"The man is like a wise fisher who, having cast his net into the sea, pulled the net up from the sea full of small fish. The wise fisher, upon finding among them a fine large fish, threw all the little fish back into the sea, choosing the big fish without difficulty." (Gos. Thom. 8)
"And the most shameful occupations are those which cater to our sensual pleasures: 'fish-sellers, butchers, cooks, poultry-raisers, and fishermen,' as Terence says." (Cicero, On Duties 1.42)
Both the physical and social geographies of Galilee are heavily impacted by an inland waterway known by various names in antiquity, but most commonly as the Sea of Galilee. This body of water is currently approximately 7 miles wide and 12.5 miles long, but the dimensions may have been slightly different in antiquity (Freyne 1992:900; Josephus, War 3.506). The importance of fish in Palestinian society is signaled by several geographical names (Wuellner 1967:28-33). Jerusalem had a "fish gate" (Neh 3:3). The capital of Gaulanitus was Bethsaida ("Fishing Village" or "Temple of the Fish-God"), located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:45). And the Greek name for the town of Magdala on the western shore of Galilee was Tarichaeae ("Processed-Fishville").
Since the synoptic gospels are agreed that Jesus' activity was centered in Herod Antipas's tetrarchy of Galilee, and specifically in the harbor village of Capernaum, this lake could not fail to affect his words or deeds. The following analysis is an attempt to provide a window on part of the political-economic and domestic-economic context for the Jesus tradition, specifically as it pertains to the fishing enterprise on the Sea of Galilee. Significant data-gathering on ancient fishing was carried out by Wuellner (1967), who built on Rostovtzeff's work (1941). What I am pursuing here is a more systemic approach to how the activity of fishing operated as a web of relations within the political and domestic environment of the early first century along the lines of the systemic analysis proposed by Elliott, who adapted earlier macrosociological models (Elliott 1986:13-17). The present study will include not only materials assembled by Wuellner and Rostovtzeff, but also recent Galilean archaeology and inscriptional material from around the Roman Empire on taxation and fishing associations.
Based upon the studies of my colleague Douglas Oakman (1986, 1991; Hanson & Oakman, forthcoming), it is my observation that biblical scholars commonly tend to misconstrue the Galilean economy (and ancient economies in general) by assuming a market economy similar to a modern European or North American industrialized economy. This general observation connects to a second, more specific, observation: scholars of the Jesus traditions have seriously underplayed the role and significance of the physical and social geography of Galilean fishing on Jesus' development of his network. This lack needs to be addressed. In fact, none of the contemporary treatments of the "historical Jesus" has a single significant thing to say about Galilean fishing beyond the fact that four of the Twelve are identified as fishermen in the tradition (e.g., Borg 1987; Mack 1988; Crossan 1991; R. A. Horsley 1993). Only Rousseau & Arav have even bothered to bring together some of the basic data (1995 :19-30, 93-97, 189-90). Further, even works focused on the history and society of Galilee have virtually nothing of importance to say about Galilean fishing in general or its relationship to Jesus (e.g., Freyne 1980, 1988, 1994; R. A. Horsley 1996). In his most recent work, however, Freyne does briefly acknowledge the economic role fishing played in Herodian Galilee (1995:35).
II. An Embedded Economy: Politics and Kinship
Fishing was an important part of the Galilean economy in the first century. But it was not the "free enterprise" which modern readers of the New Testament may imagine. Even fishers who may have owned their own boats were part of a state regulated, elite-profiting enterprise, and a complex web of economic relationships. These are symptoms of an "embedded economy." That is to say, economies in the ancient Mediterranean were not independent systems with "free markets," free trade, stock exchanges, monetization, and the like, as one finds in modern capitalist systems. Rather, only political and kinship systems were explicit social domains; economics and religion were conceptualized, controlled, and sustained either by the political hierarchy or kin-groups (Polanyi, et al. 1957; Dalton 1961; Polanyi 1968; Finley 1985; Malina 1986; Garnsey & Saller 1987:43-63). For an overall assessment of the setting of Jesus' activity, it is essential to understand the mechanisms of political economies in the ancient Mediterranean in terms of the flow of benefits upward to the urban elites, and especially the ruling families.
