Ichthys (Greek: ἰχθύς; also transliterated and latinized as ichthys, icthus, or ikhthus), is the Greek word for "fish." It refers to a symbol consisting of two intersecting arcs resembling the profile of a fish, used by early Christians as a secret symbol and now known colloquially as the "Jesus fish."
While some fish symbols predate Christianity, relating to fertility, female genitalia, and fish, this particular symbol seems to have been used primarily by early Christians to inform one another of their particular faith.
It is believed that societies of Christians in the early Roman Empire, prior to the Edict of Milan, protected their congregations by keeping their meetings secret. In order to point the way to ever-changing meeting places, they developed a symbol which adherents would readily recognize, and which they could scratch on rocks, walls and the like, in advance of a meeting. Another story suggests that the ichthys was used as a sort of secret handshake: one person would draw with a staff a single curve, (half of the ichthys) in the sand, and another person could confirm their identity as a Christian by completing the symbol. Alternatively, one would draw the symbol, and another person would confirm their faith by drawing an eye on it.
There are several hypotheses as to why the fish was chosen. The most probable is that it is a reference to the scripture in which Jesus miraculuously feeds 5000 people with fish and bread (Matthew 14:15-21, Luke 9:12-17, and John 6:4-13). The ichthys also may relate to Jesus as a "fisher of men," or an acronym of the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ (Iota Chi Theta Upsilon Sigma) to the statement of Christian faith "᾿Ιησοῦς Χριστὸς Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ" (Iēsous Christos Theou Huios Sōtēr: "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior").
Though there is no direct evidence, the ichthys may simply be an adaptation of the mystic/mathematical symbol known as the Vesica piscis. The length-height ratio of the vesica piscis, as expressed by the mystic and mathematician Pythagoras, is 153:265, a mystical number known as "the measure of the fish." In the biblical story in which Jesus aids his disciples to catch fish, Jesus catches exactly 153 fish.
Other reasons include the fact that the Apostles of Christ were often referred to as "fishers of men" (Mark 1:17: "Come after Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.") Some other sources also suggest that fish symbol was chosen because the Hebrew pronounciation of "Christ" is very similar to that of "fish" in Hebrew.
Some theories about the Historicity of Jesus suggest that Christianity adopted certain beliefs and practices as a syncretism of certain mystery religions, and this may be the origin of the Icthys into Christian circles. However, there is very little evidence of such mystery religions surfacing until after the rise of Christianity.
Adaptations of the symbol
The ichthys symbol has been re-adopted by modern Christians as a badge, often with the word "JESUS" in the center of the symbol. Applied to the rear bumper of a car, the symbol is used to indicate to the world that the owner is a Christian. Historically, this adaptation was based on an earlier symbol which included a fish with the Greek letters "ΙΧΘΥΣ" or "ΙΧΘΥΣ" or a small cross. These letters are sometimes confused for the Latin letters "IXOYE".
Local businesses in some areas will incorporate the symbol into their logo.
It is important to note that not all cars displaying this symbol do so for Christian reasons. Certain car manufacturers (for example some in the UK), use this symbol on certain brands of car (for example, the Alfa Romeo).
This badge may also be seen in email signatures with the symbols "<><".
Another adaptation of ichthys is a wheel which contains the letters ΙΧΘΥΣ superimposed in such a way such that the final collection looks like a common wagon-wheel.
Other symbolism associated with the fish
The constellation Pisces comprises a set of dim and scattered stars that trace the images of two widely separated fish joined by a knotted cord. One fish, swimming upward, faces east toward Aries, while the other fish swims westward toward Aquarius along the plane of the ecliptic. The directions of motion of the two fish form a cross, the symbol of the Christian religion -- the upright line of the cross representing spirit and the horizontal line signifying matter.
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Ichthys (also Ichthus or Ikhthus /ˈɪkθəs/), 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.
ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthys) is an acronym 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 (Υἱός), Greek for "Son".
* Sigma (s) is the first letter of sōtēr (Σωτήρ), Greek for "Savior".
Asymmetric, Closed shape, Monochrome, Contains curved lines, Has crossing lines.
Ichthys is part of the Christian Symbols group.
