Miracles: Wonder and Meaning in World Religions

David L. Weddle
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Despite the dominance of scientific explanation in the modern world, at the beginning of the twenty-first century faith in miracles remains strong, particularly in resurgent forms of traditional religion. In Miracles, David L. Weddle examines how five religious traditions - Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam - understand miracles, considering how they express popular enthusiasm for wondrous tales, how they provoke official regulation because of their potential to disrupt authority, and how they are denied by critics within each tradition who regard belief in miracles as an illusory distraction from moral responsibility.In dynamic and accessible prose, Weddle shows us what miracles are, what they mean, and why, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, they are still significant today: belief in miracles sustains the hope that, if there is a reality that surpasses our ordinary lives, it is capable of exercising - from time to time - creative, liberating, enlightening, and healing power in our world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8453-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 Preliminary Considerations
    (pp. 1-34)

    Why should anyone, living at the dawn of the twenty-first century, be interested in miracles? For three centuries the capacity of science to explain events as the result of natural forces has seemed to make reference to divine causes unnecessary, even harmful. In times of crisis, hoping for assistance from supernatural saviors seems a dangerous distraction from the challenge of solving our own problems. Yet, around the world stories of wondrous acts continue to be retold in religious communities where they are invested with profound meaning: Krishna straightening a woman’s curved spine, Moses parting the Red Sea, Buddha levitating in...

  5. 2 Hinduism: Signs of Spiritual Liberation
    (pp. 35-70)

    Among the most widely read Hindu sacred texts is theMahabharata,an epic about a divided family and its tangled tragic history. Brought to the point of war, the righteous Pandava brothers confronted their evil cousins on the plain of Kurukshetra, near modern Delhi. Just before they launched into battle, the leader of the Pandavas, the renowned champion Arjuna, paused, reluctant to fight because those on the other side were members of his family. He wondered how he could fulfill his caste duty as a warrior without neglecting his duty to protect his family. Bewildered, Arjuna dropped his bow, deciding...

  6. 3 Judaism: Signs of Covenant
    (pp. 71-104)

    One of the most often told miracle stories in the Jewish tradition concerns an argument among rabbis over whether a stove of a certain construction could be ritually impure. Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (40– 120 C.E.) was certain of his view that the oven was clean, but the others disagreed. According to a later commentator, the incident was called “The Oven of Akhnai” because “they encompassed it with arguments as a snake (Akna ) and declared it unclean.”¹ Here is the story:

    Rabbi Eliezer offered all the possible arguments in support of his judgment, and still his colleagues remained unconvinced....

  7. 4 Buddhism: Signs of Transcendent Wisdom
    (pp. 105-140)

    We begin this chapter with a miracle of the Buddha, an act of levitation and transformation.¹ According to one version, the event occurred on his return to his homeland to share his teaching with his father, King Œuddhodana, and the elders of his clan, the Œakyas. But they denounced him for becoming a wandering mendicant and demanded that he return to his royal duties. He countered by condemning them for their ignorance. The elders turned to leave when, in a final effort to win them over, Buddha performed the “miracle of the pairs.”

    Knowing that nothing short of a spectacular...

  8. 5 Christianity: Signs of Divine Presence
    (pp. 141-176)

    The most familiar miracle stories in the New Testament are the accounts of Jesus of Nazareth walking on the waves of the Sea of Galilee. The story is so thoroughly assimilated into Western culture that the phrase “to walk on water” commonly indicates ability and virtue beyond the range of ordinary people. For most Christians, the popular understanding is appropriate because they believe Jesus was unique among humans as the embodiment (incarnation) of God, sent into the world to die as the atoning sacri-fice for the sins of humanity and, through his resurrection from the dead, to bring eternal life...

  9. 6 Islam: Signs of Divine Authority
    (pp. 177-210)

    To write about miracles in Islamic tradition requires at the outset that we acknowledge that many Muslims insist the only miracle in their history was the revelation of the sacred text, the Qur’an (“recitation”), to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia in the seventh century. Called the “standing miracle,” it was an event of transcendent power that confirmed the authority of Muhammad to convey the words of God, and it evoked such wonder in those who heard the words recited that many reported being converted to the new faith by the power of the language alone. nFor Muslims, the inimitability of...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 211-214)

    The meanings of miracles in the five religious traditions we have considered are derived from their role as signs of transcendent reality. The narratives that recount these miraculous events represent worlds in which human life is transformed by power and wisdom from “elsewhere” than the world shaped by conventional perception and expectation. Miracle stories give dramatic form to what believers could expect to happen if their belief in the transcendent were true. In the final analysis, then, does religious faith require belief in miracles as a condition of its credibility?

    In light of the internal dissent to miracles each tradition...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 215-236)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-246)
  13. Index
    (pp. 247-252)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 253-253)