by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books


Chapter 43 | Contents | Chapter 45

The Holy Land and the Bible
A Book of Scripture Illustrations gathered in Palestine

Cunningham Geikie D.D.

With a Map of Palestine and Original Illustrations by H. A. Harper
Special Edition


Size and Shape of the Sea of Galilee—A Day's Sail—The Boat and the SailorsA General ViewMejdel (Magdala)"The Valley of Pigeons": The Scene of a Great Military FeatThe Plain of GennesaretMeaning of the NameA Storm on the LakeThe Story of Jacob and Rachel repeatedKhan Minieh—Tell Hum (Capernaum?)The Site of Bethsaida JuliasTomb of Herod PhilipNets and Fishing

The Sea of Galilee is shaped like a pear, with a width, at the broadest part, of six and three-quarter miles, and a length of twelve and a quarter miles; that is, it is about the same length as our own Windermere, but considerably broader, though in the clear air of Palestine it looks somewhat smaller. Nothing can exceed the bright clearness of the water, which it is delightful to watch as it runs in small waves over the shingle. Its taste, moreover, is sweet, except near the hot springs and at Tiberias, where it is polluted by the sewage of the town. On the western side there is a strip of green along the shore south from Tiberias, about two and a half miles long, but little more than a quarter of a mile broad at its widest part. Beyond this the hills for three miles, almost to the point where the Jordan leaves the lake, approach to the water's edge. For three miles north of Tiberias they do the same. Then comes the well-known recess of the Plain of Gennesaret, about three miles long, and about a mile broad at its widest part. For about four miles above this, almost to the entrance of the Jordan into the lake, the hills again reach to the water's edge. The largest tract of green in the landscape extends from half a mile west of the river, round the head of the lake, and down nearly six miles of the eastern shore; it is irregular in shape, as the hills advance or fall back, but only at three places is it so much as a mile and a half in width. A short interval of hill, with no shore, then occurs, almost opposite Tiberias, and from thence to the point where the river leaves the lake there is another green strip, for the most part about a quarter of a mile broad. Thus there is much more level ground on the eastern side than on the western, yet the western side was always, in Bible times, much more thickly peopled by the Hebrews than the other; partly from the fact that "beyond Jordan" was almost a foreign country; partly because the land above the lake on the east was exposed to the Arabs and in some measure also because it always had a large intermixture of heathen population.

In Christ's days the sails of whole fleets of boats were reflected in the waters. A constant coasting traffic, and a busy intercourse between the opposite shores, employed many, while the fisheries gave occupation to thousands. Tarichæa, now the ruin called Kerak, near the outflow of the Jordan, had so many boats that Josephus at one time collected 230, for some operations against Tiberias, and we have seen how Vespasian needed to build a fleet to pursue those which sailed away from the town when he took it. Capernaum, Tiberias, Bethsaida, and other places, must, besides, have had large numbers of boats, for the fish trade, fresh and salt, was a great industry when the population everywhere was dense.

Having asked our dragoman to hire a vessel for a day's sail on the lake, we had an early call from the master of a very good boat, offering to take us up the shores for twenty shillings. As this, however, was a small fortune in these parts, he was glad to take half of it, which amply repaid him, and is, indeed, the regular fare. The vessel was of six or eight tons burthen, sharp at both ends. A mast leaning forward rose to a height of twelve or thirteen feet, with a rope through a pulley at the top to hold up a huge lateen sail—that is, a sail stretched on a pole jutting upwards at a sharp angle on one side, high above the mast, though the word originally means a Latin or Roman—that is, Italian—sail. The boat was built, I believe, at Beirout, in sections, which were carried to Tiberias on camels, and there put together. All the wood was foreign except the ribs, which were of oak from Tabor. The stern was decked for about five feet, and on this place of honour our mats were spread; the nets being usually stowed away in the hollow below us, though on this occasion they were left ashore. The smell of fish was overpowering, almost producing nausea. Yet it was in such a boat, perhaps in one not so good, that Christ sailed many a time on these very waters! The crew were four in number, arrayed in baggy blue cotton breeches, over which one had a long old European paletot, with a hood; the second, a European loose coat of grey-brown cloth; the third, an old light cloth overcoat, got I know not where; while the fourth gloried in a red striped coat, from Damascus, the sleeves braided with stripes and ornaments. Beneath these outer coverings they had shirts or vests, of striped yellow, brown, green and yellow, and red and yellow, and all had "kefiyehs" on their heads—one of black silk, one of dark purple stuff, the third of red, and the fourth of black; only one being of silk, and that old and worn. The men were bare-legged and bare-footed, and were all big fellows, of light-brown complexion. Were the apostles dressed as strangely, to our ideas, with Roman paletots and overcoats, perhaps, instead of Levantine?