More symbols in Religious Symbols:
Religious symbolism is the use of symbols, including archetypes, acts, artwork, events, or natural phenomena, by a religion. Religions view religious texts, rituals, and works of art as symbols of co… read more »
For the natural gas field, see Ichthys gas field. For the suffix "-ichthys" as used in taxonomy, see List of commonly used taxonomic affixes. For the mountain and promontory of ancient Elis, see Ichthys (Elis).
The ichthys or ichthus (), from the Greekikhthū́s (ἰχθύς, 1st cent. AD Koine Greek pronunciation: [ixˈθys], "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. The symbol was adopted by early Christians as a secret symbol. It is now known colloquially as the "sign of the fish" or the "Jesus fish".
The first appearances of the ichthys in Christian art and literature date to the 2nd century AD. The symbol's use among Christians had become popular by the late 2nd century, and its use spread widely in the 3rd and 4th centuries. In early Christian history, the ichthys symbol held "the most sacred significance", and Christians used it to recognize churches and other believers through this symbol because they were persecuted by the Roman Empire. The ichthys symbol is also a reference to "the Holy Eucharist, with which the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes had such intimate connection both in point of time and significance." The symbol concerns the belief in the Most Holy Trinity since the early Christian communities. Depicted in the Catacomb of Saint Sebastian and of saint Priscilla the Martyr, it is also mentioned in the Latin text titled Oracula Sibillina which dates back to the 1st-2nd century.
ἸΧΘΥΣ (IKhThUS), or also ἸΧΘΥϹ with a lunate sigma, is an acronym or acrostic for "Ἰησοῦς Χρῑστός Θεοῦ Υἱός Σωτήρ", Iēsoûs Khrīstós, Theoû Huiós, Sōtḗr; contemporary Koine, which translates into English as 'Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior'.
- Iota (i), Iēsoûs (Ἰησοῦς), "Jesus"
- Chi (ch), Khrīstós (Χρῑστός), "anointed"
- Theta (th), Theoû (Θεοῦ), "of God", the genitive singular of Θεóς, Theós, "God"
- Upsilon (y or u), (h)uiós (Yἱός), "Son"
- Sigma (s), sōtḗr (Σωτήρ), "Savior"
Augustine quotes an ancient text from the Sibylline oracles whose verses are an acrostic of the generating sentence.
The statement "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" affirmed the belief of early Christians in the twofold nature, of Jesus Christ being both fully human and fully divine. The belief in Jesus Christ being true Man and true God completes the Most Holy Trinity, that is the basic article of the Christian faith.
A fourth century A.D. adaptation of ichthys as a wheel contains the letters ἸΧΘΥΣ superimposed such that the result resembles an eight-spoked wheel.
Egon Friedell speculates in his Cultural History of Antiquity, that the symbol of the fish may refer to the astrological age of pisces, which started at around the time of the establishment of Christianity. Thus, the symbol may have been used to symbolise the starting of a new age.
In the Gospels
Fish are mentioned and given symbolic meaning several times in the Gospels. Several of Jesus' 12 Apostles were fishermen. He commissions them with the words "I will make you fishers of men". (Mark 1: 16-18)
Having been resurrected, Jesus was given grilled fish in Luke 24:41-43.
At the feeding of the five thousand, a boy is brought to Jesus with "five small loaves and two fish". The question is asked, "But what are they, among so many?" Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish to feed the multitude.
In Matthew 13:47-50, the Parable of Drawing in the Net, Jesus compares the angels separating the righteous from the wicked at the end of this world to fishers sorting out their catch, keeping the good fish and throwing the bad fish away.
In John 21:11, it is related that the disciples fished all night but caught nothing. Jesus instructed them to cast the nets on the other side of the boat, and they drew in 153 fish. When they return to shore with their catch, Jesus is waiting for them and has cooked some fish for them to eat.
In Matthew 17:24-27, upon being asked if his Teacher 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 fish is also used by Jesus to describe "the Sign of Jonah". (Matthew 12:38-45) This is symbolic of Jesus's resurrection, upon which the entire Christian faith is based. (1 Corinthians 15:1-58)
In the Book of Tobit
In the DeuterocanonicalBook of Tobit, by Raphael the Archangel's order, the young cousin and future spouse of Sarah captures a fish while it tries to swallow his feet, washing in the river Tigris. Then he is instructed how to offer it, in order to be saved from the daemon Asmodeus.
