Like hundreds of millions around the world, I watched in fascination as Nik Wallenda inched his way across a 1,400-ft-high gorge in Colorado billed as the “Grand Canyon.” It was a great spectacle, to say the least. Highly distracting for a freethinker, of course, were the opening prayer by Joel Osteen – cute as he is – and the constant audible praying by Wallenda to Jesus and God during the process. As a mythologist, if I were on a highwire listening to such talk, I would probably fall off, rather than maintain my concentration.
During his frightening feat lasting over 20 minutes, Wallenda repeated: “How I love you, Jesus … You’re my Savior, yes Jesus … God, you’re so good. Thank you for this opportunity. Calm these winds in the name of Jesus.”
At this very time, I was working on my book, Did Moses Exist? on a chapter entitled “The Great God Sun,” in which I discuss the solar attributes of numerous ancient deities, including two featured prominently in the Bible as “God,” the Semitic gods El and Yahweh. Among the solar characteristics of various deities, including and especially the “Most High,” is the ability to calm or control storms, winds and other natural phenomena.
Indeed, the storm god who controls the weather is a very ancient motif that predates Christianity by thousands of years. Hence, invoking this god in the name of Jesus represents a cultural development, not an ultimate reality, as Jesus is simply another in the long line of manmade deities purportedly in charge of nature.
“The storm god who controls the weather is a very ancient motif that predates Christianity by thousands of years.”
Ancient Weather Gods
In addition to the Canaanite high god El and the tempestuous Jewish tribal god Yahweh, another Semitic storm god was the Canaanite Baal, “the thunderer who mounts the clouds” and who fertilized the earth with his life-giving rain. In the same region, a prayer by a “priest of the gods,” the Hittite king Mursilis II (fl. c. 1321-1295 BCE), propitiates the “stormgod of Hatti” about a pestilence causing “constant dying” for some 20 years. “Will the plague never be eliminated from the land of Hatti?” the king asks desperately.
“This is the role he seems to play in the Execration Texts, as indeed also in the Ras Shamra myth of the conflict with the Unruly Waters. It was only later that he was indentified with the vegetation which was stimulated by the winter rains and he became a dying and rising god, as in the Ras Shamra myth of his conflict with Mot….”
The Egyptian “Execration Texts” are inscribed sherds and other artifacts from the second and third millennia BCE. Thus, the (dying and rising) god calming the “unruly waters” is a very ancient motif that predates Jesus’s purported similar miracle by many centuries. This storm-calming ability is naturally an attribute of the sun and storm god, often the same entity.
The Exodus as Myth
This tempest-calming or water-controlling motif is found in the biblical Exodus story as well, with Moses controlling the waters against Pharaoh, the “dragon,” as at Ezekiel 29:3:
“Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lies in the midst of his streams, that says, “My Nile is my own; I made it.”…'”
In its description of the Exodus tale, The Oxford Companion to the Bible refers to the story as “embellished” and “mythological,” using the ancient pre-Israelite myth of the battle between the storm god and the sea:
“Embellishment, heightening and exaggeration can also be observed…
“Another tendency is to mythologize. The escape of the Hebrews at the sea is recast as a historical enactment of an ancient cosmologonic myth of a battle between the storm god and the sea, found also in biblical texts having to do with creation… This mythology is explicitly applied to the Exodus in Psalm 114, where the adversaries of the deity are the personified Sea and Jordan River, who flee at God’s approach at the head of Israel…; Sea and Jordan are clearly related to Prince Sea and Judge River, the parallel titles of the adversary of the Canaanite storm god Baal in Ugaritic mythology (note the echoes of this motif in the New Testament, in such passages as Mark 4.35-41 par.; Rev. 21.1).”
This same battle between the divine figure and the water monster can be found in the pre-Judaic tales of Marduk and Tiamat, Apollo and Python, St. George and the dragon, Horus and the serpent, and so on. In each of these instances, the divine figure prevails over the waters. The same tale, of course, is told of Jesus calming the storm at Mark 4:35-41.
As we can see, the idea of a god or goddess who controls the weather, wind, water and other aspects of nature is a very ancient idea that predates the Christian savior by thousands of years. If Wallenda had wanted to cover his bases, he might have prayed also to a Navajo deity, such as Niłchʼi Diyin, rather than one from the Near East.
In any event, congratulations to Nik Wallenda on going down in history with this remarkable feat, which he did on his own, with the help of many people, to give credit where it is due.