Monday, November 21, 2011

Fishers of Men

It should surprise no one that in a world of seventy-percent water, fishing is the oldest profession known to man. Particularly among coastal societies, fish have been the principal source of food and nourishment since the dawn of mankind. Fish were caught by hand in shallow water or gathered from those stranded on the shore at low tide. From spears and harpoons, tools for fishing gradually improved to the stage where lines, hooks, nets and boats became the most efficient means of providing a large catch. In the preparation and writing of an 899 page cookbook dedicated to fish, it behooves those doing the research to spend some time examining the importance of fish and fishing in ancient civilizations. John Folse and his staff on Hooks, Lies & Alibis have done their work.

In his weighty cookbook, Folse devotes a whole chapter to fishing in the age of Christ, and the pages of that chapter are fascinating indeed. Long interested in biblical literature, the Bible is no stranger to these eyes in any of several translations, but it was the Folse chapter “Fishers of Men” that made me aware of just how prevalent fish and fishing are as metaphor and symbol, as well as a familiar vernacular and background for the stories of Jesus in the New Testament.

Right off, we learn that fishing techniques on the sea of Galilee are much the same today as they were almost 5,000 years ago. Both Old and New Testaments are filled with the images of fishermen, nets and boats. The first four disciples chosen by Jesus were Galilean fishermen. Passing by the Sea of Galilee Jesus saw Simon and his brother casting their nets into the sea and called out to them: ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Walking a little farther he found James and John and called out to them to follow. Hearing Jesus the two brothers left their father and followed Jesus.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.” —Matthew 13: 47-48

Jesus often used a boat as a podium from where he preached to those gathered on the shoreline, and it was in the boats of fishermen that he sailed from village to village spreading the gospel. A fishing boat of that time, roughly 30 AD, would have had a sail and room for four rowers and another to steer. It would have been constructed of cedar and oak and measured 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide and 4.5 feet deep. There was enough room for crew, ten passengers or a ton of fish or other cargo.

Perhaps the best known fish in the Bible is found in the Old Testament book of Jonah. The four chapters of Jonah were probably written around the 5th century BC and tell the story of a disobedient prophet who attempts to escape his divine obligation and winds up being swallowed by a great fish. (In no translation does the Bible ever speak of a whale.) The following lines from Jonah are especially beautiful and deserve a place here:

“But the Lord sent a large fish, that swallowed Jonah; and he remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From the belly of the fish Jonah said this prayer to the Lord, his God:


Out of my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me;
From the midst of the nether world I cried for help,
and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the flood enveloped me;
all your breakers and your billows passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am banished from your sight!
Yet would I again look upon your holy temple.’
The waters swirled about me, threatening my life;
the abyss enveloped me;
seaweed clung about my head.
Down I went to the roots of the mountains;
the bars of the nether world were closing behind me forever,
But you brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord, my God.

When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the Lord;
My prayer reached you in your holy temple.

Those who worship vain idols forsake their source of mercy.
But I, with resounding praise, will sacrifice to you;

What I have vowed I will pay:
deliverance is from the Lord.

Then the Lord commanded the fish to spew

Jonah upon the shore.”

1 comment:

  1. Of course, you would know for a fact that I loved the post today. What a beautiful story and what imagery in the stories. Thanks for this.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America