The Miracles, 1 – Water into Wine

Generally considered Jesus’ first miracle, “turning the water into wine” has captured popular imagination as a casual display of miraculous power – something of a party trick. Which perhaps it was.

Jesus turning water into wine

Here’s the story: Jesus attends a wedding. His mother says they’ve run out of wine, can he help? She tells the servants to do whatever he says. He says to fill some pitchers with water; the liquid is then taken to the Steward of the feast, who congratulates Jesus on saving the best wine for last, i.e. this wine is better than the stuff they had earlier – normally the good stuff would be served first, before everyone is too sozzled to notice the difference.

But remember that Palestine was part of the Roman Empire by this time. Consider how Romans served wine at feasts: wine was shipped around the Empire as a concentrate, which reduced shipping costs. The wine steward at a feast had the task of adding the appropriate amount of concentrate to the jars of water, producing something that was the appropriate strength for the company and for the state of the party.

If the concentrate was already in an otherwise empty jar, which you then filled with water… Well, it would be a good party trick, especially if it came out at a good strength, and if your guests were village simpletons who weren’t used to attending Roman-style events.

Or perhaps everyone knew that it was nothing special, just a bit of fun – and that the only miracle was in having better-tasting (stronger) wine at the end of the party than at the beginning!

In The Gospel According to the Romans there is an assumption that Jesus uses street magic to provide an illusion of the miraculous, to reinforce the spiritual lessons he teaches – just as Indian holy men do today.