It will not be possible here to analyze the complexity of the first-century Galilean embedded economy as a whole ( Oakman 1983:17-91; Hamel 1990; Freyne 1994, 1995; R. A. Horsley 1995; Hanson & Oakman, forthcoming). Suffice it to say, the largest part of the population was composed of peasant farmers, and the family functioned as both a producing and consuming unit. This means that relatives normally worked together, and that kinship ties were fundamental for "guild" or trade relations. This local, domestic economy was often in tension with the larger political economy. Galilee of the first century was ruled by Herod Antipas, a Roman client, and was therefore a form of what Kautsky calls an "aristocratic empire." Furthermore, it was an "advanced agrarian society" in terms of its form of production and technology. I mention here a few of the basic characteristics of political economies and infrastructures of such societies:
The primary functions exercised by aristocratic families are tax-collection and warfare: both of these functions serve the urban elites' interests (Kautsky: 6, 79).
While the small number of elites compete for honor and the right to control and tax peasant families, peasant families remain at subsistence level, reinforced by a sense of "natural" hierarchy (Lenski : 210-20).
These empires are "exploitative" in that peasants have no say in their control or taxation (Kautsky: 6, 112; Lenski : 210-20); and while the peasants are cognizant of their place in the rather rigid social hierarchy, they develop strategies to evade control through a variety of means (e.g., lying, hiding, protest) (Scott 1977, 1985).
Since much of the peasant families' produce (the so-called "surplus") is extracted by the aristocratic families in the form of labor, produce, and money (through the instruments of tithes, taxes, tolls, rents, tribute, and confiscation), technological progress is impeded, minimizing change; the exception to this is the technology of warfare, since it is subsidized by the aristocratic families to protect their power, privilege, and possessions (Kautsky: 7, 103; Lenski : 210-20).
Improvements in the infrastructure (e.g., roads, aqueducts, harbors) are for the increased benefit of the aristocratic families, not for the benefit the peasant families in return for their taxes (Kautsky: 114).
III. Galilean Fishing as a Social Sub-System
The various families in this political-economic and domestic-economic network of relationships—we must avoid imagining individuals who "go to work"—are not equally well documented for Galilee during the first century; some of the relationships are inferred. But I suggest this scenario as a beginning in order to imagine real people involved in real occupations which require a very real network of relationships and transactions. The evidence for the scenario depicted in Diagram #1 is as follows.
1. The Roman emperors became wealthy beyond imagination because of their patronage position with regard to client-kings such as the Herodians (e.g., Suetonius, Twelve Caesars, "Augustus" 60). These clients contributed to the imperial coffers first of all through annual tribute of two primary types: on land and on persons (e.g., Mark 12:13-17; Josephus, War 2.403, 405). Secondly, they profited from indirect taxes of various kinds, including customs fees at ports and roads (Pliny, Natural History 12.32, 63-65). And lastly, they were beneficiaries of their clients' wills. .
Another basic way the Romans benefitted from their provinces was through monopolies. Certain trades and industries were essentially "owned" by Rome and contracted to the workers. In Palestine after the First Judean Revolt (66-70 CE), Rome controlled the balsam trade (Pliny, Natural History 12.54, 111-13; Strabo, Geography 16.2.41). ... The net profits from these industries, consequently, went to the Imperial treasury.
2.....Josephus estimates the annual revenue of Herod Antipas from his tetrarchy at 200 talents = 1.2 million denarii (Ant. 17.318). Compare this to the annual revenues of his ruling relatives (Table 1; note that Salome is often overlooked because of her subordinate status to Archelaus):
Salome Jamnia, Ashdod, and Phasaelis 60 talents Ant. 17.321
Philip northern territories 100 talents Ant. 17.319
Herod Antipas Galilee and Perea 200 talents Ant. 17.318
Archelaus Idumea, Judea, and Samaria 600 talents Ant. 17.319-20
Agrippa I all Palestine 2000 talents Ant. 19.352
Extracting revenues from the land was consistent with earlier periods, for example under Pompey (Josephus, Ant. 14.74, 78) and Julius Caesar ( Ant. 14.202-3). And the people of Roman-era Palestine clearly considered them a heavy burden, as protests demonstrate (Josephus, War 2.4; Tacitus, Annals 2.42).