The day was charming. To the north, beyond Safed, Hermon rose above the hills, like a great snowy cloud, whiter than any fuller on earth could whiten his web; flecked and furrowed by shades of light reflected by the snow from a thousand projections or hollows; no high peak, but a great low arch of light. The old sea-walls of Tiberias rose slightly out of the water, with a basalt tower at one point. Women were washing their mats and linen in the lake, among wretchedly poor houses, broken walls, and dunghills; only a few of the dwellings, indeed, were in passable repair. At one place some women were taking water, for drinking and household uses, from the foot of a great manure and dust heap, which extended in a high mound to the water's edge. The castle at the northern end of the town appears very ruinous, as seen from the water. The outflow of basalt reached to the side of the lake, the banks being covered with fragments, and great masses lying in the lake itself. Gradually, as we rowed on, the ground rose, topped with a narrow outcrop of basalt, the steep slope roughly green with bushes of thorn; then the level sank again to the shore, and thus it kept on, rising and falling, with more stones than grass even on its best parts. I did not see more than three or four boats on the shore, and none at all on the water. A kingfisher on a post, watching for little fish, a gull overhead, and some wild ducks in the lake, farther on, were the only birds I noticed. Boulders lay in great numbers in the water all along the coast, till we came to Gennesaret.

An hour's rowing brought us to Mejdel, the Magdala of the Gospels. It has hardly any population, and the few who do live here could not be poorer or more wretched than they are. A patch of green wheat rose on one spot at the mouth, of the valley; and, stretching along the hill-sides, the telegraph poles to Damascus, with a pathway winding on beside them—the road north and south for all travellers.

Magdala stands on the south corner of the Plain of Gennesaret. Two or three fig-trees grow in or near the houses, and there are a few wretched gardens, with palms in them a few feet high. A small brook sends a trickle of water to the lake over a stony bottom, but it is not irreproachably pure, for it has to run through dunghills. The houses, or huts, of which there are not more than a dozen altogether, are built of mud and stone, and are of one storey and flat-roofed, with no light except from the door; a rough pillar of mud and stone in the one room holds up the ceiling of reeds and branches, and two levels in the mud floor mark the respective bounds of man and beast; for fowls, goats, and perhaps an ass, or some other creature, share the premises with the family. Some unspeakably dirty, almost naked, children followed us about. The ground was rank with brambles, wild mustard, coarse grass, and low prickly bushes, with beds of black basalt fragments of all-sizes. An old keep, originally built, it is said, as a "fish-tower," rose beside a ruinous pool, once full of fish, but now mostly filled with stories, and leaking so that the soil for some distance round was quaggy with water. Five or six springs, breaking out of the earth some distance up the valley, feed this old reservoir, and then make their way through the stones to the lake. Eight fig-trees and some elder-bushes, fed by the moisture, helped to hide the misery of the spot; and there were here and there a few oleanders, Christ-thorn trees, and other semi-tropical growths. Such is the village of Mary, whom we now call the Magdalene (Luke 8:2; Mark 15:41), with a special meaning to the word, though we know nothing of her except that she came from Magdala, was possessed with seven devils—a calamity we cannot now understand—and was a person in such a position that she could minister to our Lord's needs.

