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How did they cook fish and bread over a charcoal fire in the first century (John 21:9)?

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. (John 21:9, ESV)

Ὡς οὖν ἀπέβησαν εἰς τὴν γῆν βλέπουσιν ἀνθρακιὰν κειμένην καὶ ὀψάριον ἐπικείμενον καὶ ἄρτον. (John 21:9, NA27)

Today on a charcoal fire, we might use a metal grill, aluminum foil, skewer, or metal frying pan. The wording in John 21:9 doesn’t sound like Jesus used a wooden skewer, but sounds like he put the fish directly on the coals. It doesn’t seem like that would work with bread. Do we have any literature or archaeological evidence on how they cooked fish and bread on a charcoal fire in the first century?

  • Those who arrived on the shore observed the fire being set and the fish being laid upon it ... and bread. The bread wasn't being cooked, it was simply seen to be there, i.e. bought or brought. – enegue Nov 19 '18 at 0:49
  • Ist century technology certainly had grills, nails and numerous other metal objects - so I do not see the problem here. The fish may have been on a wooden spit but more likely was in a pan or grill – Mac's Musings Nov 19 '18 at 6:09
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    The skin of a fish allows you to cook the fish right on the fire, I believe. Fish cook almost instantly. Also, I think charcoal is simply the carbon left over when you heat wood without burning it up. Sort of like vaping. – Ruminator Nov 19 '18 at 12:05
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Often, when I go to the beach in parts where lots of people have already been, I see the remains of fires and often people have left the artefacts - a metal grille, a metal fork, a few coals. Maybe the stuff was already scattered around the shore.

Jesus just needed the fish. Where did he get it ? Well, that is the whole point of the incident.

That they should go fishing again, after his resurrection - after he has called them to be fishers of men - after he has given them a better vocation - is a measure of their unbelief. Not that I am criticising, for they had been through momentous things. They were going through a momentous transposition - the end of Israel and the beginning of its fruition.

The end of an old covenant - and the beginning of the New Testament.

Yet he chides not. There he is on the shore, fire going, fish cooking.

He'll give them fish, from the shore, as they toil in the boat. He turns it all around and makes a comforting sign out of their rather disheartened excursion.

So bring the fish, says He. Yes, bring all the catch - 153 fish.

153 ? Can that possibly be significant ? Well, why mention it, if it is not ?

Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathaniel of Cana, 'that of Zebedee' (James and John not named, but regarded - here - as progeny) and 'two other disciples' (not significant persons, just another two happened along).

A collection. Individuals. Just a group of men in a boat, fishing.

Seven of them. Plus 153 fish. An hundred and sixty altogether in the boat.

Except that Peter had left the boat and was on the shore, already, with Jesus. As he would soon be, for he was to be martyred and hung on a cross, as was his Master. As Jesus was just about to tell him, a few verses on.

And if the one following at a distance - not intruding, respectful of Peter's significance and respectful of the two in conversation - should tarry till the Lord return, what's that got to do with anyone else ?

Follow thou me . . . .

Four times four times ten.

North, south, east and west. Multiplied by itself. So, this world and the world that is to come, multiplied in dimension. And then the number of completeness, ten.

Just a collection of men, labouring. Going from one world to the next, and catching other men (for they are fishers of men) on the way. But on the shore, waiting, is Jesus,

And they will get there, eventually, every single one. Plus every single "fish" they catch on the way. None will be lost.

What a comfort is this sign.

Anthrakia - says my thousand page Liddel & Scott (1854 American Edition) - can be either coal or charcoal. It seems to be a bunch of it, enough for a fire. If it's charcoal, then maybe it indicates re-use of coal which would agree with Jesus having collected it from the remains of other fires . . . perhaps.

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Metal objects and iron griddles in particular were known and used from ancient times as mentioned several times in the Old Testament - many hundreds of years before the incident mentioned in John 21:9.

  • A number of the Levitical offerings were cooked on a metal griddle - Lev 2:5, 6:21, 7:9
  • Ezekiel was told to use an iron griddle symbolically in his enacted prophecy/parable - Eze 4:3
  • The prophet Hosea baked bread on a griddle - Hos 7:8
  • The Psalms mention iron shackles - Ps 149:8
  • In 2 Sam 12:31 is mentioned iron picks and axes

Therefore, it is entirely possible that Jesus used a metal plate or griddle to fry the fish and possibly prepare some bread, perhaps even as Ezekiel had done 500 years earlier.

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Short of anything else I'd suppose they'd have cooked fish and bread over a charcoal fire in the first century much the same as we might today, sans aluminum foil and such. A spatula might serve for bread, a spit for fish. That the fire, bread and fish are set for cooking and presumably consumption, in contemplating the passage I've supposed the Lord arrived prepared. Asking for fish when he already had some strikes me as typical of him. I suppose he could turn rocks into things if he wasn't being asked to prove himself to one who would deny him anyway. Since Peter already had, perhaps it was time to show off his Sonship with more than bread, but redemptive words of God that Peter could not have lived without. He always had food we knew not of.

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Jesus' use of charcoal for the fire is the focus here, rather than the precise mechanics of cooking, such as grill etc.

The word anthraika occurs in only one other place in the New Testament. The gospel writer is making the connection crystal clear for the reader: the fire's very nature and fumes combine with the threefold affirmation of love to bring unexpectedly flooding back the painful memories of his threefold denial – but in the context of warmth and love and grace – here is the Man he betrayed both providing him with a massive catch and feeding him with already cooked fish on the exact same type of fire before which he had earlier denied him. 180º degree turn, it's profound restoration delving deep into the wound, to pull out the shrapnel and bring true healing. "When I first called you to follow me, you were fishing, and I gave you a supernatural net breaking catches then, and called you to be a fisher of men. Your mistakes, though deep, haven't changed that Peter. Now I give you a two-boat sinking catch, and I'm still calling you to feed my flock and follow me into death and into life..."

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