“That which has been is that which shall be;
and that which has been done is that which shall be done:
and there is no new thing under the sun.”
This is likely to be the strangest article I have ever written. I pray the readers won’t hold it against me. Consider it simply a fun exploration of Biblical miracles in light of the modern understanding of physics. No doctrine should be derived from this article.
Today, the line between science and science fiction is becoming more blurred. A major staple in the mythology of science fiction is the concept of the warp drive and teleportation. From Star Wars to Star Trek, the idea serves as a fascinating modern myth of the ability travel great distances “in the twinkle of an eye”. In the realm of science, theoretical physicists have seriously explored the possibilities of warping space, wormholes, i.e. the Einstein-Rosen Bridge, a tunnel in the space-time continuum that can “shortcut” across great distances. What is fascinating is the ideas of warping space-time and the different, yet somewhat related concept of teleportation, did not originate with science fiction, nor from modern science.
In the Gospel of John, we see a possible case of a space-time “shortcut,
“So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they saw Yeshua walking on the sea, and coming closer to the ship, and they were afraid! But he said to them, ‘It is I, do not be afraid.’ Then they willingly received him into the ship, and immediately the ship was at the land where they were going.”
Even for those who accept the veracity of miracles, it is difficult to understand how this could have happened logically. Most miracles, while supernatural, can be understood as taking place within normal space-time. While miracles bend, or at least appear to bend, the laws of physics, this miracle is difficult to visualize and comprehend, because it would entail bending space-time itself. It seems as though the boat was in the middle of the lake, and as soon as Yeshua stepped into the boat, it spontaneously arrived at shore. This could happen one of two ways. This passage can be interpreted in a manner that the boat simply increased its speed, or, conversely, the distance between the shore and the boat shortened. However, it is possible that John is not describing a miracle at all, and is simply telling what happened next. The Book of John is the only gospel that reports this curious detail. It is assumed the boat was in the middle of the lake, but it could have been closer to shore than is traditionally envisioned. Perhaps the wind and the waves had pushed the boat even closer to shore, while the eyes of the talmidim (disciples) were fixed on Yeshua, as He and Kefa (Peter) got into the boat, it arrived immediately on the other side. Some commentaries interpret this case as a miracle, and not according to the naturalistic interpretation. Jamison Faucet Brown Commentary explains the miracle in terms of an increase of speed,
” . . .propelled by the secret power of the Lord of Nature now sailing in it–glided through the now unruffled waters, and while they were wrapt in wonder at what had happened, not heeding their rapid motion, was found at port, to their still further surprise.”
Jameson-Faucett-Brown Commentary on John 6:21
If the text of John does describe a miracle here, it is certainly a case of kefitzat ha-derekh. Dr. Ilil Arbel explains the concept,
“Translated literally, kefitzat ha-derekh means “the jumping of the road.” It is usually interpreted, however, as “the shortening of the way.” The phenomenon consists of the swift arrival of a person or persons to a distant destination, accomplished by supernatural means. The travelers must break the laws of nature to fit the concept, and the distance cannot be covered as quickly by walking or riding an ordinary horse, mule, or donkey. . . . Kefitzat ha-derekh can happen spontaneously, as a miracle performed for the benefit of a just and good person who is in trouble.”
Ilil Arbel, Ph.D., Kefitzat Ha-Derekh, Encyclopedia Mythica
The Talmud names three individuals for whom “the shortening of the way” occurred,
“Our Rabbis taught: For three did the earth shrink: Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, our father Jacob, and Abishai the son of Zeruiah.”
Sanhedrin 95a, Soncino Press Edition
Numbers Rabbah describes a similar case, that HaShem caused the land to shrink so the extent of the spies’ mission would not last longer than forty days, so as to shorten the punishment decree against Israel for the spies’ slander,
“AND THEY RETURNED FROM SPYING OUT THE LAND AT THE END OF FORTY DAYS (XIII,25). But do you not find that they walked [only] from the south to the north in forty days? Would they then have walked through the whole of it in forty days? [Certainly not;] but it was clear to the Holy One, blessed be He, that they would come and utter slander concerning the land, and that years of suffering would be decreed against that generation, a year for each day of spying, and so the Holy One, blessed be He, caused the road to shrink for them.”
