Going fishing.

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
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Ben C. Smith
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Going fishing.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Oct 05, 2017 1:35 pm

Lately I have been mulling over the multifaceted symbolism surrounding fish in the early Christian record.

Introduction

It seems to me that there are at least four facets to explore:
  • The Jesus fish (known both from the famous acrostic and from catacomb art).
  • The eucharistic fish.
  • The disciples as fishermen.
  • The resurrection fish.
I would include the presence of fish at the feedings of the 5000 and 4000 under the category of eucharistic fish. My reasons will hopefully be clear when the time comes.

When I started this process, I thought it entirely possible that some strong symbol like the Jesus fish would turn out to be the most likely catalyst for the entire complex of symbolism; I also thought it entirely possible that the disciples may well have really been fishermen, and this simple historical fact both influenced the piscine symbolism and drove it in certain directions. Neither of these options turned out to be the case in my current view. I was trying, really, to find a single point of departure for the whole set of symbols, a single etiology, but now I think that there were (at least) two completely independent etiologies. This result should not be too terribly surprising or seemingly at odds with Ockham's Razor, since the simple concept of fish is in itself a very common symbol across many, many cultures. It is to be expected that very common symbols might be appropriated and reappropriated as the need or desire arises within a cultural memescape. A biological analogy might be how flying seems to have evolved independently several times in evolutionary history (at least once for insects, once for birds, and again for bats, and I think I remember there being probably more).

It may be helpful to list all instances of fish in the New Testament and in the apostolic fathers, since I had this list before me the entire time I was thinking about the matter. I followed a very unusual procedure to compile this list: I digitally searched for the English terms related to fish or fishing. I did this because there are rather many different words for fish or fishing in Greek, and I was more likely to miss an instance in Greek than in English, which has a more limited vocabulary on this generic level. Nevertheless, I may have missed something, so feel free to pitch in. Again, however, to be clear, I was trying to exhaust only the New Testament and the apostolic fathers:

Matthew 4.18-22: 18 And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers [ἁλιεῖς]. 19 And He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers [ἁλιεῖς] of men." 20 And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him. 21 And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

Mark 1.16-20: 16 And as He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishers [ἁλιεῖς]. 17 And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers [ἁλιεῖς] of men." 18 And they immediately left the nets and followed Him. 19 And going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.

Luke 5.1-11: 1 Now it came about that while the multitude were pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishers [ἁλιεῖς] had gotten out of them, and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the multitudes from the boat. 4 And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 And Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets." 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish [ἰχθύων]; and their nets began to break; 7 and they signaled to their partners in the other boat, for them to come and help them. And they came, and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish [ἰχθύων] which they had taken; 10 and so also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.

Matthew 7.10: 10 "Or if he shall ask for a fish [ἰχθὺν], he will not give him a snake, will he?"

Luke 11.11: 11 "Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish [ἰχθὺν]; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish [ἰχθύος], will he?"

Matthew 13.47-50: 47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering of every kind; 48 and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down, and gathered the good into containers, but the bad they threw away. 49 So it will be at the end of the age; the angels shall come forth, and take out the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and will cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Matthew 14.13-21: 13 Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself; and when the multitudes heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. 14 And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick. 15 And when it was evening, the disciples came to Him, saying, "The place is desolate, and the time is already past; so send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16 But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!" 17 And they said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish [ἰχθύας]." 18 And He said, "Bring them here to Me." 19 And ordering the multitudes to recline on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish [ἰχθύας], and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave to the multitudes, 20 and they all ate, and were satisfied. And they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. 21 And there were about five thousand men who ate, aside from women and children.

Mark 6.30-44: 30 The apostles gather together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. 31 And He says to them, "Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while." (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) 32 They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves. 33 They saw them going, and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. 35 When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, "This place is desolate and it is already quite late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." 37 But He answered them, "You give them something to eat!" And they say to Him, "Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?" 38 And He says to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go look!" And when they found out, they say, "Five, and two fish [ἰχθύας]." 39 And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish [ἰχθύας], and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish [ἰχθύας] among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish [ἰχθύων]. 44 There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.

Luke 9.10-17: 10 When the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done. Taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida. 11 But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing. 12 Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, "Send the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place." 13 But He said to them, "You give them something to eat!" And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish [ἰχθύες], unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people." 14 (For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, "Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each." 15 They did so, and had them all sit down. 16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish [ἰχθύας], and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full.

John 6.1-13: 1 After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). 2 And a great multitude was following Him, because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. 3 And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Jesus therefore lifting up His eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to Him, said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?" 6 And this He was saying to test him; for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. 7 Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little." 8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, 9 "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish [ὀψάρια], but what are these for so many people?" 10 Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish [ὀψαρίων] as much as they wanted. 12 And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost." 13 And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten.