The valley behind Magdala is famous in Jewish history. Now known as the Wady Hamam, or " the Valley of Pigeons," from the myriads of these birds which make their homes in the clefts and caves of its steep sides, it was in the generation before Christ the scene of one of the most daring feats of Herod the Great, when governing Galilee for his father. The slope on which we had looked down from Hattin ends in precipitous cliffs, little suspected till one sees them from below, and it is thus cut off from the lake by a great gorge or chasm, with upright walls more than 1,000 feet high. On the southern edge of this ravine lies Irbid, now in ruins, but once a great Jewish town, as is seen from the remains of a splendid synagogue. In the high walls of rock on the northern side a great number of small caves are to be seen, protected in some cases, for purposes of defence, by walls across their mouths. It is chiefly in these that the pigeons live, but they are also the nesting-place of great numbers of vultures, ravens, and eagles, who may at all times be seen high in the air, wheeling overhead, on the watch for prey or carrion.

In the terribly troubled times of the last Hyrcanus these caves were the retreat of great numbers of Jewish zealots, who were furious at the presence of Antipater the Edomite in the council-chamber of the king, and wished to reestablish a pure theocracy. It was in vain to hope for the pacification of the country while these religious enthusiasts had such a natural stronghold, from which they could rally at will to disturb the Government. Gathering together such a force as he could, therefore, Herod, then in his prime, marched from Sepphoris, which he had already taken, to the top of the cliffs, where he was met and well-nigh overpowered. But he was not to be daunted. The caves could not be reached from below, the rock stretching beneath them in perpendicular precipices of immense depth. They must, therefore, be attacked from above, and to this end he caused a large number of huge "cages," strongly bound with iron, to be made, and having filled them with soldiers, let them down by chains from the top till they reached the mouths of the nearest caves. The troops were armed, not only with their swords and spears, but with long hooks to pull out such as resisted and throw them down the rocks. By this means, and by landing where there was footing, their success, though gradual, was in the end complete. In many caves enough combustible material was found to fill the whole interior space with suffocating smoke, and this helped the terrible work, till, at last, many threw themselves headlong into the abyss below. One old man flung down his wife and seven children, and lastly himself, and then the survivors submitted.* To win such a victory was wonderful, for the caves are in many cases of great extent, and were well fortified, besides being connected by galleries, and provided with water from numerous cisterns. In later times peaceful hermits took up their abode in them.

* Jos. Ant., xv. 3, 6; Bell., i. 16, 4.
The Plain of Gennesaret begins at Magdala, and runs to the north, as I have said, for about three miles, with a depth of about a mile at its widest part. Flat near the shore, it is shut in by low, rounded hills, which are at some points half a mile, at others a mile, in the background. Ploughed land stretches here and there up the slopes of valleys, which in some cases show copings of basalt above. The cliffs of Arbela, or Hamam, look from a distance very much like the crags at Arthur's Seat, near Edinburgh: the same perpendicular wall above; the same masses of broken rock making a steep slope below. The plain itself is quite uncultivated and waste, and so is the gentle rise behind, which to the west has a background of high conical hills. So complete is the solitude of the whole region, that Tiberias and the wretched Magdala are the only inhabited places on the whole lake, although in the days of our Lord nine towns and many villages, all populous, were found on its shores or on the hillsides behind. At the north end is a khan, or resting-place for travellers— Khan Minieh—one of many which are found on the great caravan-track between Damascus and Egypt; Khan Tujjar, a short day's journey south, being the next; while four miles to the north is Khan Yusef. Between Magdala and Khan Minieh lies Grennesaret; a path along the shore leading down to Tiberias, sometimes almost on a level with the water, at others winding along the face or over the tops of the knolls and low hills, but always close to the lake.

