Saturday, 3 April 2010
The Shining Sea
The Shining Sea
Before dawn they rose and went forth
To check their nets and the wind,
Unfurling the flaccid sails,
As the last spark of stars,
Adrift in nights black bower,
Glittered upon the gentle waves,
And gathering up the gusting wind,
As an aeolian steed to ride the waves,
Cast themselves out upon the silent waters.
As the sun arose upon its fiery chariot,
And cast down its golden beams,
Upon the distant Arbel cliffs,
Bird song began to serenade the day,
Angelic in its simple innocence,
Whilst white clouds, soft as silk,
Were slipping from the West,
To wet the dry lips of thirsty earth,
With sighs of rain, their simple blessing.
Each time the heavy net was cast,
By Christ with his own hands,
It came back aboard with a catch,
And soon within the vessel,
All the treasures of the sea,
Could be seen, of every colour,
And of every kind, a rainbow,
Of sardines, barbels and salmon,
Enough it seemed to feed the world.
Then Christ stood before James and Andrew,
And John and Peter, his apostles,
Who had left with him to fish,
The holy waters of Gennesaret,
And with a smile stepped out,
Of the boat, that simple vessel,
Formed from oiled oak and cedar,
Out onto the shining sea of Galilee,
To walk miraculously upon the waters.
He spoke to them with words of light,
“ I shall make you fishers of men”
And gave them the whole world,
As a gift of love, and for their faith,
And as he spoke the sun rose higher,
Than it had ever risen ever before,
And a thousand lucent spears of gold,
Were cast forth from its fiery face,
Banishing a storm that lingered in the East,
Writhing as a serpent upon the Golan Heights.
Time plays its tricks upon all men,
As Empires, Nations and Temples fall,
And certainties crumble into dust,
As truth forever seeks itself anew,
Amidst all the lies and crimes,
Of Rabbis and Imams, priests and politicians,
And now that shining sea of Christ,
Is as empty as the Holy Grail of Life,
And pilgrims hunger on its shores,
Gaining no succour from its empty shell,
For the little fishes have been betrayed,
By the deeds and greed of their betters,
For those holy words once begotten,
Are now caged in books and forgotten.
It is the site where Jesus told his disciples: "I will make you fishers of men." As the Bible tells us, four of the Apostles - James, Andrew, John and Peter - worked as fishermen on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Were they to ply their trade now, however, the Apostles would find themselves in court. Officials at the Ministry announced the fishing ban, claiming that stocks have fallen to a dangerously low level.
The decree ends a tradition which has continued virtually unchanged since Biblical times, and will dismay both local fishermen and Christian pilgrims who flock to the site each year.
The two-year ban comes into effect at the end of this month.
Chaim Anjioni, director of fisheries at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said: "We are just before a catastrophe, and that is why we have decided to stop fishing.
"We need to stop fishing to give the small fish a chance to grow, causing fish stocks to increase and the lake to recover."
The Sea - actually Israel's largest freshwater lake - is the site of several miracles from the Bible. It is here that Jesus is said to have walked on water, and it was close to the banks of the lake that He turned two fish and three loaves into the feeding of the five thousand.
According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus joined Peter in his fishing boat after a night which yielded no catch. Told by Jesus to put out into deep water, "they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break".
The area has long been known for its plentiful stocks. The 19th century English clergyman, Henry Baker Tristram, recorded that "the density of the shoals of fish in the Sea of Galilee can scarcely be conceived by those who have not witnessed them".
The most common catch in these waters is known as St Peter's Fish, so named after a Bible passage in which Peter hooks a fish with a coin in its mouth.
Yet recent years have seen a dramatic decline in stocks. Before 2005, 295 tons of St Peter's Fish were caught annually. In 2009, the total was only eight tons.
The government blames fishermen for using nets with smaller holes than are permitted by law, using nets which exceed legal limits - resulting in huge hauls of very young fish which have not had a chance to breed.
Other factors include an influx of birds, which moved to the lake in search of food after steps were taken to scare them away from nearby fish farms. Falling water levels following years of drought have also played a part.
Menachem Lev, a Sea of Galilee fisherman for 31 years, blamed the authorities.
"The government is guilty because it did not maintain the lake properly," he said, arguing that the solution was to introduce more young fish to the lake.
Historians said fishing was intrinsic to the area's Biblical signifance.
Eyal Regev, professor of history and archaeology at Israel's Bar Ilan University, said: "New Testament traditions about the Sea of Galilee flourished because in this area fishing was what kept the economy running so these traditions spoke to the people.
"Several of his disciples were from around the Sea of Galilee and it is very important in their biographies."