Matthew 15.32-39: 32 And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, "I feel compassion for the multitude, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not wish to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way." 33 And the disciples said to Him, "Where would we get so many loaves in a desolate place to satisfy such a great multitude?" 34 And Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven, and a few small fish [ἰχθύδια]." 35 And He directed the multitude to sit down on the ground; 36 and He took the seven loaves and the fish [ἰχθύας]; and giving thanks, He broke them and started giving them to the disciples, and the disciples in turn, to the multitudes. 37 And they all ate, and were satisfied, and they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, seven large baskets full. 38 And those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And sending away the multitudes, He got into the boat, and came to the region of Magadan.

Mark 8.1-10: 1 In those days again, when there was a great multitude and they had nothing to eat, He called His disciples and said to them, 2 "I feel compassion for the multitude because they have remained with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat; 3 and if I send them away hungry to their home, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a distance." 4 And His disciples answered Him, "Where will anyone be able to find enough to satisfy these men with bread here in a desolate place?" 5 And He was asking them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven." 6 And He directed the multitude to sit down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the multitude. 7 They also had a few small fish; and after He had blessed them, He ordered these to be served as well. 8 And they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces. 9 And about four thousand were there; and He sent them away. 10 And immediately He entered the boat with His disciples, and came to the district of Dalmanutha.

Matthew 17.24-27: 24 And when they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter, and said, "Does your teacher not pay the didrachma tax?" 25 He said, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll tax, from their sons or from strangers?" 26 And upon his saying, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Consequently the sons are exempt. 27 "But, lest we give them offense, go to the sea, and throw in a hook, and take the first fish [ἰχθὺν] that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me."

Luke 24.33-43: 33 And they arose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, "The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon." 35 And they began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. 36 And while they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst. 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38 And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." {א, A, B, W: 40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.} 41 And while they still could not believe it for joy and were marveling, He said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish [ἰχθύος]; 43 and He took it and ate it before them.

John 21.1-14: 1 After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. 2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing [ἁλιεύειν]." They said to him, "We will also come with you." They went out, and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus therefore said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish [προσφάγιον], do you?" They answered Him, "No." 6 And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch." They cast therefore, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish [ἰχθύων]. 7 That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." And so when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish [ἰχθύων]. 9 And so when they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid, and fish [ὀψάριον] placed on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish [ὀψαρίων] which you have now caught." 11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of large fish [ἰχθύων], a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?" knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread, and gave them, and the fish [ὀψάριον] likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.

1 Corinthians 15.39: 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish [ἰχθύων].

Mark 6.47-52: 47 When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. 48 Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He comes to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. 49 But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and says to them, "Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid." 51 Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, 52 for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.

Matthew 4.18-22: 18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He says to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

Mark 1.16-20: 16 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.

Matthew 13.47-50: 47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; 48 and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. 49 So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Matthew 17.24-27: 24 When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the didrachma tax?" 25 He says, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll tax, from their sons or from strangers?" 26 When Peter said, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are exempt. 27 However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me."

Ignatius to the Magnesians 11[.1]: [1] I am not writing these things, my beloved, because I have learned that some of you are behaving like this. But as one who is less important than you I want to protect you from being snagged by the fish hooks [άγκιστρα] of worthless ideas. You should be fully convinced of the birth and suffering and resurrection that occurred in the time of the governor Pontius Pilate. These things were truly and certainly done by Jesus Christ, our hope. From this hope may none of you turn away.

Barnabas 6.12, 18: 12 For the Scripture speaks about us when he says to his Son, "Let us make humans according to our image and likeness, and let them rule over the wild beasts of the land and the birds of the sky and the fish [ἰχθύων] of the sea." Once the Lord saw our beautiful form, he said "Increase and multiply and fill the earth." He said these things to the Son. .... 18 For he already said above, "Let them increase and multiply and rule over the fish [ἰχθύων]." Who can now rule over wild beasts and fish [ἰχθύων] and birds of the sky? For we ought to realize that ruling is a matter of authority, so that the one who issues commands is the master.