No Christian could look upon the landscape around without emotion. The plain stretches away in all its potential loveliness, set in a frame of green hills, the peaks and varying outlines to the south and south-west adding not a little to the charm of the scene. It must have been beautiful indeed when human industry developed the wealth of nature, and turned the whole surface into a blooming paradise. Its Hebrew name, Gennesaret, was fondly explained by the Rabbis as meaning "a Garden for Princes," but it seems really to be connected with the Old Testament name Chinnereth, or Chinneroth (Deut 3:17; Josh 11:2, 12:3, 13:27), which was given to the plain possibly because the rushing sound of its brooks resembled the vibrations of a harp; as it may have been given to the lake from the name of some ancient town on the plain, or perhaps from the shores having a harp-like shape. Josephus has bequeathed to us an enthusiastic description of its fertility in the time of our Lord. It was "admirable," he tells us, "both for its natural properties and its beauty." "Such," he adds, "is the richness of the soil, that every kind of plant grows in it, and all kinds are, therefore, cultivated by the husbandman. Walnut-trees, which need coolness, grow in rich luxuriance alongside the palm, which flourishes only in hot places, and near these are figs and olives, which call for a more temperate air. There is, as it were, an ambitious effort of nature to gather to one spot whatever is elsewhere opposed, and the very seasons appear as if they were in a generous rivalry, each claiming the district for its own; for it not only has the strange virtue of producing fruits of opposite climes, but maintains a continual supply of them, the soil yielding them not once in the year, but at the most various times. Thus the royal fruits, the grape and the fig, ripen for ten months of the year continuously, while the other kinds ripen beside them all the year round."* In those days universal irrigation aided these wondrous efforts of Nature, and four permanent brooks, at times swollen to torrents, still wind over the surface and enter the lake, showing the ample means at hand for turning the whole into a "watered garden." The fruit of Gennesaret was the glory of the land, and its wheat the finest.

* Jos. Bell., iii. 10, 8.
Over this Eden-like landscape our Lord often wandered. Its palm-groves, its fig-trees with intertwining vines, its soft murmuring brooks, its lilies, and countless flowers of other kinds, the deep blue of the lake, the brown tilth of the neighbouring slopes, the waving gold of their harvest ripeness, must often have calmed His soul when He was disturbed by the waywardness of man. To the heights behind He must often have wandered when the stars had come forth, to spend the night in lonely devotion (Mark 6:46). In the streets and open spaces of towns and villages long since vanished, He must often have had the sick brought to Him in the cool of the evening, that He might heal them (Mark 1:22). His voice must often have sounded through the clear air from His boat-pulpit on the strand, or in the concourse of men, proclaiming as "one who had authority" the doctrines of His new spiritual kingdom (Mark 2:16). Perhaps it was at the very spot where I stood that He revealed Himself after His resurrection to Peter and Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples (John 21:2ff), when they saw someone in the grey of the morning on the beach, as they rowed to the shore after a night spent in fruitless toil. Man and nature were still hushed in the quiet of the dawn when He addressed these disciples as His "children," bidding them cast their net into the lake once more. And now it encloses a shoal, so that "they were not able to draw in" the widely-stretched meshes "for the multitude of fishes," and John at once whispered to Peter, "It is the Lord." One could think of the warm-hearted, impetuous Simon, as he heard such words, girding around him the "abba" which he had laid aside to struggle the better with the net, and casting himself into the lake to wade ashore to Him whom he so much loved; while his companions came more leisurely, rowing and poling, as they dragged the net with them, till they ran their boat up the smooth shelly strand. "With what followed we are all familiar, ending as it did with the ever-memorable, thrice-repeated, "Lovest thou Me?" and the touching answer, "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee."

Our boatmen did not row together, nor did they sit, their invariable habit being to stand, with one foot on the seat to give them more power. It was curious to notice that their feet, never cramped by shoes, were much broader at the toes than at the instep, so different is the natural shape of the foot from that which our hard leather coverings produce. Striking out in a straight line to save a deep bend, we now got a good way from the land, keeping towards Tell Hum, which lies on the shore, about two miles and a half south-west of the entrance of the Jordan into the lake. Sometimes rowing, sometimes sailing, the whole landscape on both sides was within view. On the east, the tableland, sinking precipitously to the water, was scooped into terraces and hollows, and seamed with deep gullies and ravines, down which the wind often rushes with terrible force from the uplands above, which stretch away to the Euphrates. Sir Charles Wilson encountered just such a sudden, storm— though from the west—as swept down long ago on the boat in which Christ lay asleep, while His disciples were wrestling with the winds and the waves (Matt 8:24; Mark 4:37; Luke 8:23). "The morning," Sir Charles tells us, "was delightful; a gentle easterly breeze, and not a cloud in the sky to give warning of what was coming. Suddenly, about midday, there was a sound of distant thunder, and a small cloud, 'no bigger than a man's hand,' was seen rising over the heights of Lubieh, to the west. In a few moments the cloud appeared to spread, and heavy black masses came rolling down the hills, towards the lake, completely obscuring Tiberias and Hattin. At this moment the breeze died away, there were a few minutes of perfect calm, during which the sun shone out with intense power, and the surface of the lake was smooth and even as a mirror; Tiberias, Mejdel, and other buildings stood out, in sharp relief, from the gloom behind; but they were soon lost sight of, as the thunder-gust swept past them and, rapidly advancing across the lake, lifted the placid water into a bright sheet of foam. In another moment it reached the ruins of Gamala, on the eastern hills, driving myself and my companion to take refuge in a cistern, where, for nearly an hour, we were confined, listening to the rattling peals of thunder and torrents of rain. The effect of half the lake in perfect rest, whilst the other half was in wild confusion, was extremely grand. It would have fared ill with any light craft caught in mid-lake by the storm, and we could not help thinking of that memorable occasion on which the storm is so graphically described as 'coming down' upon the lake."* Just such a tempest, indeed, as I have already noted, I had myself seen when descending from Hattin to Tiberias; and the night that followed, with its wild carnival of wind and rain, was still worse. But, like the storm seen by Sir Charles Wilson, it soon spent its fury, leaving the morning to rise bright and beautiful.

