ISRAEL PHOTOS III -- A COLLECTION OF PHOTOS
WITH DESCRIPTIONS OF SCENES AND
SITES PERTINENT TO THE STUDY OF CHRISTIANITY
THE FISH AND THE COIN
Chromis Niloticus (musht,
St. Peter's fish, tilapia)--published by H.B. TRISTRAM
for the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1881
The tilapia also known as the musht is native to Lake
Tiberias and was observed by
nineteenth century naturalist H. B. Tristram. There are several species of
tilapia type fish in the "Sea of Galilee", a.k.a. Yam Kinnereth, Lake
And when they were come to
Capernaum, they that received the half-shekel came to Peter, and said,
Doth not your teacher pay the half-shekel?
He saith, Yea. And when he came into the house, Jesus spake
first to him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? the kings of the earth,
from whom do they receive toll or tribute? from their sons, or from
And when he said, From strangers, Jesus said unto him,
Therefore the sons are free.
But, lest we cause them to stumble, go thou to the sea, and
cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou
hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a shekel: that take, and give
unto them for me and thee.
It is assumed that if a fish has a habit of picking
things up off the bottom of a lake, it might be used by God to pick up a
coin and move in a certain direction. Archaeologists may be able
to determine what fish were used during Jesus' day in this lake if they
will find specific fish bones in strata dated to the first century.
There was an ancient stone fish pond/tank found near the docks of Capernaum
(Greek Orthodox) by archaeologists establishing Capernaum as a fishing
The tilapia (St. Peter's fish) was known to carry its small young in its mouth until
they were large enough to leave. The fish reportedly picked up small
pebbles in its mouth.
It was written that sometimes St. Peter's fish picked up bottle caps also.
There was a published story of a tilapia being found with a bottle cap in its
mouth. The St. Peter's fish was a popular menu item in restaurants around
In January in Tiberius, the St. Peter's
fish were in shallow water where there was more plankton than in the deep waters. The
people of Tiberius were using rods and reels with treble hooks at the ends of
their lines to snag the tilapia. One old man had a heavy stringers of fish for
his daily efforts.
In 1909 a traveler reported he
had seen fishing done with a string of hooks tied to a line with a weight at the
end of it and pulled rapidly through the water in order to catch the fish by
The temple taxes were
collected in the month before Passover as the lake water got warmer; that was late February -
mid March. The time of temple tax collection was recorded in the Talmud tractate Shekalim.
About this time there might have been some tilapia zilli fish moving gravel on the bottom to
build spawning pits, others might have been searching for plant material on the
bottom as one
species not only ate plankton material, but pieces of aquatic plants too.
This species as a probable St. Peter's fish was occasionally omnivorous and
might have seen a shiny object and gone to investigate. Most tilapia were
plankton eaters and mouth breeders.
According to C. Serrya, Lake Kinnereth, there were
six species of mouth breeders in the lake; mainly plankton eaters, but two were
omnivorous including tristramella sacra; a relatively large species.
Spawning pits were excavated by these fish. A fish opened its mouth and
swam along the bottom filling its mouth with sediment then spit it out at the
end of its row, and swam backwards to start the process again. The fish
guarded their nests during this process. The spawning usually happened
according to water temperatures. Near the warm springs of Tabgha the
spawning might have been early.
Snagging tilapia with a treble hook, Tiberius, January 2006
Casting out a casting net, Tiberias,
"St. Peter's Fish" from a Tiberias fish vendor's shop April
Tiberias - January 2006 -- Tilapia
I was asking the fish vendors if these were St. Peter's Fish, they answered,
In 1936 H.V. Morton reported time spent fishing and visiting fishermen on the
lake. He reported he found the legendary "St. Peter's fish," a musht
(tilapia) and opened its mouth. The mouth opens very wide as the fish
sheltered its young inside the mouth. He took out a ten piastre coin and
placed it in the fish's mouth. It fit.
