(Photo: Wikimedia Creative Commons/Manuel Dohmen)
An online magazine published late last week an account of an African pastor who drowned on a beach before his congregation while trying to walk on water like the Bible says Jesus did before his own disciples. However, the "news report," which has gone viral, appears to be a persistent Internet hoax.
The story published Dec. 28 by MJ Celebrity Magazine that has been shared and liked on Facebook about 100,000 times, involves the same 35-year-old minister, Pastor Franck Kabele, whose apparent death was first reported on in 2006 by the Glasgow Daily Record's website.
While the original URL for the report was no longer active, a columnist for the Daily Record, as the Scottish publication is now called, did note in his 2006 year-end review of humorous news reports: "A priest drowns in West Africa after trying to demonstrate how Jesus walked on water! Could have been even more tragic, I suppose. At least 5,000 of his mates didn't starve to death."
Several media outlets reported on the alleged eye-witness report when it first emerged, including conservative independent news site World Net Daily. The online publication referenced comments said to have been made by Kabele's church members who supposedly witnessed their pastor's alleged drowning at a beach in Libreville, Gabon:
"He told churchgoers he'd had a revelation that if he had enough faith, he could walk on water like Jesus," an eyewitness told the Glasgow Daily Record.
"He took his congregation to the beach saying he would walk across the Komo estuary, which takes 20 minutes by boat. He walked into the water, which soon passed over his head and he never came back."
While none of the reports on Pastor Franck Kabele's drowning give the name of his church or its exact location, a possible red flag for skeptics, readers taking the report at face value contemplated on the "sad" event and debated the role of faith in Kabele's alleged feat.
"That's blind faith for ya," wrote one reader on a public forum. "The reason I find it sad is that he really, really believed that he could do it. He had a vision that said he could do it if he had enough faith, and God speaks through visions, so he had every reason to believe he could do it if he just believed enough. Water around the ankles? That's just a test of faith; keep going. Too bad this entire... exercise was based on a false premise."
The commenter added, "Another sad thing is that his final thought was probably him criticizing himself for not having enough faith."
Some unbelievers also took Kabele's story as an example of the "harm" that can be caused by believing in the supernatural.
"People sometimes ask skeptics and nonbelievers what the harm is in believing incredible miracle stories and the like. Well, this is a good example of what the harm can be," wrote commentator Austin Cline. "When you believe such nonsense, you can develop a warped perception of reality. When that happens, you can have a lot more difficulty surviving reality."
The Bible passages recounting Christ walking on water are found in Matthew 14:25, John 6:16-21 and Mark 6:45-52, while only the Gospel of Matthew includes the apostle Peter's attempt to copy Jesus. The passage states that Peter "walked on the water and came toward Jesus," but grew afraid and started to sink. "You of little faith," Jesus states in the Gospel account after catching Peter. "Why did you doubt?"
A team of U.S. and Israeli scientists published a report (read the PDF file) the same year as the alleged pastor drowning suggesting that Christ might have only appeared to walk on water, when in fact he could have been floating on a thin layer of ice. The scientists, whose study was published by the Journal of Paleolimnology, explained that the Sea of Galilee's salty springs are able to freeze surface water during cold temperatures. The study's lead author, Professor Doron Nof, said he had received quite a few nasty emails about his team's proposed explanation for Christ's miraculous feat.
A Harris Poll published Dec. 16, 2013, revealed that 72 percent of Americans believe in miracles, while 68 percent said they believe that Jesus is "God or the Son of God."
The Christian Post sent an email to the Daily Record requesting confirmation of its 2006 news report on the apparent pastor drowning. There was no response by press time.