From Ched Myers’ article recounted in the SALT blog Jan 15, 2024,” Jesus’ Call to Discipleship in a World of Injustice” originally published in “Radical Discipleship”, Article was entitled “Let’s Catch Some Big Fish!” Summary follows:
“The Sea of Galilee is the ecological and social setting of the first half of the gospel of Mark. A large freshwater lake about seven miles wide and 13 miles long, its shore is dotted with villages connected with the local fishing industry, the most prosperous segment of Galilee’s economy. The lake (also called Sea of Genneseret, Lake Kinneret or Lake Tiberius) is fed by the Jordan River, which flows in from the north and out to the south. Some 209 meters below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth. Due to this low-lying position in a rift valley, the sea is prone to sudden violent storms, as attested in the gospel stories…
“In 14 C.E., Caesar Augustus died and Tiberius became ruler of Rome. To curry the new emperor’s favor, Herod Antipas (the client-king Tetrarch of Galilee) began building a new capital city called Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Antipas hoped to demonstrate that he was the best candidate to intensify Romanization of the region by establishing Tiberias as a thoroughly Hellenized administrative and military center. The primary function of this city was to regulate the fishing industry around the Sea of Galilee, putting it firmly under the control of Roman interests. There Antipas built a royal palace, where it is likely he beheaded John the Baptist (Mk 6:7ff).
“The construction work at Tiberius may have drawn Jesus, as a carpenter/construction worker, to the Sea from Nazareth, and as an itinerant laborer he might have moved up the coast from harbor to harbor. This explains how Jesus appears in Capernaum, a major harbor and an important center of the fishing trade, and the narrative center of gravity in Mark 1-3.
“K.C. Hanson offers a compelling portrait of the political economy of the fishing industry around the Sea of Galilee during this period, which provides detail of the matrix of oppression narrated in Mark. We know that at this time the fishing industry was being steadily restructured for export, so that the majority of fish were salt preserved or made into a fish sauce and shipped to distant markets throughout the empire. All fishing had become state-regulated for the benefit of the urban elite—either Greeks or Romans who had settled in Palestine following military conquest or Jews connected with the Herodian family. They profited from the fishing industry in two ways. First, they controlled the sale of fishing leases, without which locals could not fish. These rights, and often capitalization as well, were normally awarded not to individuals, but to local kinship-based “cooperatives” —such as the brothers Simon and Andrew or the Zebedee family we meet in Mk 1:16-20. Second, they taxed the fish product and its processing, and levied tolls on product transport. Local administrators handled royal leases, contracts and taxes—such as “Levi son of Alphaeus,” whom we meet in Mk 2:14.
“This transformation of the local economy, made possible by the infrastructural improvements (roads, harbors and processing factories) carried out by the Herodians, functioned to marginalize and impoverish formerly self-sufficient native fishing families. Leases, taxes and tolls were exorbitant, while the fish upon which local people depended as a dietary staple was extracted for export. Thus fishermen were falling to the bottom of an increasingly elaborate economic hierarchy. Elites looked down on them, even as they depended upon their labor…”
“With such rigid state control of their livelihood and the oppressive economics of export, it is hardly surprising that in Mark’s story fishermen are the first converts to Jesus’ message about an alternative social vision! If Tiberius was ground zero in Herod’s project of Romanizing the regional economy, then Capernaum up the coast, a village profoundly impacted by such policies, was the logical place to commence building a movement of resistance. Restless peasant fishermen had little to lose and everything to gain, by overturning the status quo…
“Little wonder, then, that Mark records the response of these exploited fishermen to Jesus’ “good news” as immediate (a scenario he repeats twice, 1:18,20). They had little to lose. In antiquity, leaving the workplace would have entailed both loss of economic security and a rupture in the social fabric of the extended family as well. In that sense, to join this movement demanded not just an assent of the heart, but an uncompromising break with “business as usual.” But the verb “they left their nets” is used elsewhere in Mark to connote release from debt, as well as forgiveness of sin and liberation from bondage. It is, in other words, a “Jubilee” verb. In fact, an epilogue to the later call of the rich man story defines “leaving” home, family and work specifically in terms of the discipleship community’s practice of social and economic redistribution (Mk 10:28f). Jesus is calling these disaffected workers out of an exploitive system and back to a network of “fictive kinship” that practices mutual aid and cooperation.”