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Home Forums Evidence for Biblical miracles Naturalistic vs. spectacular supernatural Reply To: Naturalistic vs. spectacular supernatural

  • Deborah Hurn

    April 25, 2021 at 10:34 am

    Up ^^ the thread is a comment about the Jordan River crossing. It is commonly accepted to have been caused by an earthquake in the Jordan Valley (the Rift Valley) which caused a landslide near Tall Damiyah (Adam) that temporarily blocked the flow of the river. High dunes of unstable Lisan marl line the Jordan riverbed up to a kilometre’s width from Tall Damiya southward. The best place for a total blockage of the river would be about 25 km north of Israel’s camp where the dunes come within 30m on either side of the river bed.

    I should practise due diligence and look up the BAR article referenced below, but I trust the author of this article in Christianity Today (Kevin Miller) to have cited Bryant Wood who in turn quotes Amos Nur regarding the frequency of earthquake-induced landslides that block the Jordan River:

    [51] “In an intriguing article in Biblical Archaeological Review, he [Bryant Wood] cites Stanford University geophysicist Amos Nur, who documents a 1927 earthquake and mudslide in this century “that cut off the flow of the Jordan.” Nur adds: “Such cutoffs, typically lasting one to two days, have also been recorded in A.D. 1906, 1834, 1546, 1267, and 1160.” In the 1927 quake, writes Wood, “a section of a cliff 150 feet high collapsed into the Jordan near the ford at Damiya, [Adam], blocking the river for some 21 hrs.” Perhaps, he suggests, the collapse of Jericho’s walls resulted from an after-shock to the earthquake that blocked the Jordan River and allowed the Israelites to cross into Canaan.”

    Miller, Kevin D. “Did the Exodus Never Happen? How Two Egyptologists Are Countering Scholars Who Want to Turn the Old Testament into Myth.” Christianity Today 42, no. 10 (September 7, 1998): 44–51. 

    Here is the account of the Jordan River crossing in the book of Joshua. Notice it doesn’t mention the cause (earthquake and landslide), only the effect, which is strangely described in terms of the water “rising up in a single heap” and not in terms of the dam of marl that held the water back.

    Josh 3:15-17 NRSV
    (15) Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water,
    (16) the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho.
    (17) While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

    Note Joshua’s direct and unqualified comparison of the Red Sea and Jordan crossings:

    Jos 4:23 JPS [Joshua] For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up from before us, until we were passed over...

    Note also how Joshua’s description of the Jordan waters “rising up in a single heap” (Josh 3:16) is similar to the Psalmist’s description of the water in the Red Sea crossing which God made to “stand like a heap”:

    Psa 78:13 NRSV
    (13) He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap.

    Where am I going with this? Only to point out that we have two perfectly timed water-crossings that are compared and equated in both narrative and psalms. So why don’t we hear more about the Jordan River crossing? Because we know the likely mechanism. Also, no chariots were involved, no one died, so there was less drama 😉

    Only Psalm 114 makes the role of the earthquake explicit. Here the Red Sea and Jordan River crossings are described in parallel and chiasm (as per the A, B, C, B’ A’ in the text below), almost as if they happened in the same way. Now, we know the two crossings had different ‘natural’ causes (Red Sea: “wind”, Jordan River: earthquake-landslide) but the psalmist attributes both to earthquake:

    Psa 114:1-8 NRSV
    (1) When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
    (2) Judah became God's sanctuary, Israel his dominion.
    ..A (3) The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.
    ...B (4) The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.
    .....C (5) Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?
    ...B'(6) O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?
    ..A'(7) Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
    (8) who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.

    Perhaps an earthquake was indeed somehow involved with the Red Sea crossing, though this is not hinted at in the narrative. The verbs are interesting too, but this post is long enough.

    Finally, in the ‘drying up’ of the Jordan I see a hint that the ‘drying up’ of the Red Sea was also asymmetrical (i.e. the N side was driven up the isthmus, while the S side stayed in the lake-basin). When the landslide dam in the Jordan River was finally filled and then breached, the water came rushing back (this is just assumed in the narrative). So also for the Red Sea: when the wind stopped, the water held in place up the isthmus came rushing back (this is explicit in the narrative).