success stories

Posted October 24, 2003

Book: Sea Fire: Tales of Jesus and Fishing
Author: Irene Martin
The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, pp. 224

Except from Jacket:

Part detective story, part history, part Biblical study, Sea Fire is filled with the author’s observations of the fishing occupation and her insight into life in New Testament times.

Irene Martin presents a new view of Jesus, as part of the fishing community on the Sea of Galilee. Based on her thirty years experience of fishing in the Pacific Northwest and her Biblical scholarship, she has crafted a passionate account of how Jesus recruited his disciples in the same way fishermen recruit crews, and how He used their boats, nets, and maritime gossip networks to further his message. She uses the fields of archaeology, marine anthropology, and Biblical studies to produce a book that is richly written and full of insight. Topics include women’s role in maritime communities, the Roman impact on the fishing business, and the calling of the disciples.

Excerpt from Book:

Not only does one have to be aware of where the fish are, one has to be aware of where he other fishermen are. Fishermen observe each other and develop an interior monologue that goes something like this: “That’s the fourth day in a row that I’ve seen Bob over on the west side of the bay in that cove. He must be getting fish there or he wouldn’t keep going back. Maybe I’ll head over there tomorrow and see what’s going on.” The radio groups and spotter planes in Bristol Bay represent the acme of this type of fishing. Fishermen literally hire airplane pilots to spy on other fishermen. The pilot then radios the captain to tell him who is catching fish and at what location. The captain then decides whether it is worth it to travel to another location and vie for a lucrative fishing spot with those already there.

What James and John were doing in squabbling over who will sit at Jesus’ left and right hand in his kingdom was a form of playing for position, a preemptive strike over Peter and Andrew and the other disciples. Even more fascinating is the version in Matthew 20:20-27, when Zebedee’s wife, the mother of James and John, asks for this same favor. Whether there were one or more incidents of jockeying for this prestigious post we cannot know. However, a fishing family openly competing for an advantageous position is entirely consonant with fisherman’s behavior, even though it may bring down on them the ire of the rest of the community for being overly aggressive. What Jesus tells them in fishing terms is that everyone in his kingdom is in the same boat, and if they want to be great, they must be servants, just like the hired crewmen of Zebedee.

The issue of who was to be great in the kingdom, however, never really left the disciples during Jesus’ lifetime. On the very night before he died, we read that a quarrel broke out among them as to who was to be greatest. To illustrate the different reality he envisioned, Jesus washed their feet, the job of a slave. Competition among fishermen is frequent in fishing circles, but a captain who takes the place of the lowliest crew member is quite unlikely. “Fiddler’s Green,” a song about a fisherman’s idea of heaven, contains the line, “You lie at your leisure, there’s no work to do, and the Captain’s below making tea for the crew.” Not an everyday occurrence. Jesus attempted to break through his followers’ traditional norms by the sheer shock value inherent in washing their feet, the last thing they would have expected from a leader. Many of Jesus’ actions are congruent with what we know to be the norms of fishing communities. However, the reverse is also the case; he was willing to violate those norms to make a point.

Table of Contents

Fishing with Jesus
The fishing occupation
The invisible work of the Lord
The smell of death and money
The calling of two brothers
The Sons of Thunder
The three who followed
Marine symbolism
The fish of Galilee
Three Herods
Abundance and Scarcity
The Roman impact on the fishing business
More Herods
Fishing gear
Jesus the fisherman
Fish as food
The Tax Collector
The one who isn’t there
Women in fishing
An independent woman
The seller of purple
Fishing rights
The thin places
The hiding place
The boats of Galilee
Market centers
The eternal conversation
Competition and cooperation
The fishermen’s Pentecost
Language as code
Spotting God
The other side of terror
The end of time in shades of silver