Jesus: Just Another Wonder-Worker?

In an era dominated by Jewish 'men of deeds,' a Jew would not have been overawed by tales of Jesus' miracles.

BY: David Klinghoffer

 

Jesus' miracles are well-known. Apart from those having to do with healing and exorcism, they include feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish; feeding four thousand with seven loaves and a few fish; turning water to wine; calming the wind and sea; walking on water; and giving life to a dead man, Lazarus, and to a dead girl, the synagogue president's daughter. Did these not show Jesus was a unique person with a very special relationship to God, perhaps that he was God incarnate?

The catalog of miracles is impressive, if brief, when listed in this way, item by item. However, a Jew who believed in the Hebrew scriptures would know that not all such acts, causing nature to depart from her course, came from God. In the book of Exodus, when Moses confronts Pharaoh, demanding that the Jews be allowed to leave Egypt and doing some wonders of his own, the Egyptian king's magicians at first match the Jewish leader miracle for miracle. To ascribe magical powers to forces apart from God would not have strained the imagination of a Jew in Jesus' day.



Even if we take all these deeds at face value, as having actually occurred as the New Testament describes them, they would not have made Jesus unique. A Jew at the time, upon hearing of such things, might well be expected to seek out this man and see what he was about. But no more than that.



As Professor Geza Vermes has shown, the Galilee in particular was famous for producing a species of charismatic sages and healers known as

Hasidim

(literally, "Pious Ones"), whose most prominent representatives included the aforementioned Hanina ben Dosa, along with his counterpart of a century earlier, Honi the Circle Maker. As the Mishnah relates, Honi got his name by bringing down miraculously huge quantities of rain during a time of drought. He first prayed to God, but when his prayer went unanswered he drew a circle on the ground and swore he would stand in it until rain fell. It immediately did so, but in miserly fashion, not the volume he had in mind. He said, "I have not asked for this, but for rain to fill the cisterns, the pits and rock cavities." God then sent a cloudburst so heavy that the people were compelled to petition Honi to make it stop. Josephus relates a brief version of this story in the

Antiquities

.



Honi had two grandsons who continued the tradition of miracle working. One was called Hanan the Hidden, whom when rain was scarce the children would follow around, tugging on his clothing and begging, "Father, Father, give us rain!"

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