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"The Holy Land" is strictly an inland tract of mountains, for the Israelites had no possessions on the coast, the one part of which belonged to the Phœnicians, the other to the Philistines, whose chief god was Dagon, having the face and hands of a man, the body of a fish (1 Sam. v. 4).

Their one river is the Jordan, too rapid, too muddy, too deep in its hot rocky bed for angling to be either pleasurable or profitable. The smaller streams (Kishon and Jabbok) were on the confines, and were alternately dry and rushing torrents. Of its three lakes, the largest (the Dead Sea) was almost entirely destitute of all life, animal and vegetable (with the exception, it is said, of some molluscs,—Sargus salvianus and Melanopsis); so that the only fishing preserves were the Lake of Gennesaret and the pools of Heshbon (Cant. vii. 4). We learn that they used both a drag-net and a hook for catching them (Is. xix. 8).

Beyond mention of the fact of the creation of fish generally, and the Mosaic division of their species into the clean and unclean, and their incidental mention in our Lord's history as an article of food, and of the occupation of fishing as a parabolic illustration, fish enter but little into the phraseology of the Bible, and not a single species is named, if we except the whale. Josephus notices that the species found in the Jordan and Lake of Gennesaret are identical with those in the Nile. Recent explorers have confirmed that opinion, and found some that belong only to the African families. They are chiefly of the bream, carp, and perch tribes, the shoals of which, coming up at night to the mouths of the warm springs of the two Bethsaidas, are most extraordinary, often thickly covering an acre of water. The Siluroids were held by Egyptians, as well as Hebrews, to be unfit for food, on sanitary grounds. The following Table will show the extent of the Palestine fisheries, and the species recently found.


N.B.–T.=Tristram; H.=Houghton; R.=Rolleston.

Waters. English Name. Ichthyological Species. Remarks.
Gennesaret, L.


Chromis Nilotica. H.

Clarias macracanthus. T.

Coracinus. T.

The Siluroids are unfit for food, and are the "bad fish cast away" by the fishermen (Matt. xiii. 47, 48.).

  Hemichromis. T.

Unknown to science, but found by Livingstone in S.E. Africa.




Labeo barbus canis. H.  
Jabbok, R. Barbel. Barbus longiceps.

The Jabbok swarms with fish, swimming in a continuous line, coming and going. T.

Jordan, R.




Cyprinodon Hammonis. H.

These all die on reaching the Dead Sea, where they are devoured by the birds waiting for them (see Ezek. xlvii. 10).

Kishon, R. Blenny. Blennius lupulus.

Fewer fish in the streams flowing westward than in those flowing eastward.



Hebrew and Greek. Animal Supposed. Remarks.
Jonah's Fish. (Jonah i. 17.)

Dâg gadöl.


Shark (?).

The Hebrew only speaks of "a great fish," without particular specification; but in Matt. xii. 40, that fish is translated "whale" (ketos); but the Greek, like the Hebrew, is general, and strictly means only a "sea-monster." A whale has too contracted a throat to swallow a man; but sharks capable of doing so are not uncommon in the Mediterranean now.

Tobit's Fish.


Sheat-fish (?).


As Tobit's fish leaped out of the Tigris to attack a man (contrary to the habits of any known fish), it may have been a crocodile, or one of the Siluridaz. Bochart says that Galen and Dioscorides prescribed the gall of the sheat-fish as an eye-salve. T.


(Ex. xxx. 34;

Ecclus. xxiv. 15.)





Twice referred to: once as one ingredient of the holy perfume of the tabernacle; once, in the Apocrypha, as emitting a delicious odour. The name "onyx" means a "claw" or "nail;" and so the small shell on the foot of many molluscs, with which the larger shell is closed, gets its name. From this smaller shell, or valve, part of the ingredients of the compound "frankincense" were obtained. Many species of it are found in the Red Sea, and shells of the largest kind are familiar to us as old-fashioned chimney ornaments. R.


(Job xxviii. 18.)



Pearl oyster.

Avicula Margaritifera.

Only once named in the Old Testament, often in the New; always as a jewel. The pearl oyster is abundant in the Persian Gulf, and Red Sea. Its shell ("mother of pearl") is still a commodity of general traffic in Palestine, being carved by the peasants into religious ornaments.

Purple (fish). Argaman.

Purple fish

Murex brandaris. M. trunculus.

A valuable dye (which Lydia sold), traditionally said to come from a small vessel in the throat of a shellfish. Tyrian purple (or fiery red) was of two kinds, one light (i.e. scarlet), the other dark (i.e. crimson); and probably, by admixture with other colours, various shades of purple, and even blue, may have been subsequently invented. The art of extracting it, known to the Phoenicians, is lost. It was so costly as to be one of the peculiar insignia of royalty or official distinction.


(Ex. vii. 9; x. 12; Deut. xxxii. 33; Ps. xci. 13; Jer. li. 34.)



Some land-monster.

Dragon, or serpent (?).

The Hebrew word means a "monster" in animal life. In Gen. i. 21, "great whale" is generic of all monsters created out of water; but in Lam. iv. 3 the "whale" is specifically mentioned by one who knew its habits, and its classification among mammalia. Two species of dolphin have been found in the Mediterranean, and another in the Red Sea; but true whales are also to be found in the former. R.

(Job vii. 12; Ps. lxxiv. 13, 14; Is. xxvii. 1; Ezek. xxix.3; xxxii. 2.)  

Some sea-monster. Crocodilus (?).

See Leviathan

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