* Recovery of Jerusalem, p. 340.
Behind Gennesaret the slopes offer constant illustrations of the Parable of the Sower. Some spots one could see where the good soil invites the peasant, no path running through it, no thorns cumbering it, no rock cropping up, no stony wreck covering the ground. Perhaps quite close to it a footway passes across the patch of tillage, so that at sowing-time seed must fall on it and be trodden under-foot, or picked off by birds; elsewhere, thorns and thistles engross much of the surface, while at a little distance, perhaps a few rods, the ground is fairly bedded with stones, or the occasional gleam of the rock shows that there is only a skin of earth, not enough to nourish the seed. As we sailed along the steersman whined a doleful Arab song. There is no such gladsome music in Palestine as in Western countries; a nasal sing-song, fit for a dirge, is all one ever hears. I had some talk on the way with the dragoman*—a Copt—about his wife. She had been bought for him by his mother, was betrothed at twelve, and married at fourteen. He could send her away for spoiling his dinner, if he liked, but would have to pay her a franc a day for her support. But Copts, he added, with a virtuous air, don't send their wives off in this way, and neither husband nor wife can marry again while the other is alive. In Palestine service is still, at times, accepted for a wife, in lieu of money, as in the case mentioned by Burckhardt, that greatest of travellers, who met a young man in the Hauran who had served eight years as a shepherd and peasant labourer, for his food and the promise, which was kept, that he should after that time have the daughter of his master, for whom he would otherwise have had to pay from 700 to 800 piastres. This was an almost exact repetition of Laban's bargain with Jacob (Gen 29:18), but the parallel was made still more close by the young husband complaining bitterly that, though he had now been married three years, his father-in-law continued to require him to do the most servile work, without paying him anything, and thus prevented him from setting up for himself and his family (Gen 31:7,39-42).** Jacob's experience is illustrated in another point by the fact that in modern Egypt a father often objects to giving away a younger daughter till her elder sister is married.***
* "Dragoman" means literally " interpreter," but the office includes not only talking the language of the traveller, but also acting as head of his travelling arrangements. In my case this dignitary, in all the glory of a "kefiyeh," was a young man employed by the Tourists' Agency during the season, spending the rest of the year, as he told me, among the Arabs beyond the Jordan as a shepherd, or, perhaps, in a less innocent capacity. He informed me that he had twice been in gaol, in irons: the last time, quite recently, for stabbing a man. He was lazy, insolent, inconceivably ignorant, and, as a whole, worse than useless. Anyone intending to visit Palestine should try to secure the services of Mr. Rolla Floyd, of Joppa, in my opinion by far the best "dragoman" in Palestine. To obtain his aid ensures conscientious lessenning of expense wherever practicable, with the advantage of having by one's side bright intelligence, minute knowledge of the Bible, and earnest desire to please. Doubtless, however, there are other excellent guides.

