|Would Jesus Support
Fish and fishing are prevalent themes throughout the scriptures from the beginning when God created fish (Genesis 1:20) until the time when the risen Christ proves his physical resurrection by consuming fish (Luke 24:41-43).
In fact, much of the backdrop for Jesus' earthly ministry revolved around a freshwater reservoir that teamed with fish called the Sea of Galilee. Also known as the Sea of Tiberias, it has served as a liquid mine for fisherman for over 2,000 years. In the time of Christ it provided a key staple for the half million inhabitants of Palestine.
It was here that Jesus recruited Peter, Andrew, James and John (fisherman of Capernaum, as the song goes). It was also here that Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish and walked on water. In one account, Jesus reveals himself to his disciples after the resurrection by standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and calling to his disciples: “Have you anything to eat?” The disciples, who had been fishing all night and caught nothing, reply, “No.” (You can tell they are patient, loving disciples because I have heard far worse replies from fisherman experiencing no luck after only 10 minutes!)
Jesus then directs the disciples to cast their nets to the right side of their boat, resulting in a great haul of 153 fish. Jesus then convinces the disciples to break their fast and share a meal of fish that he himself seems to have prepared (John 21, Luke 24:41-43)
In another gospel, Matthew equates the Kingdom of God to a dragnet. A dragnet is the oldest type of net, 300 feet long and 12 feet high. It had weights and sinkers at the bottom and corks at the top like modern day bobbers (minus any Spongebob likeness). It could involve as many as 16 men to navigate the boat away from the shore, stretch the net tight, then circle back and pull the net and their contents ashore. Whatever fish were caught were then sorted by clean and unclean, according to Levitical law. Those kept were numbered for tax purposes. This procedure could occur as many as eight times a day.
In the first story, Jesus implores the disciples to use a mass production tool--a net. He then equates the Kingdom of God to a net in the second story.
If Jesus felt there was moral degradation in catching fish with a mass production tool, he certainly would have never directed his disciples to employ it nor would he equate the Kingdom of God to it.
According to Elizabeth McNamer, a professor of religious thought at Rocky Mountain College and director of Bethsaida Archaeological Excavations in Israel since 1993, fishing was a thriving and systematic process in the time of Jesus.
“Fishermen were quite sophisticated businessmen. Not only were the fish they caught a requirement for all the major feasts in the Temple at Jerusalem but I find it interesting that Jesus recruited fisherman and then visited all of the places where major fish markets were located, such as Tyre and Sidon.”
McNamer captured this systematic process in a 2004 article, "Cast Your Nets: Fishing in the Time of Jesus," previously published in the series Scripture from Scratch.
Fish were caught from the Sea of Galilee and taken to Magdala, the center of the fishing industry. They were then dried and exported to various parts of the Roman Empire. Magdala in Greek is Tarichaea, which means “dried fish.” There, the fish would be packed in baskets for export and the fishermen would take it on wagons pulled by mules to shops in Jerusalem, or to a seaport where they would be loaded on ships and taken to Rome. Dried fish from Galilee was considered a delicacy among the Roman aristocracy. Excavations at the archaeological site at Bethsaida (which means “house of the fishermen”), uncovered numerous fishing implements: a clay seal, which was probably used to stamp jar handles, depicting two fishermen in a small boat; lead weights, hooks, bronze and iron needles, basalt and iron weights and anchors. There is no doubt that fishing was a major occupation of the people of Bethsaida. An unfinished fishing weight suggests that there may have been a factory in Bethsaida for the making of fishing equipment. Flax spores have been found in abundance. Fishing nets were made of flax, as were the sails for fishing boats.
Sidebar-Would Jesus Support Factory Fishing?
- Written by Kevin Murphy