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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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Fish (;;;;;;;;;; ). Fishes, strictly so called, that is, oviparous, vertebrated, cold-blooded animals, breathing water by means of gills or branchiae, and generally provided with fins, are not infrequently mentioned in the Bible, but never specifically. In the Mosaic law (), the species proper for food are distinguished by having scales and fins, while those without scales are held to be unclean, and therefore rejected. The law may have given rise to some casuistry, as many fishes have scales, which, though imperceptible when first caught, are very apparent after the skin is in the least dried. The species which were known to the Hebrews, or at least to those who dwelt on the coast, may have been very numerous, because the usual current of the Mediterranean sets in, with a great depth of water, at the Straits of Gibraltar, and passes eastward on the African side until the shoals of the Delta of the Nile begin to turn it towards the north; it continues in that direction along the Syrian shores, and falls into a broken course only when turning westward on the Cyprian and Cretan coasts. Every spring, with the sun's return towards the north, innumerable troops of littoral species, having passed the winter in the offings of Western Africa, return northward for spawning, or are impelled in that direction by other unknown laws. A small part only ascends along the Atlantic coast of Spain and Portugal toward the British Channel, while the main bodies pass chiefly into the Mediterranean, follow the general current, and do not break into more scattered families until they have swept round the shores of Palestine. The Pelagian, or truly deep sea fishes, in common with the indigenous species, remain the whole year, or come about midsummer, and follow an uncertain course more in the center and towards the deepest waters. Off Nice alone Risso found and described 315 species; and there is every reason to believe that the coasts of Tyre and Sidon would produce at least as great a number. The name of the latter place, indeed, is derived from the Phoenician word fish, and it is the oldest fishing establishment for commercial purposes known in history. Industry and security alone are wanting to make the same locality again a flourishing place in this respect. The Hebrews had a more imperfect acquaintance with the species found in the Red Sea, whither, to a certain extent, the majority of fishes found in the Indian Ocean resort. Beside these, in Egypt they had anciently eaten those of the Nile; subsequently those of the lake of Tiberias and of the rivers falling into the Jordan; and they may have been acquainted with species of other lakes, of the Orontes, and even of the Euphrates. The supply, however, of this article of food, which the Jewish people appear to have consumed largely, came chiefly from the Mediterranean; and we have the authority of , for the fact, that Phoenicians of Tyre actually resided in Jerusalem as dealers in fish, which must have led to an exchange of that commodity for corn and cattle. Those which might be eaten, because they had scales and fins, were among the most nutritious and common, probably such as still abound on the coast. It is difficult to select the most interesting of these, and to point them out with other names than are absolutely scientific, because many are unknown on our coasts, and others have names indeed, but nearly all repetitions of such as occur in England, without being of the same species.

Though the Egyptian priesthood abstained from their use, all the other castes dwelling in the valley of the Nile chiefly subsisted on the fish of the river, while they capriciously abhorred those of the sea. There was a caste of fishermen: and allusion to the artificial reservoirs and fishponds of Egypt occurs in the Prophets ().

But the Hebrews could draw only a small supply from the lake of Tiberias and the affluents of the Jordan. On the coast the great sea-fisheries were in the slack waters, within the dominion of the Phoenicians, who must have sent the supply into the interior in a cured or salted state; although the fact involves the question how far in that condition, coming out of pagan hands, consumption by a Hebrew was strictly lawful: perhaps it may be presumed that national wants had sufficient influence to modify the law. The art of curing fish was well understood in Egypt, and unquestionably in Phoenicia, since that industrious nation had early establishments for the purpose at the Golden Horn or Byzantium, at Portus Symbolorurn in Tauric Chersonesus, and even at Calpe (Bisepharat?), in the present bay of Gibraltar. With regard to the controversy respecting the prophet Jonah having been swallowed by a huge sea-monster [WHALE], it may be observed that great cetaceans occur in the Mediterranean, as well as great sharks, and that, in a case where the miraculous intervention of Almighty power is manifest, learned trifling about the presence of a mysticete, or the dimensions of its gullet, is out of place.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Fish'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​f/fish.html.
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