Numbers Rabbah 16:15, Soncino Press Edition
Stories of kefitzat haderekh are told of various baalei shem, masters of the name. These Rabbinic miracle workers would combine various permutations of holy names, to accomplish the miracle, as described by Gedalayah Nigal,
“It was assumed that by means of the “holy names,” knowledge of which was essential for the activity of a baal shem, it was possible to shorten the traveling time of a journey and arrive at a faraway destination in a relatively short period of time. kefitzat ha-derekh also could take place at sea or in the air. In most instances, kefitzat ha-derekh was necessary in order to arrive in time before the beginning of the Sabbath, before the beginning of a holiday, or in time for a circumcision or wedding ceremony. ”
Gedalayah Nigal, Magic, Mysticism, and Hasidism: Introduction
Rav Ezra Bick, of the Virtual Beit Midrash, describes kefitzat haderekh as a “miraculous warp of space”. While this terminology is certainly borrowed from modern science and science fiction, it remains fascinating that modern theoretical physicists are describing ideas extremely similar to the ancient kefitzat ha-derekh.
“Intra-universe wormholes connect one location of a universe to another location of the same universe. A wormhole should be able to connect distant locations in the universe by bending spacetime, allowing travel between them that is faster than it would take light to make the journey through normal space. ”
Richard F. Holman, Professor of Physics at Carnegie Mellon University, describes the theory,
“Wormholes are solutions to the Einstein field equations for gravity that act as “tunnels,” connecting points in space-time in such a way that the trip between the points through the wormhole could take much less time than the trip through normal space.”
ScientificAmerican.com, Ask The Experts
Let’s look at the Talmud again,
“And it is further written: And [Jacob] lighted upon the place. When he reached Haran he said [to himself], Shall I have passed through the place where my fathers prayed and not have prayed too? He immediately resolved to return, but no sooner had he thought of this than the earth contracted and he immediately lighted upon the place. After he prayed he wished to return [to where he was], but the Holy One, blessed be He said: This righteous man has come to my habitation; shall he depart without a night’s rest? Thereupon the sun set.”
Chullin 91b, Soncino Press Edition
Notice that the Talmud does not describe Jacob as increasing his speed, but rather the space separating him from his destination warped. Physicist Michio Kaku comments on the concept of warping of space time,
“If the Enterprise [from Star Trek] travels from earth to the nearest star, it does not physically move to Alpha Centauri – rather, Alpha Centari comes to the Enterprise. Imagine sitting on a rug and lassoing a table several feet away. If we are strong enough and the floor is slick enough, we can pull the lasso until the carpet begins to fold underneath us. If we pull hard enough, the table comes to us, and the “distance” between the table and us disappears into a mass of crumpled carpeting. Then we simply “hop” across this “carpet warp”. In other words, we have hardly moved; the space between us has and the table has contracted, and we just step across this contracted distance.”
Michio Kaku, Hyperspace, pg 227
It is remarkable that science, science fiction, and the ancient Jewish accounts seem to agree on one point: Space itself shrinks, allowing one to reach a distance faster than otherwise possible.
Traveling back in time from the ideas of modern physics to the ancient book of Acts, we find a episode in which Philip the Evangelist experiences a supernatural ‘teleportation’, which is different than kefitzat haderekh, but nonetheless somewhat related,
“. . . they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he immersed him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Ashdod, and passing through he preached in all the cities, until he came to Caesarea.”
The text indicates this happened close to Gaza. The waters the Ethiopian Eunuch were immersed in was possibly “a brook in the Valley of Elah (which David crossed to meet Goliath, 1 Sa 17:40)” or “the Wadi el-Hasi just north of Gaza”. It is possible that the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) transported Philip at supernatural speeds to Ashdod, which is about 19 miles from Gaza, without bending time, but there is no doubt he reached his destination faster than humanly possible.
Is it possible that Yeshua, the talmidim, and Philip experienced the miracle of kefitzat haderekh? Are the ancient concepts of kefitzat haderekh parallel with that of wormholes, or the warping of space-time? Only space-time will tell.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
- “Kefitzat ha-Derekh.” Encyclopedia Mythica from Encyclopedia Mythica Online. <http://www.pantheon.org/articles/k/kefitzat_ha-derekh.html> [Accessed June 26, 2005].
- Rav Ezra Bick, Parashat Vayishlach, http://www.vbm-torah.org/parsha.61/08vayish.htm
- NIV Study Bible, Zondervan. Note on Acts 8:36, pg. 169