In a story about the bid by Demetrius (the Seleucid king) for the loyalty of Jonathan (the Hasmonean), both 1 Maccabees and Josephus quote a letter from Demetrius (c. 152 BCE) listing the following taxes he was willing to suspend (1 Macc 10:29-31; 11:34-36; Josephus, Ant. 13.49-51):
a. salt tax
b. crown tax
c. grain tax: one-third of the produce
d. tax on fruit and nut trees: one-half the produce
e. poll tax
Presumably, the remission of these taxes and tribute previously paid to the Seleucids would subsequently be paid to the Hasmonean rulers and then the Herodians. An important anecdote in Josephus that illuminates imperial tribute (under the Ptolemies), bidding for collection rights, and the like is told about a Judean from Egypt named Joseph:
Now when the day came on which the collection rights of taxes on the cities were sold, and those that were the principal men of dignity in their several countries were to bid for them, the sum of the taxes together of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia, and Judea, with Samaria came to 8,000 talents. Hereupon Joseph [the Tobiad] accused the bidders of colluding to undervalue the taxes; and he promised that he would himself give twice as much for them. But for those who did not pay, he would send the king [Ptolemy] home their whole substance, for this right was sold together with the taxes. The king was pleased to hear that offer; and, because it augmented his revenues, he said he would confirm the sale of the taxes to him; but when he asked him this question whether he had any securities that would be bound for the payment of the money, he answered very pleasantly, "I will offer good and responsible persons, and ones which you shall have no reason to distrust." And when he asked him to name them, he replied, "I give you no other persons, O king, than yourself and your wife; and you shall be security for both parties." So Ptolemy laughed at the proposal, and granted him the collection of the taxes without any sureties (Ant. 12.175-78).
That taxes were often paid "in kind" rather than in money can be seen in several ancient documents. Referring to earlier days in Greece, Athenaeum quotes Philomnestus: "For the sycophant got his name from the fact that in those days the fines and taxes, from the proceeds of which they administered public expenditures, consisted of figs, wine, and oil, and they who exacted these tolls or made declaration of them were called, as it appears, 'sycophants' (sykophantas), being selected as the most trustworthy among the citizens" (Deipnosophists 3.74-75). And the same was true of Hasmonean-era Palestine: ". . . in the second year they shall pay the tribute at Sidon, consisting of one-fourth the produce sown . . ." (Josephus, Ant. 14.203). This is consistent with an Egyptian papyrus from the same period (Papyrus Tebtunis no. 5; Hunt and Edgar 1934:60-61; 118 BCE). Rabban Gamaliel (first century CE) is quoted as saying: "By four things does the empire exist: by its tolls, bathhouses, theatres, and crop taxes" (The Fathers according to Rabbi Nathan 28; Goldin 1955:116).
And this brings us to those collectors who controlled the roads and bridges. The imperial customs duties were based on crossing from one Roman tax district into another; and during the reign of Tiberius, the Empire had ten districts. The duty-rates were 2%, 2.5%, or 5%, depending upon the goods (Lewis and Reinhold 1990:64-65); and this rate of 2% (more or less) is exemplified by one of the technical terms for customs collectors: pentêkostologos ("collector of the one-fiftieth"; Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 2.49; 11.481). The toll-fees for roads varied considerably; they also charged for animals (at different rates for camels and donkeys) and wagons. I have not yet found any documentation for Galilean road-tolls, but presumably Herod Antipas collected from the local traffic on roads and bridges within Galilee. In a toll-list from Coptus, Egypt (90 CE), toll-rates do appear, providing some idea of first-century rates of toll in a Roman province. They cover different classifications of people based on gender, status, and profession (e.g., 5 drachmas for a sailor, 20 drachmas for a sailor's woman); and different animals and conveyances (e.g., 1 obol for a camel, 4 drachmas for a covered wagon; Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones Selectae no. 674; Lewis and Reinhold 1990:66-67). The import duty for bringing processed fish into Palmyra in 137 CE was 10 denarii per camel load (Corpus Inscriptionum Selectae II.3, 1  3913; Matthews 1984:174-80).