** Burckhardt, Syria, p. 298.

*** Lane, Modern Egyptians, i. 197.

The hills at the upper end of Gcnnesaret are dotted with bushes and trees, so that they look more inviting than those on the south. The path from Khan Minieh to the lake runs up and down over the rocks along the shore, generally at some distance above the water-level. Here, one may literally say that he is walking in the footsteps of our Lord, for there is no other way along the coast to get to Tell Hum by land. Landing at Tell Hum, I found it a field of black basalt ruins, strewn over a wide space, but in great part hidden, till you come close to them, by dense clumps of thistles and other huge wild growths. A moment's glance shows it to have been a considerable place, for there are great squared stones in every direction, belonging no doubt to public buildings or the houses of rich men, for the ordinary houses of the common people must long ago have entirely perished. Close to the water, on a slightly projecting point, are some ruins, perhaps of a castle, possibly of a church: now roughly covered in as a shelter for sheep or goats. Foundations run hither and thither in every direction, the ground between them swollen into mounds by the ruins below. The site slopes gently upwards over a wide space to the hills, the side towards the lake rising into a slight bank. A little back from the shore lie some ruins which especially attract attention: colossal squared stones, finely carved, of white crystallised limestone brought from a distance—once the frieze, architrave, and cornices of a magnificent synagogue. The Jews could not have built such a sanctuary except at a time when they were numerous and rich, which they ceased to be very soon after our Lord's day, so that I may perhaps have looked on the very prayer-house in which He often worshipped. It has, indeed, been thought by some that these stones may have belonged to the very synagogue built by the godly centurion from love to Israel (Luke 7:5).

Tell Hum has been accepted by some of the officers employed in Palestine and others as the site of Capernaum, but the question can hardly be regarded as settled. Yet there is much to be said for this belief. The name, it is alleged, is an abbreviation for Nahum, Capernaum meaning "the Village of Nahum the Prophet"—for Kefr means a village. This may be correct, since, as we have seen, the Jews lived in Tiberias for centuries after the fall of Jerusalem, and the tradition appears to have been derived from them. It is also said that at the time of Constantine, Capernaum had an exclusively Jewish population, with many Jews among them who were counted heretics by their brethren, from their believing in Christ while still following Moses also, like the Jewish Christians of the Epistles. If this spot be Capernaum, the words of Christ, that it "should be cast down into hades," though then, in its own

opinion, "exalted into heaven" (Matt 11:23), are very literally fulfilled. A few oleanders, with pink flowers, on the edge of the lake, wild beans growing here and there, and flowers in odd spots, were the sole relief to the lonely sadness.

Returning to the boat, we rowed north-west towards the place where the Jordan enters, and which we found to be a swampy flat of rich green, the delight of black, flat-headed buffaloes, which have horns curiously bent along the sides of the head. On the other side, beyond the marsh, a green valley ran up among the hills, the wide meadow where our Lord fed the thousands who wished to take Him by force and make Him king (John 6:15). At the head of this valley stood Bethsaida Julias, once a humble village, but in Christ's childhood transformed into a fine city by Herod Philip, the one good son in the worthless family of Herod the Great. It was dignified with the name of Julias in honour of the daughter of Augustus, but its ruins consist of only a few fragments of basalt, though these have an imperishable interest from the connection of the town with some of the miracles of our Lord (Matt 12:21; Mark 8:22-26). They lie above the plain and slopes of the Batihah, where the multitude, while being fed with the bread that perisheth, were told of the true bread that cometh down from heaven. Christ was then on His way to Cæsarea Philippi.

The tomb of the mild and just Philip once stood in Bethsaida Julias, but it has long since disappeared. This was the prince who married Salome, infamous for her share in the murder of John the Baptist. Philip had lived a bachelor till he became an elderly man, and then he fell in love with the daughter of Herodias and his half-brother Philip of Jerusalem—a girl a little over fourteen when she became the wife of the old man. The birthday feast of Herod Antipas, at which she danced with such fatal result, took place shortly before her marriage, and, as her husband died in A.D. 33, only a few years after the Baptist's death, she must have been still quite a girl when left a widow. Philip, in fact, was more than three times as old as his bride. Salome was then, apparently, a favourite name, for it was borne by a sister, a daughter, and a granddaughter of Herod the Great, and it was also given to a sister of Mary, the mother of our Lord.