In the 11/12 1993 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, a Galilean fisherman
named Mendel Nun wrote that the St. Peter's fish also known as musht fed on
plankton. He thought the Biblical St. Peter's fish was the
to a carp. The carp in the lake were introduced in more recent times, yet
authorities at the Ein Gev, House of Anchors Galilee Fishing History Museum
determined the barbel has been in the lake since ancient times. This was
also published in Mendel Nun's book. The barbel
is a bottom feeding fish that might have been attracted to shiny objects as
small fish were shiny. Mendell wrote that this fish searched the bottom
sediments for water snails and scavenged for dead fish.
It had been observed that a bluegill fish in an Indiana lake struck at a lure
during its nest building, as if it were defending its nest or territory, not
because it was hungry. A fish not normally feeding on bait might consider
it a threat during the time of its egg laying and strike at it. A species
tilapia of Galilee deposited the eggs and then the female was described as picking
them up and carrying them in her mouth until they hatched and then sheltered the
little fish in spaces in its mouth and as far as its gills.
During July 2006 I saw people fishing at the Tiberias Marina using bread as
bait. Some larger fish occasionally came in to try to feed on the
bread. The fish were skilled at bumping the bread off the line without
getting caught. Occasionally one got caught during a feeding frenzy.
Sometimes larger fish took pieces of bread thrown to them, they were shaped like
tilapiine fish, yet a positive identification of the species was not certain.
July 2006 -- Fish feeding on bread at Tiberius; the stripped
fish is a different species than St. Peter's fish. Tilapia grown in fish
ponds were fed grain as food.
A literal translation of the Gospel of Matthew indicated the coin from the
fish's mouth was a four drachma coin. A drachma was a little heavier than a denarius. A Tyrian shekel was a
Roman provincial coin worth four drachmas or one Jewish shekel. The Jewish temple
half-shekel tax was collected from the different
districts of Israel once a year. Jews from outside of Israel brought
coins for their religious taxes dues during their pilgrimages to the temple.
It was not permitted to pay this Jewish tax with coins having images of the
emperor on them. The dislike of images by the people was required by the Hebrew
books of Moses (Torah). There were also Greek four drachma (tetradrachma) silver
coins. These were from the times of Greek occupation of Galilee
and were stamped with various rulers' portraits. Money changers in the
temple converted the coins of the foreign currency to the approved priestly
coinage. Caesar Augustus (31 BC - 14 AD) minted a silver tetradrachma.
Augustus Tetradrachma -- Replica
The photo above shows an Augustus tetradrachma beside a US quarter. The
coin is about an inch in diameter and worth four shekels; the cost of the annual
temple tax for two people.
The Shekalim tractate of the Jerusalem Talmud contained
descriptions of the
temple tax. It was due by the 15 of Adar, about a month before the
Passover was sacrificed on the 14th of Nissan. The first day of eating the
unleavened bread was on the 15th of Nissan.
There is a free version of the Babylonian Talmud and the first page of Shekalim
Photos IV -- Fishing in Lake Tiberius
of the Mustard Seed
A Mustard Field
Along Highway 87-North Shore of Galilee
Seeds in the Palm of a Hand
Branching Mustard Plant Near the Jordan River/Bethsaida
Field March 1999
Upper Most Seats of the Synagogue
The Fig Tree
Mt of Olives Fig Tree April
and Pomegranate trees below Siloam in Jerusalem
Photos II fig tree page
Sycomore Fig Tree
The Good Shepherd
The Parable of the Sheep and
Harvest of Samaria
Pearl of Great Price
A First Century Synagogue at Gamala
from the Vulture Overlook
Galilee Fishing Boats
Steep Slope near the Lake
Feeding the 5,000
On the Mountain
Walking on Water
The Pool(s) of Bethesda in Jerusalem
Chapel and St. Ann Church
The Pool of Siloam in
Overlook of Siloam
Tower of Siloam
A Watch Tower in a Vineyard/Olive
Grape Vines at
Over the edge
View of Nazareth from
Basilica of the Annunciation
Healing a Paralytic in
Waterskins and Wineskins
The Fish and the Coin
Casting out a demon
The Road to Jericho
Old Roman Road
Gethsemane and the Cave
Church of the Holy
Rolling Stone Tombs - Jerusalem
Other Rolling Stone Tombs
Solar Power in Israel
Salt of the earth