The abusiveness of tax collectors is a well-attested phenomenon from the Roman era, as suggested in the Zacchaeus story (Luke 19:2-8) and the Mishnah (m.B.K.; m.Ned. 3.4; m.Toh. 7.6; Jeremias 1969:303-12). Philo's characterization of the common first-century attitude toward them is apt:
. . . for cities usually furnish them [taxes] under compulsion, and with great reluctance and lamentation, looking upon the collectors of the taxes as common enemies and destroyers, and making various excuses at different times, and neglecting all laws and regulations, and with all this obfuscation and evasion do they contribute the taxes and payments which are levied upon them (Special Laws 1.143).
Philo also tells a harrowing story of a tribute collector who harassed those in arrears and their families. The mistreatment even extended to public torture in the marketplace (Special Laws 3.159-63). From Arsinoe, Egypt (in 193 CE), we have an official complaint lodged with the local Roman centurion by a farmer and his brother against two collectors of the grain-tax and their scribe who physically assaulted the complainants' mother. The attack was precipitated because they had only paid nine out of the ten arbate that were due (Berlin Griechische Urkunden no. 515; trans. Hunt and Edgar 1934:277).
The records also indicate that there were (at least in some ancient locations) fishing police (epilimnês epistatês; or what we might call anachronistically "game wardens"), who made sure no one was fishing illegally (viz. without a fishing contract) or selling to unauthorized middlemen (Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 2  747; an epitaph from Lake Egridir in Pisidia; G. H. R. Horsley 1989:105).
4. Fishermen could form "cooperatives" (koinônoi) in order to bid for fishing contracts or leases; this is the conclusion of Wuellner (1967:23-25), based on Rostovtzeff's model for Egypt and Syria (1941:297, 1177-79). One of the most interesting observations the gospels make about the Yonah and Zebedee families is Luke's comment that they were a small-scale collective/cooperative:
. . . they signaled to their partners [metachoi] in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats . . . . For he [Simon] was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so too were James and John, Zebedee's sons, who were cooperative-members [koinônoi] with Simon (Luke 5:7, 9-10a).
Since it appears only in the Gospel of Luke, this description may be due to the evangelist's own experiences or interests rather than those of these fishermen. Yet evidence for fishing guilds in Palestine does exist for a slightly later period (j.Pes. 4.30d; j.M.K. 2.81b; b.M.K. 13b; cited in Heichelheim 1959:230n). An ancient Egyptian fishing lease from the Roman era is analyzed by Parássoglou (1987). An Egyptian papyrus from 46 CE identifies a fishing collective of thirteen fishermen and their scribe who all took an oath by the Roman emperor (Tiberius) concerning not catching sacred fish (Pubblicazioni della Societa italiana 901.7-16; Hunt and Edgar 1934:373-75). And a fishing cooperative in Asia Minor left an impressive stele dedicating the toll-house for which the cooperative paid in 54-59 CE (Die Inschriften von Ephesos Ia  20; 54-59 CE; G. H. R. Horsley 1989:18-19). This cooperative (or guild?) in Ephesus included both fishermen and fish-sellers, so that room must be made in the model for cooperation between Galilean fishing families and fish-sellers. The sureties for tax-collectors/brokers are mentioned in the Josephus quote above; but sureties given to these brokers are also mentioned in the Palmyrene "Edict on Sureties" (Matthews 1984).
Concerning the Yonah—Zebedee cooperative, G. H. R. Horsley concludes that: "the families of Peter and Andrew, and of James and John, must have been of at least moderate means, since each owned a boat and other fishing equipment; furthermore, these families were able to release two sons for a three-year period (Mark 1.16-20)" (1989:110-11). But the evidence does not require any of this reconstruction. First, given the evidence of the Hellenistic and Roman-era fishing industries, it is at least possible that the boats were actually owned by the brokers and used by the cooperative. Secondly, "moderate means" is a useless and misleading category in a peasant society without a mercantile "middle class." Even if the families owned boats, this would say no more about them than it would about a peasant farmer who owned a yoke of oxen or a flock of sheep. Thirdly, how long the Twelve were "on the road" with Jesus is manifestly unclear in the gospels. The Synoptic story line encompasses a period of one year requiring no more than six months of activity, excluding the rainy season from October to March.
