Why the Passover Plotz Doesn’t Hold Water
by Matt Sieger
The story has often been told…
A little boy came back from Hebrew school one morning and his father asked him, “Well, what did you learn?” The boy replied, “How the people of Israel were kept in Egypt and used as slaves by this guy called Pharaoh.”
“Oh?” said the father. “Then what happened?”
“Well,” explained the boy, “Pharaoh let them go after Moses did all these special effects. But then Pharaoh sent his army after them.”
“And then what?”
“Well, Moses called in the Israeli Air Force. And they strafed the Egyptian tanks and destroyed them on the ground. They also gave cover while the engineers laid down this pontoon bridge across the Red Sea. And then the people of Israel crossed over without getting their feet wet. But when the Egyptian army got on the pontoon bridge, the Air Force came back and bombed it away, and the Egyptians drowned.”
“Is that what your teacher told you?” his father asked.
“Well, not exactly. But if I told it the way she did, you wouldn’t believe me!”
In March 1992 oceanographers Dr. Doron Nof and Dr. Nathan Paldor made worldwide headlines when they presented “a plausible scientific explanation” for the biblical account of the parting of the Red Sea.
The scientists calculated that steady winds blowing across the narrow, shallow Gulf of Suez, a northern extension of the Red Sea, could have pushed aside enough water to cause a ten-foot drop in sea level, exposing the sea bed over which the Israelites walked to safety. When the wind stopped, the water rushed back, drowning the pursuing Egyptians.
“[This theory] should not affect the religious aspects of the Exodus,” said Dr. Paldor. “Some may even find our proposed mechanism to be a supportive argument for the original biblical description of this event.”
I’m okay with the theory as far as it goes. But the Scriptures say that at God’s command, “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back” (Exodus 14:21) with a strong wind. So the wind didn’t arise or subside coincidentally. God commanded Moses to once again stretch his hand over the sea, and the waters flowed back over the Egyptians.
In 2006 Paldor and Nof theorized a “scientific” explanation for the New Testament account of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee—Jesus walked on a patch of floating ice! The study hypothesized “a rare combination of optimal water and atmospheric conditions for development of a unique, localized freezing phenomenon.”
I’ve got a lot more problems with “Jesus walks on ice” than with their Red Sea crossing theory. Matthew 14 says:
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. (Matthew 14:25-32)
Dr. Nof says, “A frozen patch floating on the surface of the small lake would have been difficult to distinguish from the unfrozen water surrounding it.” But if Jesus walked on one of those hypothetical frozen patches, he was cheating!
Peter asked to join Jesus on the water. There is a perfectly good Greek word for ice, yet Matthew didn’t use it. Is Nof saying that Peter started to sink because he walked off one of those frozen patches into real water? Great theory! But Jesus tells Peter that he started to sink because of his lack of faith.
As author Eric Lyons notes, “The only reason people even know that Jesus was at the Sea of Galilee 2,000 years ago is because the Gospel writers said that he was. Why accept this detail as factual but not the miracle Jesus performed?”
Speaking of crazy theories, do you remember the best-seller, The Passover Plot, by Hugh J. Schonfield? According to Schonfield, Jesus plotted to fake his death on the cross and then revive in the tomb to fool his disciples into believing he was the Messiah. All went wrong, says Schonfield, when the Roman soldiers pierced Jesus’ side and he died (even though the New Testament says that Jesus was already dead before the soldiers pierced him [John 19:33-34]). Then, days later, the disciples supposedly mistook some other people for Jesus and decided he had risen from the dead!
Dr. Norman Geisler pointed out that Schonfield’s hypothesis makes Jesus a con man. Geisler concluded that “it takes a bigger miracle to believe the Passover Plot” than to accept the biblical account.
It also takes a bigger miracle to believe the swoon theory (Jesus didn’t die, he just fainted) or the stolen body theory (the disciples stole Jesus’ body while the Roman guards slept—even though falling asleep on duty was punishable by death) or the Jesus had a twin brother theory.
This Passover, read the account of the resurrection in any of the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. If you can believe the Red Sea parted, then ask God for the faith to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, as the Scriptures say. The result? Eternal life: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
- John Noble Wilford, “Oceanographers Say Winds May Have Parted the Waters,” The New York Times, March 13, 1992, http://doronnof.net/downloads/ny-times1.pdf
- Libby Fairhurst, “Jesus Walked on Ice, Says Study Led by FSU Scientist,” Florida State University News, http://www.fsu.edu/news/2006/04/04/ice.walk/
- Eric Lyons, “Pitiful Paleolimnological Mumbo-Jumbo,” http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=1814
- Dr. Norman Geisler, “The Passover Plot,” http://www.ankerberg.com/Articles/_PDFArchives/theological-dictionary/TD3W0403.pdf
Matt Sieger is the editor of ISSUES: A Messianic Jewish Perspective. ISSUES is our publication for Jewish people who are willing to consider the question, Who is Jesus? Matt also writes blogs, articles, and reviews for our publications and has edited the book, Stories of Jews for Jesus.