into Greek retold, revised and recast in such common forms as chreiai (also termed aphorism, pronouncement stories, and apophthegmata,), parables, logia (sayings), apokalypseis (revelations), prophecies, macarisms and woes and gnomai (maxims).  A similar process took place with narratives about Jesus, including stories of controversy with his contemporaries (now told in the light of the early church’s own contentious encounters with its neighbours) and accounts of miracle working.  (Margaret M. Mitchell – Professor Birmingham)

THE concept of
divinity in non-Christian antiquity near the beginning of our era was complex.
It was possible to speak of the two extremes, gods and men, and to mean by the
former the eternals like Zeus/Jupiter in contrast to mere mortals.  In this case, divinity was far removed from
humanity. It was also possible, however, to speak of certain men as divine.
There were two separate categories of divinity into which such men might fall
that are of special interest to us in this article. On the one hand, certain
men were believed in their historical existence to have displayed the divine
presence in some special way and were hence regarded as theioi andres.

Opinions have differed over exactly what constituted the divine presence.
Whereas some circles looked for it in a man’s physical beauty or in his prophetic
utterances and miraculous feats, others saw it manifest in extraordinary virtue
and rationality
. There were also divergent views about the origin or source
of the divine presence. Some looked to a supernatural conception, others to the
conscious cultivation of virtue.  At times these varying views, both of what constituted the divine presence and of
the source of such divinity, merged into a synthetic portrayal of the theios
angr. If a mortal possessed in an unusual way that which was believed to
constitute a sign of divine presence, however conceived, he was regarded as a
divine man. On the other hand, a more select group of men were believed at
the end of their careers to have been taken up into heaven, to have attained
immortality, and to have received a status like that of the eternal gods
Such figures were designated immortals. (Charles
H. Talbert – Professor Baylor)  [italics added]


The dybbuk phenomenon in Jewish culture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries enables the author to locate it in the end of a long historical debate on theplace and function of magic in Judaism, starting with the biblical period and endingin early modern times… … One of the most noteworthy conclusions here is that the technical procedures of exorcism hardly changed during the hundreds of years of their recording. Chajes emphasizes that these techniques, and the demonological conventions on which they are founded, have conservative and stable characteristics. The modifications made in them over the centuries are minimal: “Magical texts featuring exorcism techniques reveal a consistency over time that is positively unnerving to the historian, who by training and disposition is best equipped to analyze and evaluate change” (from Eli Yassif Tel Aviv University review of “Between Worlds” by J.H. Chajes University of Haifa)



share save 256 24 Miracles