In 1993 Mendel Nun published an article in Biblical Archaeology Review entitled “Cast Your Net Upon the Waters: Fish and Fishermen in Jesus’ Time.” Nun, now deceased, explains the meaning of his name:
For more than 50 years, I have lived at Kibbutz Ein Gev on the shore of the Kinileret [Kinneret], the Sea of Galilee. For much of that time, I have been a fisherman. The Hebrew letter nun (N) means fish in Aramaic. My former name—I was born in Latvia—began with an N. When I became a fisherman, I simply took that first letter as my new surname. (BAR 19:06 (Nov/Dec 1993)
Nun explains that he was continually surprised “at how accurately the New Testament writers reflect natural phenomena on the lake.”
A more detailed source of information by Nun is his 1989 The Sea of Galilee and Its Fishermen in the New Testament.
Nun says there are 18 species of indigenous fish in the Sea of Galilee, and that 10 of those are important commercially. The edible fish are classified as follows:
- Musht. This group includes the popular Tilapia Galilea, commonly called Saint Peter’s fish.
- Biny (Barbels). “This group consists of three species of the Carp family.” The two most common species are the Barbus longiceps and the Barbus Canis. Both are used by Jews for Sabbath meals and feasts.
- Kinneret Sardine. “At the height of the fishing season, tens of tons of sardines are caught every night.” In New Testament times these fish were preserved by pickling. Magdala was known as the center of this industry.
Our first photo shows fishermen unloading their catch of Musht early in the morning. This photo was made where the Jordan River exits from the south end of the Sea of Galilee.
Fish are unloaded to be taken to restaurants and markets in the area. I have seen this fish for sale in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Here is a closeup of one of the containers of Saint Peter’s fish. You can see that these fish would be ideal of pan frying.
Tourists may have eaten these fish at lunch during their tour of the Galilee region. It makes a good meal, but some tourists use a napkin to cover the eyes while they enjoy eating the fish.
The next photo, also early in the morning, shows the catch of Biny, a much larger fish than the Musht. The Biny reaches a weight of 6 or 7 kilo (13-15 pounds).
In 2010 Israel announced a two year ban on fishing in the Sea of Galilee (see here). I don’t know how vigorously this ban was enforced. I know that in previous years I would see numerous boats heading to port after a night of fishing, but in the past few years this has not been so. Today’s Haaretz reports that the two-year fishing ban has been cut to a four-month annual break.
Instead of a blanket moratorium on fishing in the lake for two years, fishing will be barred only from April 15 to August 15, the spawning season of the lake’s tilapia populations.
The full article may be read here.
Hopefully we will return with some more information about fishing at the time of Jesus and a brief look at some of the New Testament episodes that involve fishing.