Biblical Archaeology Review 19:6, November/December 1993

Cast Your Net Upon the Waters: Fish and Fishermen in Jesus’ Time

By Mendel Nun

For more than 50 years, I have lived at Kibbutz Ein Gev on the shore of the Kinileret, 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.

I am continually surprised at how accurately the New Testament writers reflect natural phenomena on the lake. But we should not expect to find clear professional accounts of early fishing experiences in Biblical parables and vignettes, for several reasons.

First, the Gospel writers were already chronologically quite distant from Jesus’ life on the lakeshore; and they did not intend to write historical texts, but rather stories with a religious message. The problem of translation from the original—a question that has long occupied scholars—creates additional difficulties. But if we look closely at ancient life on the lake, we can better understand the stories about the sea of Galilee, the scene of most of Jesus’ ministry.

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