I also disagree with Wuellner's analysis and conclusions about the social status of Galilean fishers. He perceives two "classes" of fishermen: those who did the actual work, and those who owned the boats and made the deals with the brokers (1967:63). He refers to members of this latter group as the "professional middle class fish catcher and fish trader" (24), prosperous from their marketplace deals (45). While he rightly points out that there are "hired laborers," I see no reason to conclude that they were in a different "social class" than the fishing families who owned boats. We see both working alongside each other in the gospels (e.g., Mark 1:20). I conclude that both of these groups were "peasants" in the broad sense, since they both live from their work in the boats. The hired laborers are in a more precarious position because their work was likely seasonal; but that does not make the members of the fishing cooperative "middle class" entrepreneurs (45-63)! Jeremias was also fond of the term "middle class" for anyone above a beggar, but the term is simply anachronistic. The ancient Egyptian observation that the fisher was "more miserable than any (other) profession" was based on the combination of physical hazards (in Egypt, storms and crocodiles) in combination with fulfilling the fishing lease ("The Satire on the Trades"; trans. Wilson 1969:433-43; also Plautus, Rudens 290-305 for fishers as low status).
Fishing techniques in the Hellenistic era were of four basic types: a) angling—a rod with hooks on flaxen line; b) casting with flaxen nets; c) fish traps; and d) pronged tridents (Wuellner 1967:17-19; Nun 1989, 1993). While angling is mentioned in the gospels (Matt 17:27), the most common mode of fishing in Galilee seems to have been with nets. Besides the generic word for "nets" (dictua; Mark 1:18 19), two different types are mentioned in the New Testament: the casting net (amphiblêstron ), used either from a boat or along the shoreline (Matt 4:18); and the much larger dragnet (sagênê), used from a boat (Matt 13:47). Greek authors, such as Oppian and Aelian, mention as many as ten different types of nets, but we are no longer able to distinguish between all of them. Nets required a great deal of attention: fishers and their hired labor ers not only made the nets, but after each outing the nets had to be mended, washed, dried and folded (Mark 1:19).
5. If there were not a sufficient number of family members in the cooperative, the fishermen had to hire laborers to help with all the responsibilities: manning the oars and sails, mending nets, sorting fish, etc. These laborers represent the bottom of the social scale in the fishing sub-system... . Both farming and fishing made use of these laborers, which might be day-laborers (e.g., Matt 20:1-16) or seasonal workers (e.g., John 4:36; Jas 5:4). That hired laborers were a necessary and important part of the Galilean economy seems inescapable if the gospels are any indication at all (e.g., Matt 9:37-38; 10:10; 20:1-16; John 4:36; 10:12-13).
6. For their work, the fishermen needed resources from farmers and artisans, including (but not limited to): flax for nets, cut stone for anchors, wood for boat building and repairs, and baskets for fish. Both the gospels and Josephus speak of boats on the Sea of Galilee for fishing and transportation. In 1986 an ancient fishing boat was discovered in the mud along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, just north of Migdal (ancient Magdala/Tarichaeae) (Raban 1988; Wachsman 1988, 1995; Wachsman, et al. 1990). Its dimensions were: 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet deep; a variety of woods were used in its construction, but it is primarily constructed of cedar and oak. Archaeologists have concluded that the boat was built between 40 BCE and 70 CE, based upon the type of construction, carbon-14 test ing, and adjacent pottery. This means that it was the type possibly used by the Yonah—Zebedee cooperative (including their sons: Peter, Andrew, James, and John). This boat originally had a sail, and places for four oarsmen and a tillerman. Boats of this size could accommodate a load in excess of one ton, which means the five crew members and their catch or cargo, or the crew and about ten passengers (Mark 6:45).
7. The fishing trade also entailed the processing of fish. During the Hellenistic era processed fish had become a food staple throughout the Mediterranean, in city and village alike. The result was the development of trade distinctions between those who caught fish, those who processed fish, and those who marketed fish. But as the Ephesus stele demonstrates, fishers and fish-sellers might work cooperatively. The distribution of the catch was also controlled by government approved wholesalers. While fish processors are not explicitly referred to in the gospels, processed fish is mentioned (John 6:9 11; also Tob 2:2).
