Fishing Around The Sea Of Galilee
Luke 5: 1:11
During the first century, the fishing industry was dominated by individual families. There were few, if any, large corporate type fishing companies. Furthermore, sons usually began their apprenticeship into their father's occupations by age 10 or 11. So if my father was a tanner, I would become a tanner. If my father had worked as a farmer, merchant, fisherman, etc. I would follow my father into that profession. "Most sons followed their fathers' callings; alternatively they could be apprenticed."1 Joachim Jeremias also has contributed important work on the subject of proscribed trades.2 Jesus encounters the disciples in a fishing cove somewhere in the area of Tabgha.3 In our text for this lesson Luke mentions that the men who are fishing are "partners" in a small fishing business.
"So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink." (Luke 5:7)
" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon." (Luke 5:10)4
I would like to say a word or two about the mechanics of fishing in the first century. First of all, fishing was generally restricted to coves that surround the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). There are numerous coves to be found here. Specific coves (and the fishing waters found there) belonged to specific villages. The coves for the village of Capernaum, for example, were located from about halfway between the villages of Gennesaret and Capernaum to the south and about halfway between the villages of Bethsaida and Capernaum to the north. Fishermen would fish in these coves (and continue to do so) rather in the deep water. The coves of Capernaum were perhaps the most abundant place to fish, particularly during the cooler months. The reason for this is that the warm mineral water of the springs near Tabgha would flow into the Kinneret warming the water of the lake. These warm waters would draw fish into these coves making them very fertile for the fishermen of Capernaum.
Secondly, the boats used by these fishermen were small. In Western art these boats have been portrayed as being large enough for all of the disciples to travel together. History and archaeology have demonstrated that this is not the case. In the late 1980's the remains of a first century Galilean fishing boat were discover near the modem kibbutz of Nof Ginnosar. The boat was excavated and is now on permanent display in a museum especially constructed to house the find. Based on the size of this boat, we now believe that the boats of the first century would only accommodate four or five people.
Thirdly, Luke tells us that the disciples were "washing their nets." (5:2). There were essentially two types of nets that were used by fishermen of the first century. The first was a seine or dragnet. There were two types of seine. One was used while the fishermen were in their boats in the coves. The second, and much large seine, was used by fishermen on the bank of the lake. The fishermen would stand on the bank and drag this net through the waters pulling any fish they caught to the shore.5 The second type of net used by first century fishermen was the cast net. This is a smaller net that could be used by only one person.6
Having dealt with these issues let us now return to today's lesson. Jesus is passing along by the shore of the Kinneret and he encounters two sets of brothers (see Mark 1). This encounter took place somewhere in the vicinity of Tabgha. Pixner writes, "East of the present day Chapel of Mensa Christi in Tabgha is a harbor, called the Harbor of Peter. Behind it a very strong current of water enters the take cascading from the Source of Capernaum. Fishermen of old could easily wash their nets there."7 After a long period of unsuccessful fishing, Jesus asks the disciples to go back out. The disciples lower their seine into the waters and retrieve a large catch. Jesus then informs them that from now on they will be retrieving a large catch of people. And their collective ministry begins.
Charles R. Page, II Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies
Charles R. Page is the Academic Dean of the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies. For more information on study opportunities in the Middle East contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Kristine Haley, the JCBS Administrator, tollfree at (888)-4317902.
1. Safrai and Stern, The Jewish People in the First Century (Philadelphia. Fortress Press), 1976, p. 684. 2. See Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Philadelphia, Fortress Press), 1969. 3. Tabgha is located just south of Capernaum The name is a corruption of the name Heptapegon which means "seven springs." There are two churches located here to memorialize events associated with the life and ministry of Jesus. One of the churches commemorates Jesus' calling the disciples and feeding the multitudes. 4. The Greek word for partner differs in these two verses. In verse 7 the word metochos is used. This word might best be interpreted as "helper," or "participant." In verse 10 the Greek word is koinonos. This word might be best translated as "associate," or "partner." Koinonos suggests a formal, perhaps contractual relationship between some of the disciples. 5. In his important work The Sea of Galilee and Its Fishermen (Tiberias, En Gev), 1989, Meldel Nun writes, "The dragnet is made of netting shaped like a long wall, 250 to 300 meters long, 3 to 4 meters high at its' wings' and 8 meters high at the centre. The footrope is weighted with sinkers, and the headrope has cork floats. The dragnet is spread hundreds of meters or more from the shore and parallel to it, and hauled toward the shore with towering lines consisting of sections of ropes tied together. These are attached to each end, and hauled by a team of 16 men for large nets, or a smaller team for smaller nets." (p. 16). 6. See Mark 1:16. 7. Bargil Pixner, With Jesus