The Burning Lake

Two students decided to go to a parson and tell him a story so outrageous that he’d pay them just to keep it quiet.

The first student went to the parson and related two strange events that he’d just heard about. The first was that God in Heaven had died, and the second was that the Sea of Galilee had caught fire and burned. The parson refused to believe him. Late, the second student went to see the parson, who asked him if he’d heard these stranger rumors: Could God in Heaven be really dead, and the Sea of Galilee burned to a crisp?

“Well,” said the second student, “I didn’t see it with my own eyes, but I’m sure it’s true. When I was in Nazareth a few days ago, the entire marketplace was filled with fried fish, and the angels were buying up all the black cloth in town for mourning clothes.”

The parson gave them both a large sum of money so that they wouldn’t pass on this news on; otherwise, he’d never be able to preach again.


This Swedish folktale employs humor to criticize the Church in multiple ways. The characters in the story have no qualms with conning the Church and more importantly, they know exactly how to do so, thus insisting that authorities in religion are dimwitted, corrupted, and unfaithful themselves. The parson believes quite easily that God is dead and the Sea of Galilee, the largest freshwater lake in Israel, has burned, and then bribes the students not to say a word so he can keep his position. In other words, even the parson here admits here that Christianity is more of a scam, only functioning as a power when there are enough people faithful, or stupid in this case, to believe in it.

The tale celebrates the cleverness of the students, a major theme in many Swedish folktales, and openly points out the flaws of the Church. After all,Swedenwas converted relatively late to Christianity, around 1000 AD. It stands to reason that the people would be aware of the corruptible sides of the Church after having such a long history with Pagan religion and culture.

Though “The Burning Lake” is a märchen, this one does not seem to be particularly aimed at children. The humor in this story would be more understood by adults; however, young people who read or heard the tale would pick up on the value of cleverness and perhaps some of the flaws of blindly believing in religion.


Collected from: 

 Blecher, Lone Thygesen and Blecher, George. Swedish Folktales and Legends. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993. Print.