Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ichthys (ιχθύ;ς in the Greek alphabet, also transliterated Ichthus, Icthus, Ikhthus, etc), is the Greek word for "fish". It refers to a symbol consisting of two intersecting arcs resembling the profile of a fish, used by the early Christians as a secret symbol and now known colloquially as the Jesus fish.
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.
There are several theories as to why the fish was chosen. It may relate to Jesus as a "fisher of men" or it may be an acronym relating the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ to the statement of Christian faith "Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ" (Iesous Christos Theou Huios Soter meaning "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour").
Or it 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, 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, as told by the Gospel of John, Jesus catches exactly 153 fish. It is thought by some scholars that the story is a coded reference to the Vesica Piscis.
The name Ichthys was associated also with Adonis, the central character in one of the 1st century mystery religions (specifically, the version used in Syria). Like many other mystery religions, the religion of Adonis adopted certain mystic aspects of Greek philosophy, which may have included the Vesica Piscis of Pythagoras.
Some theories about the Historicity of Jesus suggest that Christianity adopted certain beliefs and practices as syncretism of certain mystery religions, and this may be the origin of the Icthys into Christian circles.
Adaptations of the symbol
The ichthys symbol has been re-adopted by modern Christians as a badge, often with the word "JESUS" in the centre of the symbol. Applied to the rear bumper of the 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.
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)
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.
Parodies of the Icthys symbol
One parody of the symbol is the normal fish with feet attached and the word "DARWIN" in the middle. The symbol was adapted as a parody of the "Jesus fish" phenomenon. Some owners of the symbol say it represents their anti-religious worldview while others say it represents their objection to the notion that Christianity is opposed to science. See also Darwin fish.
Another lesser known parody of the symbol is the ichthys with tentacles. This is supposed to represent one of the fictional Great Old Ones: Cthulhu. In the Cthulhu Mythos stories, Cthulhu is an evil godlike being who would supposedly lay waste to the world if ever awoken from his slumber in the sunken city of R'lyeh.
Furthering the satirization of the Ichthus symbols adorning vehicles in the United States, a "Trek fish" depecting a stylized Star Trek starship was developed. Unlike the "Darwin fish" the "Trek fish" is not meant to proffer any socio-ideological view, but simply an affectionateness towards Star Trek.
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.
In astrology, an astrological age is determined by the constellation in which the Sun appears during the vernal equinox. Since each sign on the zodiac belt shifts an average of one degree in 70 years, while 360/12 = 30, each astrological age lasts 70 x 30 = 2,100 years. The astrological age of Pisces coincided with the birth of Jesus Christ — approximately 2,000 years ago.
Babylonian mythology tells of two fishes that pushed ashore a giant egg, from which emerged the fertility corn-goddess Atargatis and her lover-son Ichthys, who dies and is reborn annually. The myth of Ichthys and the sign Pisces later became connected with Christianity. Directly across the zodiac from Pisces lies the sign of Virgo, symbolizing the virgin grain goddess of ancient Greece and also connected with the Virgin Mary of Christian mythology, whose birthday is liturgically celebrated on September 8, when the sun crosses the midpoint of the sign Virgo.
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