IXThUS.

#FunFactFriday – Because TGIF!

ix009Hello! Hope this post meets you well. Today’s fun fact is about: The Fish Symbol.

The Fish symbol originates from the Greek word for fish:

Ichthys or Ichthus (/ˈɪkθəs/),

Greek: ikhthýs (ἰχθύς, meaning “fish”), is a symbol consisting of two intersecting arcs, the ends of the right side extending beyond the meeting point so as to resemble the profile of a fish.


EARLY CHRISTIAN USE

It was used by early christians as a secret christian symbol and is now known colloquially as the “sign of the fish” or the “Jesus fish“.

According to tradition, ancient christians, during their persecution by the Roman Empire in the first few centuries after Christ, used the fish symbol to mark meeting places and tombs, or to distinguish friends from foes. During the early days of christianity when christians were often put to death for practicing their faith, they worshiped in secret places. A fish painted on the outside door of a house let other Christians know that they would be safe and welcome inside.

During the persecution of the early Christians, they communicated with each other by drawing a symbol of a fish consisting of two intersecting curved lines. The practice was that when two would meet, one would draw half the symbol upon the ground with the foot and the other, to show like belief, would complete the drawing.

According to one ancient story, this actually happened: when one Christian met a stranger in the road, the Christian drew one arc of the simple fish outline in the dirt and the stranger drew the other arc in response so that both believers knew they were in good company.


CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN USE

The symbol was rebirthed in the early 1970s to become an icon of modern Christianity recognized around the world. Today, it can be seen as an emblem on the rear of automobiles or as pendants of necklaces as a sign that the owner is a Christian.

It is even incorporated into business logos or in business advertisements and listings in telephone books. It is also seen on clothing. Some versions of this include an Ichthys with “Jesus” or “ΙΧΘΥΣ” in the center, or simply the Ichthys outline by itself.

Ichthys_C-Class  Jesus_Fish_variation_promoting_Evolutionary_Creation_-_Theistic_Evolution


Symbolic meaning

The Greek acronym “IXThUS” (meaning ‘fish’) derives from the first letters of this early statement of belief: “Iesous Xristos Theos Uios Soter” meaning: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.
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ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthus) is an acronym/acrostic for “Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ“, (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr), which translates into English as “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”.

  • Iota (i) is the first letter of Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς), Greek for “Jesus”.
  • Chi (ch) is the first letter of Christos (Χριστός), Greek for “anointed”.
  • Theta (th) is the first letter of Theou (Θεοῦ), Greek for “God’s”, the genitive case of Θεóς, Theos, Greek for “God”.
  • Upsilon (y) is the first letter of (h)uios (Υἱός), Greek for “Son”.
  • Sigma (s) is the first letter of sōtēr (Σωτήρ), Greek for “Savior”.

This explanation is given among others by Augustine in his Civitate Dei, where he notes that the generating sentence ” Ἰησοῦς Χρειστὸς [sic] Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ” has 27 letters, i.e. 3 x 3 x 3, which in that age indicated power. It has been said that this suggestion is obviously spurious and resulted from Augustine’s ignorance of Greek.

Nevertheless, the fish has plenty of other theological overtones as well, we all know Jesus Christ fed the 5,000 with 2 fishes and 5 loaves and called his disciples “fishers of men.” Water baptism, practiced by immersion in the early church, created a parallel between fish and converts.

Second-century theologian Tertullian puts it this way:

We, little fishes, after the image of our Ichthys, Jesus Christ, are born in the water.


PAGAN ORIGINS

Many christians will be shocked to find that the fish symbol has deep pagan origins and roots in pagan fertility awareness and sexuality.

Ichthys was the offspring son of the ancient Sea goddess Atargatis, and was known in various mythic systems as Tirgata, Aphrodite, Pelagia or Delphine. The word also meant “womb” and “dolphin” in some tongues, and representations of this appeared in the depiction of mermaids.

The fish also a central element in other stories, including the Goddess of Ephesus (who has a fish amulet covering her genital region), as well as the tale of the fish that swallowed the penis of Osiris, and the fish was also considered a symbol of the vulva of Isis.

Along with being a generative and reproductive spirit in mythology, the fish symbol also has been identified in certain cultures with reincarnation and the life force. Sir James George Frazer noted in his work, “Adonis, Attis, Osiris: Studies in the History of Oriental Religion” (Part Four of his larger work, “The Golden Bough” that among one group in India, the fish was believed to house a deceased soul, and that as part of a fertility ritual specific fish is eaten in the belief that it will be reincarnated in a newborn child.

Well before Christianity, the fish symbol was known as “the Great Mother,” a pointed oval sign, the “vesica piscis” or Vessel of the Fish. “Fish” and “womb” were synonymous terms in ancient Greek, “delphos.” Its link to fertility, birth, feminine sexuality and the natural force of women was acknowledged also by the Celts, as well as pagan cultures throughout northern Europe.

Is there a plausible explanation? Well, I tried to find one, so here goes! 

Because the Greeks, Romans, and many other pagans used the fish symbol before christians, the fish symbol, unlike, the cross, attracted little suspicion, making it a perfect secret symbol for the early christians to use during their time of persecution.

Critics of the fish symbol still decry it as tacky or point out that the symbol carries a lot of baggage from the days when pagans used it to represent fertility or, more specifically, the female reproductive organs.

It must be acknowledged that no symbol means the same thing to all people at all times. The evidence that early christians succeeded in transforming an already powerful symbol proves their interpretive creativity, not their ignorance or a tendency to amalgamate or appropriate other religions, cultures, or schools of thought.

What would you say, should we be weary of this symbol?

Selah!


LINKS

Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/asktheexpert/oct26.html

Got Questions: http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-fish-symbol.html

Godless Geeks: http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/fish_symbol.htm

Icthys Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichthys

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