Fish were processed for preservation and transportation as cured and pickled or dried and salted (e.g., m. Ned. 6.4); and wine could be mixed in with fish brine (m. Ter. 11.1). The Bible and the Mishnah also speak of eating fish in a variety of ways: broiled or roast ed (Luke 24:42; John 21:9; Tob 6:5), minced (m. Abod. Zar. 2.6), cooked with leeks (m. M. Sh. 2.1), with an egg (m. Betz. 2.1), or in milk (m. Hull. 8.1). Fish oil could also be used as fuel for lamps (m. Shab. 2.2) and as a medicine. The writer Athenaeus (c. 200 CE) waxes eloquent on the variations and the uses of processed fish (Deipnosophists 3.116a-121d). He also mentions "processed-fish-dealers." In the work Geoponica (a Byzantine compilation of earlier sources) we find the following recipes:
Garum, also called liquamen, is made in this way. The entrails of fish are placed in a vat and salted. Also used are whole small fish, especially smelts, or tiny mullets, or small sprats, or anchovies, or whatever small fish are available. Salt the whole mixture and place it in the sun. After it has aged in the heat, the garum is extracted in the following manner. A long, thickly woven basket is placed into the vat full of the above-mentioned fish. The garum enters the basket, and the so-called liquamen is thus strained through the basket and retrieved. The remaining sediment is allec.
The Bithynians make garum in the following manner. They use sprats, large or small, which are the best to use if available. If sprats are not available, they use anchovies, or lizard fish or mackerel, or even old allec, or a mixture of all of these. They put this in a trough which is usually used for kneading dough. They add two Italian sextarii of salt to each modius of fish and stir well so that the fish and salt are thoroughly mixed. They let the mixture sit for one night and then transfer it to a clay vat which is placed uncovered in the sun for two or three months, stirring it occasionally with sticks. Then they bottle, seal, and store it. Some people also pour two sextarii of old wine into each sextarius of fish...
1. Literary sources, inscriptions and stelae, and archaeological evidence confirm that fishing was an important and organized part of the economy throughout the Roman Empire. Despite the fact that our evidence for Galilee is fragmentary, the model advanced here is at least a beginning for understanding the complex web of participants and arrangements involved in such a complex enterprise.
2. The fishers could hardly be classed as "entrepreneurs" in such a highly regulated, taxed, and hierarchical political-economy. While the boat owners/fishers may or may not have also been involved in fish processing, this would not have made them wealthy, and certainly not "middle class," as many authors have contended, since the whole conceptualization of a middle-class is anachronistic relative to Roman Palestine. The "surplus" went to the brokers and the ruling elite. The importance of fish is further highlighted by the references in the gospels to people who eat fish and carry fish with them. That some of these references appear as metaphors or in non-historical stories does not diminish their importance as believable scenarios in a Galilean context.
3. The hostility of the general population in both Judean and early Christian sources against the telônai may have stemmed originally from the conflict in the economy: the ancient sources stereotype them as inequitable and liable to unjust treatment of the population.
4. With regard to the Jesus tradition, it seems to me that the role of Galilean fishing has been severely underrated for its impact on Jesus' network, locations of operation, aphorisms, parables, and "acts of power." It does not seem an overstatement to say that Jesus' proclamation of God's Reign had its primary audience in Galilean fishing-villages and towns. This at least partially accounts for his avoidance of Galilean cities (notably Tiberias and Sepphoris) and the snide view of his ministry by Jerusalemite elites. It may also account for the tradition of Jesus drawing crowds from the fishing regions of Tyre and Sidon. Because Jesus made his residence in the fishing village of Capernaum during his ministry and traveled up, down, and across the Sea of Galilee, the lives of these real fishing families became the fabric from which he wove many of his metaphors and told his stories. Moreover, it was his sitting in a boat, crossing the Sea, and healing and exorcising in fishing-villages which were the stories vividly told in the earliest Jesus-groups. This hardly seems tangential to our modern attempts at recapturing the dynamics of Jesus' career in his own setting.
Galilean Fishing Economy
Galilean peasants were burdened by numerous and onerous taxes, they were poor. Jesus and his disciples were poor. Fishing (on the sea of galilee) was not a "business" in any modern sense of the word. It was another aspect of the agrarian economy.
Methodologies and some evidence and references are eliminated above (but retained at the link). Further paring of the text will occur.