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Ichthys (also Ichthus or Ikhthus //), 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 and now known colloquially as the "sign of the fish" or the "Jesus fish."
This explanation is given among others by Augustine in his Civitate Dei, 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. Augustine quotes also an ancient text from the Sibylline oracles whose verses are an acrostic of the generating sentence.
Historians[who?] 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.
Having resurrected, Jesus is offered some broiled fish and honeycomb 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 God's decision on who will go to heaven or to hell ("the fiery furnace") 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. In 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 fish is also used by Jesus to describe "the Sign of Jonah". (Matthew 12:13-45) This is symbolic of the resurrection of Christ upon which the entire Christian faith is based. ( 1 Corinthians 1:1-58)
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. Another probable explanation is that it is a reference to the scripture in which Jesus miraculously feeds 5,000 people with fish and bread (Matthew 14:15-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:12-17, and John 6:4-13). The ichthys may also relate to Jesus or his disciples as "fishers of men" (e.g., Mark 1:17). Tertullian, in his treatise On Baptism, makes a pun on the word, writing that "we, little fishes, after the example of our ΙΧΘΥΣ Jesus Christ, are born in water." Still another explanation could be the reference to 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.
Fish were used as symbols before Christianity; it has been associated with Aphrodite, Atargatis, Dagon, Ephesus, Isis, Delphine and Pelagia. The fish has also been used to symbolize Pisces, the Zodiac sign.
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.
Ichthus Music Festival is an annual large outdoor Christian music festival held every year in mid-June in the town of Wilmore, Kentucky.
Distortions of the Ichthys symbol in modern culture rely on its use as a "Jesus fish" symbol of Christianity. Examples include:
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