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Title: Ιχθυσ  
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Subject: Christianity, Churches of Göreme, Turkey, Quigley South
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Ichthys (also Ichthus or Ikhthus /ˈɪkθəs/[1]), from the Koine Greek word for fish: ἰχθύς, (capitalized ΙΧΘΥΣ or ΙΧΘΥϹ) 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, used by early Christians as a secret Christian symbol[2] and now known colloquially as the "sign of the fish" or the "Jesus fish."[3]


Symbolic meaning

ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthys) is an acronym/acrostic[4] for "Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ", (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr), which translates into English as "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior".

  • 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 (Θεου), Greek for "God's", the genitive case of Θεóς, Theos, Greek for "God".
  • Ypsilon (y) is the first letter of (h)yios[5] (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,[6] where he notes that the generating sentence "Ίησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ Υἱός Σωτήρ" has 27 letters, i.e. 3 x 3 x 3, which in that age indicated power.[7] Augustine quotes also an ancient text from the Sibylline oracles[8] whose verses are an acrostic of the generating sentence.

Historians say the 20th-century use of the ichthys motif is an adaptation based on an Early Christian symbol which included a small cross for the eye or the Greek letters "ΙΧΘΥΣ".

A fourth century A.D. adaptation of ichthys as a wheel contains the letters ΙΧΘΥΣ superimposed such that the result resembles an eight-spoked wheel.[9]

Fish in the Gospels

Fish are mentioned and given symbolic meaning several times in the Gospels. Several of Jesus' twelve Apostles were fishermen. He commissions them with the words "I will make you fishers of men".

Having resurrected, Jesus is offered some broiled fish and honeycomb in Luke 24:41-43.

At the Matthew 17:24-27, upon being asked if his Teacher does pays the temple (or two-drachma) tax, Simon Peter answers yes. Christ tells Peter to go to the water and cast a line, saying that a coin sufficient for both of them will be found in the fish's mouth. Peter does this and finds the coin.

The early church

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:

According to one ancient story, when a Christian met a stranger in the road, the Christian sometimes drew one arc of the simple fish outline in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, both believers knew they were in good company. Current bumper-sticker and business-card uses of the fish hearken back to this practice.
Christianity Today, Elesha Coffman, "Ask The Expert"[2]

There are several other hypotheses as to why the the sign of Jonah. Just like he was in the belly of a big fish, so Christ was crucified, entombed for three days, and then rose from the dead.

Pre-Christian origins

Fish may have been used as symbols before Christianity,[12] possibly representing several goddesses;[13] it has been associated with Aphrodite, Atargatis, Dagon, Ephesus, Isis, Delphine and Pelagia.[14] Barbara Walker, in her book The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, suggests that Ichthys was the son of the sea goddess Atargatis and that his symbol was a representation of sexuality and fertility.[15] The fish has also been used to symbolize Pisces, the Zodiac sign. The Sun was in Pisces, the fish, on the Vernal Equinox shortly before the founding of Christianity and, depending on the line of demarcation, may remain so for approximately 600 more years,[16] though this is a topic of debate: see Astrological age.

Revival and adaptations of the symbol

Popular culture

The "Jesus Fish" was rebirthed in the early 70s to become an icon of modern Christianity recognized around the world. It was caused through a chain of circumstances. First the Vietnam War caused distrust and peaceful rebellion within the younger generations of Americans and Australians. In 1973 they brought the symbol and message to the Aquarius Rock Festival in Nimbin Australia. From there it became a household symbol around the world. Today, it can be seen as a decal or emblem on the rear of automobiles or as pendants or necklaces as a sign that the owner is a Christian. It is incorporated into business logos or in business advertisements and listings in telephone books. It is also seen on clothing. Versions of this include an Ichthys with "Jesus" or "ΙΧΘΥΣ" in the center, or simply the Ichthys outline by itself.

It can also be seen in Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, where a character explains that it represents the center, interlocking part of a Venn diagram, symbolic of reality itself which is supposedly formed by the intersection of two higher, warring planes of existence. This does not work unless the tail is removed, which yields the Vessica Pisces—the center of a Venn diagram of two overlapping circles.

Music festival

Ichthus Music Festival is an annual large outdoor Christian music festival held every year in mid-June in the town of Wilmore, Kentucky.

Parodies of the ichthys symbol

Distortions of the Ichthys symbol in modern culture rely on its use as a "Jesus fish" symbol of Christianity.[17] Examples include:

  • A right-facing ichthys-style symbol with legs, representing evolution. Occasionally it has "Darwin" printed inside.
  • A left-facing ichthys-style symbol with the words "Was a Jew" written inside, representing historical accuracy.
  • An ichthys-style symbol with legs (representing evolution) & a single strand of DNA running through the center.
  • An ichthys-style symbol with the word "gefilte" written inside, a reference to the common Ashkenazi Jewish food, gefilte fish.
  • An ichthys-style symbol with tentacles on the face of the fish, with or without legs and/or wings, and the name of H. P. Lovecraft's fictional deity Cthulhu written inside.
  • An ichthys-style symbol with legs, horns, and the lower tail-fin removed leaving a tail. Representing a "devil dog" and occasionally with "Satan" written inside.
  • An ichthys-style symbol with 3 noodle-like appendages on each end and 2 stalk eyes protruding from the top is used by Pastafarians to represent The Flying Spaghetti Monster.
  • In the Futurama episode "Hell Is Other Robots" the robot Bender affixes a fish with an antenna and the word "ROBOT" inside to the Planet Express spaceship.
  • A larger ichthys symbol eating a smaller "Darwin" parody ichthys (or vice versa).
  • An ichthys-style symbol with sandalled feet, a smile and sunglasses. The word "Dudeism" is written inside, a reference to Dudeism, a religion based on Taoism and the movie The Big Lebowski.
  • An ichthys-style symbol on its tail, resembling a SF rocket-ship (like the Hugo Award). Sometimes with flames emerging from the bottom, or the word "MARS" inside.
  • An ichthys-style fish with a pipe, with the word "bob" written inside, as reference to Sub Genius.

See also

Christianity portal


External links

  • Coins of the Emperor Augustus
  • Coins of the Emperor Domitian
  • Darwin fish symbols on cars are an act of ‘ritual aggression’
  • on early Christians in general including martyrdom
  • Roger Forster
  • Ichthus Music Festival The longest running Christian music festival in the nation having been started in 1970 as a Christian response to Woodstock.
  • Origin of the "Christian" Fish Symbol
  • Principal Christian Symbols: The Fish (Ichthus), Cross & Crucifix Extensive explanations on several popular Christian symbols, including the ichthys
  • Symbolism of the Fish - Catholic Encyclopedia article
  • The Harvard Ichthus, Journal of Christian Thought
  • An Exploration of Fish Symbolism Across Cultures
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