A new study says that cooler temperatures between 1,500 and 2,600 years ago in what is now northern Israel could have caused the Sea of Galilee to freeze during Jesus' lifetime.

Doron Nof, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, says he found samples taken from shells at the bottom of the Mediterranean which indicate that the water temperature in the region could become cold enough for thick ice to form.

The ice would have been thick enough to support the weight of a man, Nof said, while the freshwater ice in the Sea of Galilee would have been difficult to distinguish from the unfrozen water around it.

Nof says he has published his study as a "possible explanation" for the Biblical accounts.

"If you ask me if I believe someone walked on water, no, I don't," Nof said. "Maybe somebody walked on the ice, I don't know. I believe that something natural was there that explains it."

According to the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, disciples of Jesus were out on the Sea of Galilee late one night when a storm whipped up.

Jesus walked across the water towards the terrified men, who thought he was a ghost, the gospels say.

'Stupid person'

The Sea of Galilee in more
temperate conditions

Theologians however have remained unconvinced by Nof's findings.

"I'm just cold to the theory," said Darrell Bock, a professor of New Testament studies at the Dallas Theological Seminary.

"I tend to treat it as a real miracle... Almost all the nature miracles are challenged in one degree or another."

Other responses to Nof's study have been less restrained.

"I get hate email on the average every three minutes,"Nof said. One email called him "the most stupid person on the planet".

Nof's 1992 study attempting to explain Moses parting of the Red Sea also attracted criticism.

"They asked me if I'm going to try next to explain the resurrection," he said.