Sir Thomas Browne (1683) Certain Miscellany Tracts. Tract III: Of the Fishes eaten by our Saviour with His Disciples after His Resurrection from the Dead, pp. 96-101.
Resurrection from the Dead.
I have thought, a little, upon the Question proposed by you [viz. What kind of Fishes those were1 of which our Saviour ate with his Disciples after his Resurrection?2] and I return you such an Answer, as, in so short a time for study, and in the midst of my occasions, occurs to me.
The Books of Scripture (as also those which are Apocryphal) are often silent, or very sparing, in the particular Names of Fishes; or in setting them down in such manner as to leave the kinds of them without all doubt and reason for farther inquiry. For, when it declareth what Fishes were allowed the Israelites for their Food, they are onely set down in general which have Finns and Scales;3 whereas, in the account of Quadrupeds and Birds, there is particular mention of divers of them.4 In the Book of Tobit that Fish which he took out of the River is onely named a great Fish,5 and so there remains much uncertainty to determine the Species thereof. And even the Fish which swallowed Jonah, and is called a great Fish,6 and commonly thought to be a great Whale, is not received without all doubt; while some learned men conceive it to have been none of our Whales, but a large kind of Lamia.7
And, in this narration of S. John, the Fishes are onely expressed by their Bigness and Number, not their Names, and therefore it may seem undeterminable what they were; notwithstanding, these Fishes being taken in the great Lake or Sea of Tiberias, something may be probably stated therein. For since Bellonius, that diligent and learned Traveller, informeth us, that the Fishes of this Lake were Trouts, Pikes, Chevins and Tenches; it may well be conceived that either all or some thereof are to be understood in this Scripture. And these kind of Fishes become large and of great growth, answerable unto the expression of Scripture, One hundred and fifty three great Fishes; that is, large in their own kinds, and the largest kinds in this Lake and fresh Water, wherein no great variety, and of the larger sort of Fishes, could be expected. For the River Jordan, running through this Lake, falls into the Lake of Asphaltus, and hath no mouth into the Sea, which might admit of great Fishes or greater variety to come up into it.
And out of the mouth of some of these forementioned Fishes might the Tribute money be taken, when our Saviour, at Capernaum, seated upon the same Lake, said unto Peter, Go thou to the Sea, and cast an Hook, and take up the Fish that first cometh; and when thou has opened his mouth thou shalt find a piece of money; that take and give them for thee and me.8
And this makes void that common conceit and tradition of the Fish called Faber-marinus, by some, a Peter or Penny Fish;9 which having two remarkable round spots upon either side, these are conceived to be the marks of S. Peter’s Fingers or signature of the Money: for though it hath these marks, yet is there no probability that such a kind of Fish was to be found in the Lake of Tiberias, Geneserah or Galilee, which is but sixteen miles long and six broad, and hath no communication with the Sea; for this is a mere Fish of the Sea and salt Water, and (though we meet with some thereof on our Coast) is not to be found in many Seas.
Thus having returned no improbable Answer unto your Question, I shall crave leave to ask another of your self concerning that Fish mention'd by Procopius,10 which brought the famous King Theodorick to his end: his words are to this effect: “The manner of his Death was this. Symmachus and his Son-in-law Boëthius, just men and great relievers of the poor, Senatours and Consuls, had many enemies, by whose false accusations Theodorick being perswaded that they plotted against him, put them to death and confiscated their Estates. Not long after his Waiters set before him at Supper a great Head of a Fish, which seemed to him to be the Head of Symmachus lately murthered; and with his Teeth sticking out, and fierce glaring eyes to threaten him: being frightened, he grew chill, went to Bed, lamenting what he had done to Symmachus and Boëthius; and soon after died.” What Fish do you apprehend this to have been? I would learn of you; give me your thoughts about it.
I am, &c.
Original marginalia are in green.
1. Ms. Sloan. 1827 reads "of what kind those little fish were, which fed the multitude in the wilderness, or which …" &c.
2. S. Joh. 21.9, 10, 11, 13. On the third occasion he visited the apostles: “As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. … Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.”
3. In Leviticus 11:9-12. “These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.”
4. For instance, Lev. 11:13-24; among the unclean flying things, eagles, ossifrages, osprays, kites, all ravens, nighthawks, cuckoos, bats, and pelicans.
5. Tobit 6:2-7, 16-17; 8:2-3; 11:4-13. “He” is Tobias, not Tobit, and the fish is “great” only by implication: “And when the young man went down to wash himself, a fish leaped out of the river, and would have devoured him.” Most of the fish is eaten by Tobias and Raphael. What is left has a most surprising career. Tobias has a dog who accompanies him on his adventures. The dog’s breed is not specified.
6. Jon. 1:17: “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
7. That is, a shark.
8. Matt. 17:27.
9. A number of fish species, mostly salt-water, including John Dory (Zeus faber) and haddock (Gadus æglefinus), are called ”St Peter’s Fish” for the reason given by Browne.
10. De Bello Gothico, lib. 1 c. 1. It took Theodoric several days to die, apparently of “a chill”. Gibbon notes that Procopius might have done better to inform us where he got this tale, whether from the attending physicians or from idle tittle-tattle.
This page is by James Eason.