Peter the Fisherman

Tomorrow, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. I look at Peter the Fisherman who was made a “fisher of men”. In particular, one may wonder what kind of boat he had to earn his living. In this article, I concentrate on the Galilean fishing boat.

We often see representations of the kind of boats used by fishermen on the Sea of Galilee in New Testament times. There are many mentions of boats and nets as used by some of the Apostles who were fishermen. Jesus preached from a boat at least on one occasion. There was a storm on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus was seen walking on the water and calmed the storm. The Synoptic gospels of Mark (i.14–20), Matthew (iv.18–22), and Luke (v.1–11) narrate Jesus recruiting four of his Apostles from the Galilean shores. The fishermen among the twelve were Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and there are James and John. We remember the episode of the miraculous catch and the feeding of five thousand people. The Sea of Galilee is constantly present.

The mosaic representation below shows a boat with a short mast stepped nearer the stern than the bow, fitted with a yard and apparently a square sail. I have the impression that there are three oars on each side of the boat.

jesusboat01A boat dating from New Testament times was discovered in 1986 on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee. What is seen here would be the part of the hull that would have been under the waterline and which was preserved by the mud.

jesusboat02The boat is described in the illustration below of a reconstruction. The draft was very shallow to allow the boat to be beached. There is no evidence connecting the boat to Jesus or his disciples, but fishing boats were (are are) generally built to follow a local tradition.

jesusboat03We see a simple square rig with a “fancy” stern post and stem post jointed onto the keel. The boat is steered by an oar fixed to the port aft quarter and a deck is seen to the fore. The mast appears to have no shrouds or forestay, and would have been fixed in place by the mast step. There are two halyards to haul up the yard and the sail, two braces and two sheets for the bottom yard. Such a rig would allow broad reaching and running. The boat would have to be rowed closer to the wind.

jesusboat04Here is a romantic representation of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. The boat is of about the right size with apparently fourteen persons on board. The man just besides the helmsman appears to be Jesus. One person is heaving his guts over the side (weather beam!). A crewman desperately  works to get the jib down. The mainsail is torn and a rope with a pulley has broken, perhaps the main halyard or one of the port shrouds. The representation is indeed dramatic! I doubt that a boat of that time would have been rigged with a jib.

jesusboat05This Byzantine icon represents a very “modern” rig with a spreader on the mast like modern yachts. The rig is lug or Lateen. This rig points better into the wind, especially if there is some kind of device to reduce drift, like the keel on a modern yacht or the centreboard on a dinghy. However, the historical discovery gives no indication of such a device.

jesusboat06This is a popular style of representing the boats of the Sea of Galilee, again with a lug or Lateen rig and a fairly “modern” hull. The stern is a “canoe” stern, but no rudder or tiller can be seen in this drawing.

The Sea of Galilee is a very large inland lake, which can be treacherous in bad weather, even without the tidal currents we get at sea. Waves up to ten feet have been known and many boats have foundered.

After this article about Peter’s boat, I give a link to an interesting Wikipedia article on the man himself Saint Peter.

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