Image: Jesus walking on water
Gustave Dore via Project Gutenberg
One of the best-known stories in the New Testament, related in Matthew 14 and in this Gustave Dore print, tells how Jesus walked on water. Now a scientist says rare patches of ice might have formed on the Sea of Galilee's surface in Jesus' day.
updated 4/4/2006 5:28:22 PM ET 2006-04-04T21:28:22

Rare conditions could have conspired to create hard-to-see ice on the Sea of Galilee that a person could have walked on back when Jesus is said to have walked on water, a scientist reported Tuesday.

The study, which examines a combination of favorable water and environmental conditions, proposes that Jesus could have walked on an isolated patch of floating ice on what is now known as Lake Kinneret in northern Israel.

Looking at temperature records of the Mediterranean Sea surface and using analytical ice and statistical models, scientists considered a small section of the cold freshwater surface of the lake. The area studied, about 10,000 square feet (930 square meters), was near salty springs that empty into it.

The results suggest temperatures dropped to 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 degrees Celsius) during one of the two cold periods 2,500 to 1,500 years ago for up to two days, the same decades during which Jesus lived.

With such conditions, a floating patch of ice could develop above the plumes, resulting from the salty springs along the lake's western shore in Tabgha. Tabgha is the town where many archeological findings related to Jesus have been found.

"We simply explain that unique freezing processes probably happened in that region only a handful of times during the last 12,000 years," said Doron Nof, a Florida State University professor of oceanography. "We leave to others the question of whether or not our research explains the biblical account."

Image: Lake model
This simple model shows a plume of heavy water entering Lake Kinneret from salty springs and sinking to the bottom. A layer of cold, fresh water remains above the salty layer, and at the top, patches of "springs ice" would form in freezing temperatures. In this model, the ice layer would be 4 inches (10 centimeters) thick. The key is that the water directly above the plume does not convect.

Nof figures that in the last 120 centuries, the odds of such conditions on the low-latitude Lake Kinneret are most likely 1-in-1,000. But during the time period when Jesus lived, such “springs ice” may have formed once every 30 to 60 years.

Such floating ice in the unfrozen waters of the lake would be hard to spot, especially if rain had smoothed its surface.

"In today's climate, the chance of springs ice forming in northern Israel is effectively zero, or about once in more than 10,000 years," Nof said.

The findings are detailed in April's issue of the Journal of Paleolimnology. Nof has posted a PDF file of the research to his Web site.

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