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This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


Pirates of the Galilean

In Sunday sermons, and even greater depth in our Sunday morning bible classes, we have been engaging in cutting edge biblical theology. In the field of New Testament scholarship it has been called the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus. In the last decade or so biblical scholarship has substantially changed our understanding of Jesus and his time. It is an exiting time, because this scholarship supports the social stands of our congregation and can further integrate social justice advocacy with most recent theological scholarship. Even a common image of Jesus on a fishing boat can suddenly convey a quite radical social message.
Do you know that there was a naval battle in ancient Galilee between Jews and Romans?

        Josphus Flavious reports this event in his book De bello Judaico (Jewish War III.10 [497-515]). He describes how in the year 67 C.E. the Romans captured the fortified city of Tarichess (also known as Magdala). He relates how some of the Jewish resistance fighters escaped in boats on the Galilean lake and how the Romans chased them down the next day and defeated them in the first but last known Galilean naval battle. Josphus attributes the Roman victory to their superior ships, while the boats of the Jewish resistant fighters were, according to him, good only for piracy.
        This mention of piracy could be considered just a standard schematic denunciation of any sea-born opposition. One can hardly envision any true piracy on a lake, because you can easily see from shore to shore. On the other hand this inadvertent remark could be quite close to reality and interestingly illuminate Jesus’ life and ministry.
        In year 1986, two brothers - Moshe and Yuval Lufan - discovered the remains of an ancient boat in the Galilean lake near modern Migdal (ancient Magdala). The boat rested in shallow water and had been covered and preserved by mud since the first century C.E. It was retrieved and painstakingly reconstructed and now is on display in the museum of Kibbutz Ginossar. 

       The boat was about 27 feet long and 7.5 feet wide. It carried five crew members, in addition, it could carry about a ton of cargo or ten passengers. The boat's bottom was nearly flat, permitting it to be used close to the shore. It could also easily land and be pulled out of water on shore - all properties sought after by fishermen and pirates alike, giving them opportunity to embark and disembark, to appear and disappear almost anywhere along the shore. One more detail was interesting: the boat was patched together from fourteen different kinds of wood and most of it was reused - salvaged from other older boats. Evidently in the first century even the ship owners lived under severe economic pressure.
       Now think about Jesus. He called fishermen as his disciples, preaching from their boats moored by the shore, appearing in villages and towns around the lake, embarking and disembarking along the shore, often on the deserted places. You cannot avoid thinking he was escaping across the lake, crisscrossing the lake often by night. I am not implying he was a leader of any true pirates who robbed other impoverished fishermen and struggling merchants. Jesus was someone much more glorious and dangerous at the same time. He was a preacher and healer with a message of the kingdom of God, with an incendiary message of a new order built on abundance found in sharing, plentiful divine grace, stigma lifting healing, peace and the justice of God. He was reconnecting impoverished, dispossessed, alienated people, offering them acceptance, restoring their self esteem and their integrity and bringing them hope.
      The economically stressed and disenfranchised fishermen recognized this otherworldly grace. They allowed him in their boats, they let him preach from their boats, they offered him the skills and protection of old salts. It wasn’t just a regular piracy, it was an intellectual, spiritual, gospel driven piracy, the most noble, gentlemanlike piracy. This is a piracy which is still needed even two thousand years on, desperately needed on our noodle-shaped island and along the Hudson Bay shores. People still need to hear and experience feeding of multitudes, gaining liberation and healing from political and financial oppression, liberation from evil spirits of selfishness, greed, negativity, vindictiveness, etc. We still need to bond against the powers of destruction in the name of divine grace. On Sunday mornings in bible classes and in worship we continue in this subversive quest for justice, peace and healing.

A Quiz Question: In a sermon and in several bible classes I have mentioned tangentially that fish from the Lake of Galilee were processed in coastal towns on an industrial scale. What was the major product and export article of this Galilean fish industry? You can give me any ancient name of this article or even only its description. Please send me answers to  astehlik@rutgerschurch.org .

A chart of the different kinds of wood used in this ancient boat. The boat was clearly repaired several times and at times with a reclaimed wood. This further underlines reality of a financially depressed fishermen.  

This article was published in Renewal - Rutgers Presbyterian Church Newsletter in Spring 2010.

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