Turning the boat's head, at last, towards Khan Minieh, where our tents awaited us, we ran close alongshore as we came near it. Just before we landed, one of the boatmen, a splendid fellow, taking off his loose cotton trousers and long jacket so that only his shirt remained, stepped into the water at a spot where the low edge was thick with bushes of all kinds, the boat for the time lying still. Taking with him a round net, hung about at its edges with small leaden weights, and wading ashore, he gathered the meshes carefully into one hand, so that the weights hung free beneath, and creeping along the shore under cover of the bushes till he came to a little bend in the water, he then, in a moment, flung out the net with a whirl which spread it like a circle, the lead causing it instantly to sink. Four fishes—like good-sized perch—were his reward. The process was several times renewed, at different points near each other, till he had caught as many as he wished. The net was not drawn in, the fish being lifted from below it while it lay at the bottom of the shallow water. It would be difficult, therefore, to identify it with any of the nets mentioned in the Gospels. There is another kind of net, however, in use on the lake, and this also is cast by one man into the water, although larger than the one used by our boatman. The fisherman, stripping himself quite naked, swims out as far as he thinks fit, drops his net, and then returns with it, holding the cords at the sides. In this way a few fishes are easily caught in waters so well stocked. There is, indeed, no end of wealth in the lake, if proper fisheries were established, for the shoals are so great as frequently to cover an acre or more of the surface, the back fins ruffling the water like heavy raindrops as they move slowly along close to the surface.

The large net—the "sagene " of the New Testament, and our seine—is not now, so far as I know, in use, but it must, one would think, have been that used for the miraculous draughts in the Gospel. The word understood to mean a casting-net is found in only two places; neither of them connected with these miracles (Matt 4:18; Mark 1:16). It is, at any rate, certain that the apostles used different kinds, for while Peter and Andrew are in one verse said to have been busy casting one kind of net into the sea, James and John are described two verses afterwards as mending another kind in their boat (Matt 4:18,21); and, including the two cases of miraculous draughts, this second kind is twelve times mentioned (Matt 4:20,21; Mark 1:18,19; Luke 5:2,4,5,6; John 21:6,8,11). But it is hard to dogmatise on the subject, for Mark describes Peter and Andrew as casting a net of the first kind and leaving nets of the second (Mark 1:16,18), while the seine is only spoken of once, when the kingdom of heaven is compared to a net (Matt 13:47)*—the one here intended being, no doubt, the largest in use. My boatman, as I have said, kept on his shirt, but as it was tucked up round him, he was really naked. Men such as he commonly work at their craft entirely nude, except for a skull-cap of thick felt. But we need not suppose that Peter did more, when he girt his coat round him (John 21:7), than to put his "abba" over his inner tunic; for one can hardly imagine that, amid a population so dense as that round the lake in those days, men carried on their work in a state of absolute nudity. Perhaps the expression "naked" is used as Virgil uses it in his counsel to the ploughmen to work, as we might say, "in their shirtsleeves," for this is what he means. Yet Roman games were exhibited in Christ's day, even at Jerusalem, in which the men who took part in them before great bodies of spectators of both sexes were entirely naked; so that we must not measure ancient ideas by our own. On the Egyptian monuments, moreover, fishermen using nets are naked.

* The three words are amqiblhstron, diktuon, and saghnh.
The net once drawn to shore, its contents are examined to see what fish are too small and what are inedible—all such being thrown back into the sea, as was the custom in our Lord's day (Matt 13:48). Then, however, the "bad" were chiefly those reckoned unclean, which meant all that had not fins and scales (Lev 11:9-12): a distinction that may perhaps be accounted for by the fact that in Egypt, from which the Hebrews came, fish without scales are generally unwholesome.* By the way, did the Jews eat beetles? Egyptian women do,** and Leviticus says that the Hebrews were free to eat the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind (Lev 11:22). But, I apprehend, the translation should rather be—"the flying locust, the kind known as 'the destroyer,' the leaping locust, and the young locust." One other Egyptian custom strikes me as throwing light on Mosaic ordinances. Women are "unclean " in Egypt for forty days after childbirth: Moses ordered that they should be reckoned unclean for forty days after the birth of a son, and eighty days after that of a daughter (Lev 12:2,4,5).
* Lane, Modern Egyptians, i. 197.

** Ibid., i. 238.


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Notes on Revelation | Judeo-Christian Research

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