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"
There are several other hypotheses as to why the fish was chosen. Some sources indicate that the earliest literary references came from the recommendation of Clement of Alexandria to his readers (Paedagogus, III, xi) to engrave their seals with the dove or fish. However, it can be inferred from Roman monumental sources such as the Cappella Greca and the Sacrament Chapels of the catacomb of St. Callistus that the fish symbol was known to Christians much earlier.
In popular culture
Main article: Variations of the ichthys symbol
In the 1970s the "Jesus Fish" started to be used as an icon of modern Christianity. In 1973 the symbol and message was taken to the Aquarius Rock Festival in Nimbin, Australia. 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. Versions of this include an Ichthys with "Jesus" or "ΙΧΘΥΣ" in the centre, or simply the Ichthys outline by itself. According to one writer, while many Christians hang a cross necklace or rosary inside their vehicles, "the fish sticker on the car is a more conscious symbol of a witnessing Christian—significantly, unlike the former, it is on the outside of the car for everyone to see."
The Ichthus Music Festival is an annual large outdoor Christian music festival held in mid-June in Wilmore, Kentucky. It is the oldest Christian music festival in the United States, starting in 1970.
In 2016, a Unicode glyph encoding on code point 1F9XX for the ichthys symbol was proposed.
- ^"ichthus". Oxford English Dictionary (third ed.). 2007.
- ^Los Angeles Times (1 April 2008). "Evolution of religious bigotry". latimes.com.
- ^Rasimus, T. (2011). "Revisiting the Ichthys: A Suggestion Concerning the Origins of Christological Fish Symbolism". Pp 327-348 in Mystery and Secrecy in the Nag Hammadi Collection and Other Ancient Literature: Ideas and Practices. Biblical Studies, Ancient Near East and Early Christianity E-Books Online, Collection 2012, 76.
- ^Jowett, Garth S.; O'Donnell, Victoria (11 March 2014). Propaganda & Persuasion. SAGE Publications. p. 86. ISBN .
- ^Healy, J (Feb 1884). "The Holy Wells of Ireland". The Irish Monthly. 12 (128): 89.
- ^"The Christian symbols: the language of faith" (in Italian).
- ^"The Galleries of the Cemetery".
- ^Carletti, Carlo (November 20, 2009). "Il segno del vincitore". L'Osservatore Romano (in Italian). Retrieved April 3, 2021.
- ^Christian H. Bull, Liv Ingeborg Lied, John D. Turner, editors (2012). Mystery and Secrecy in the Nag Hammadi Collection and Other Ancient Literature: Ideas and Practices. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV. p. 327. ISBN .CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- ^The initial "h" was sometimes pronounced, depending on dialect and period, but in Ionic orthography the "h" sound was written with the rough breathing diacritical mark attached to the upsilon, not with a full letter (Ὺιός), and so would not be used to form a backronym. By the Early Christian period, the aspirate was probably lost in most popular varieties of Greek.
- ^Sibylline oracles, Book viii, 284-330 (Greek text, 217-250)
- ^Christian H. Bull, Liv Ingeborg Lied, John D. Turner, editors (2012). Mystery and Secrecy in the Nag Hammadi Collection and Other Ancient Literature: Ideas and Practices. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV. pp. 340, 343. ISBN .CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- ^Luke 24:41-43
- ^Matthew 13:47-50
- ^John 21:11
- ^Matthew 17:24-27
- ^Tobit 6:1-9
- ^Elesha Coffman (August 8, 2008). "What is the origin of the Christian fish symbol?". christianitytoday.com.
- ^"Christian symbols: Fish (Ichthus), cross and crucifix". religioustolerance.org. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
- ^Garbowski, Christopher (27 January 2014). Religious Life in Poland: History, Diversity and Modern Issues. McFarland. p. 222. ISBN .
- ^See, Robison, Greg, Christian Rock Festivals, (New York: The Rosen Publishing Co., 2009), p.7
- ^West, Andrew (2016). "Proposal to encode an Ichthys symbol"(PDF). unicode.org. Retrieved 2020-04-12.
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Symbol text ichthys
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