“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.” (Matthew 13:47–48)
Fishing for a living is hard work today, and it was hard work in the time of the New Testament. Rowing was heavy work, and hauling in weighted nets hanging heavy with fish is no easy task. In ancient Israel fishing was often done at night when it was cooler, and the fish couldn’t see you. The days were spent fixing nets and taking the fish to market. For far flung markets, time was taken to pickle the fish or lay them out in the sun to dry. Other fish, especially sardines, would be taken to Magdala to be salted before export. They would have been a familiar scene for Mary Magdalene. There were a dozen or so harbours dotted around the Sea of Galilee, and archaeologists have discovered stone anchors, weights and even an entire first century boat.
Fishing itself was a varied task. Some would go out with hook and line, but more commonly nets were used. First there was a cast net which was large, circular and had weights around the edge. They looked like large versions of those doilies with beads around the edges which used to sit over the water glasses of aged grandmas. Larger was the dragnet, about a hundred metres long and three metres wide. One long edge had floats, and the other was weighted with large stones. It was simple in concept: stretch it out about one hundred metres from the shore, and then drag it in. Once hauled up onto the shore, you could then pick through the fish caught up as it came in.
The most complicated net was the trammel net, and it is still used on Galilee today. This was a sandwich of three nets, with the middle layer being a fine net with a one inch grid. About thirty metres long, three or four would be tied together to make one longer net. Once set out, people would splash into the water from the shore scaring the fish into the mesh where they would become tangled.
There was money to be made from fishing, but it was hard-earned. The work was heavy, difficult and tiring. It took time and preparation. When Jesus promised the disciples they would be fishers of men, he didn’t have in mind a pleasant day casting a line into the Wye. This was work.