Barnabas 10.1, 5, 10: 1 And when Moses said, "Do not eat the pig, or the eagle, or the hawk, or the crow, or any fish [ἰχθύν] without scales," he received three firm teachings in his understanding. .... 5 "And do not," he says, "eat the lamprey-eel, the octopus, or the cuttlefish. You must not," he says, "be like such people, who are completely impious and condemned already to death." For these fish [ἰχθύδια] alone are cursed and hover in the depths, not swimming like the others but dwelling in the mud beneath the depths. .... 10 And David received the knowledge of the same three firm teachings and spoke in a similar way: "How fortunate is the man who does not proceed in the counsel of the impious" (like the fish [ἰχθύες] who proceed in darkness in the depths) "and does not stand in the path of sinners" (like those who appear to fear God but sin like the pig) "and does not sit in the seat of the pestilent" (like the birds who sit waiting for something to seize). Here you have a perfect lesson about food.

So which facet derives from which? I have to split up my posts because of their size.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Wed Mar 07, 2018 10:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Going fishing.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Oct 05, 2017 1:37 pm

The Jesus Fish

The Jesus fish turned out to be a poor starting point because it lacks a recorded motive as a symbol for Jesus. Sure, one can easily imagine some unsubstantiated religious group worshiping a deity like Dagon or Oannes who eventually morphed into Jesus, but the evidence is lacking; also, the "savior" bit of "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" feels tacked on to me, present in the acrostic simply to complete the word "fish" (ἰχθὺς in Greek). I judge the connection of Jesus to the fish to be late and secondary. The acrostic first shows up in the Sibylline Oracles:

Sibylline Oracles 8.217-250:

ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΕΙΣΤΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ ΣΤΑΥΡΟΣ

Ἱδρώσει δὲ χθών, κρίσεως σημεῖον ὅτ' ἔσται.
Ἥξει δ' οὐρανόθεν βασιλεὺς αἰῶσιν ὁ μέλλων,
Σάρκα παρὼν πᾶσαν κρῖναι καὶ κόσμον ἅπαντα.
Ὄψονται δὲ θεὸν μέροπες πιστοὶ καὶ ἄπιστοι
Ὕψιστον μετὰ τῶν ἁγίων ἐπὶ τέρμα χρόνοιο.
Σαρκοφόρων δ' ἀνδρῶν ψυχὰς ἐπὶ βήματι κρίνει,

Χέρσος ὅταν ποτὲ κόσμος ὅλος καὶ ἄκανθα γένηται.
Ῥίψουσιν δ' εἴδωλα βροτοὶ καὶ πλοῦτον ἅπαντα.
Ἐκκαύσει δὲ τὸ πῦρ γῆν οὐρανὸν ἠδὲ θάλασσαν
Ἰχνεῦον, ῥήξει τε πύλας εἱρκτῆς Ἀίδαο.
Σὰρξ τότε πᾶσα νεκρῶν ἐς ἐλευθέριον φάος ἥξει
Τῶν ἁγίων· ἀνόμους δὲ τὸ πῦρ αἰῶσιν ἐλέγξει.
Ὁππόσα τις πράξας ἔλαθεν, τότε πάντα λαλήσει·
Στήθεα γὰρ ζοφόεντα θεὸς φωστῆρσιν ἀνοίξει.

Θρῆνος δ' ἐκ πάντων ἔσται καὶ βρυγμὸς ὀδόντων.
Ἐκλείψει σέλας ἠελίου ἄστρων τε χορεῖαι.
Οὐρανὸν εἱλίξει· μήνης δέ τε φέγγος ὀλεῖται.
Ὑψώσει δὲ φάραγγας, ὀλεῖ δ' ὑψώματα βουνῶν,

Ὕψος δ' οὐκέτι λυγρὸν ἐν ἀνθρώποισι φανεῖται.
Ἶσα δ' ὄρη πεδίοις ἔσται καὶ πᾶσα θάλασσα
Οὐκέτι πλοῦν ἕξει. γῆ γὰρ φρυχθεῖσα τότ' ἔσται
Σὺν πηγαῖς, ποταμοί τε καχλάζοντες λείψουσιν.

Σάλπιγξ δ' οὐρανόθεν φωνὴν πολύθρηνον ἀφήσει
Ὠρύουσα μύσος μελέων καὶ πήματα κόσμου.
Ταρτάρεον δὲ χάος δείξει τότε γαῖα χανοῦσα.
Ἥξουσιν δ' ἐπὶ βῆμα θεοῦ βασιλῆος ἅπαντες.
Ῥεύσει δ' οὐρανόθεν ποταμὸς πυρὸς ἠδὲ θεείου.

Σῆμα δέ τοι τότε πᾶσι βροτοῖς, σφρηγὶς ἐπίσημος
Τὸ ξύλον ἐν πιστοῖς, τὸ κέρας τὸ ποθούμενον ἔσται,
Ἀνδρῶν εὐσεβέων ζωή, πρόσκομμα δὲ κόσμου,
Ὕδασι φωτίζον κλητοὺς ἐν δώδεκα πηγαῖς·
Ῥάβδος ποιμαίνουσα σιδηρείη γε κρατήσει.
Οὗτος ὁ νῦν προγραφεὶς ἐν ἀκροστιχίοις θεὸς ἡμῶν
Σωτὴρ ἀθάνατος βασιλεύς, ὁ παθὼν ἕνεχ' ἡμῶν.

JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, SAVIOUR; CROSS

And the earth shall perspire, when there shall be the sign of judgment. And from heaven shall come the King who for the ages is to be, present to judge all flesh and the whole world. Faithful and faithless mortals shall see God the Most High with the saints at the end of time. And of men bearing flesh he judges souls upon his throne, when sometime the whole world shall be a desert and a place of thorns. And mortals shall their idols cast away and all wealth. And the searching fire shall burn earth, heaven, and sea; and it shall burn the gates, of Hades' prison. Then shall come all flesh of the dead to the free light of the saints; but the lawless shall that fire whirl round and round, for ages. Howsoever much one did in secret, then shall he all things declare; for God shall open dark breasts to the light. And lamentation shall there be from all and gnashing of teeth. Brightness of the sun shall be eclipsed and dances of the stars. He shall roll up the heaven; and of the moon the light shall perish. And he shall exalt the valleys and destroy the heights of hills, and height no longer shall appear remaining among men. And the hills shall with the plains be level and no more on any sea shall there be sailing. For the earth shall then with heat be shriveled and the dashing streams shall with the fountains fall. The trump shall send from heaven a very lamentable sound, howling the loathsomeness of wretched men and the world's woes. And then the yawning earth shall show Tartarean chaos. And all kings shall come unto the judgement seat of God. And there shall out of heaven a stream of fire and brimstone flow. But for all mortals then shall there a sign be, a distinguished seal, the wood among believers, and the horn fondly desired, the life of pious men, but it shall be stumbling block of the world, giving illumination to the elect by water in twelve springs; and there shall rule a shepherding iron rod. This one who now is in acrostics which give signs of God thus written openly, the Savior is, Immortal King, who suffered for our sake.

The Jesus fish shows up in catacomb art:

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And certain church fathers described Jesus himself as a fish in symbolic terms:

Tertullian, On Baptism 1.1-3: 1 De Sacramento aquae nostrae qua ablutis delictis pristinae caecitatis in vitam aeternam liberamur non erit otiosum digestum istud, instruens tam eos qui cum maxime formantur quam et illos qui simpliciter credidisse contenti, non exploratis rationibus traditionum, temptabilem fidem per imperitiam portant. 2 atque, adeo nuper conversata istic quaedam de Caina haeresi vipera venenatissima doctrina sua plerosque rapuit, imprimis baptismum destruens. plane secundum naturam: nam fere viperae et aspides ipsique reguli serpentes arida et inaquosa sectantur. 3 sed nos pisciculi secundum ιχθὺν nostrum Iesum Christum in aqua nascimur, nec aliter quam in aqua permanendo salvi sumus. itaque illa monstrosissima, cui nec integre quidem docendi ius erat, optime norat necare pisciculos de aqua auferens. / 1 This discussion of the sacred significance of that water of ours in which the sins of our original blindness are washed away and we are set at liberty unto life eternal, will not be without purpose if it provides equipment for those who are at present under instruction, as well as those others who, content to have believed in simplicity, have not examined the reasons for what has been conferred upon them, and because of inexperience are burdened with a faith which is open to temptation. 2 And in fact a certain female viper from the Cainite sect, who recently spent some time here, carried off a good number with her exceptionally pestilential doctrine, making a particular point of demolishing baptism. Evidently in this according to nature: for vipers and asps as a rule, and even basilisks, frequent dry and waterless places. 3 But we, being little fishes, as Jesus Christ is our great Fish, begin our life in the water, and only while we abide in the water are we safe and sound. Thus it was that that portent of a woman, who had no right to teach even correctly, knew very well how to kill the little fishes by taking them out of the water.

Notice the juxtaposition of Jesus as the "great fish" with believers as "little fishes" — I suspect, based on information which I will lay out below, that the latter symbolism arose first, and then Jesus was made out to be a fish on that basis.

The Eucharistic Fish

If the Jesus fish is a development out of previous fish symbolism, then whence did the original symbolism arise? We are left with three principal options, I think: the fish present after the resurrection, the disciples as fishermen, and the fish as a eucharistic symbol.

The eucharistic fish is, I think, fairly easy to explain:
  1. Fish were symbolic in Greek and Roman culture and at feasts (broad symbolism).
  2. Fish were also symbolic in Jewish culture, especially as Leviathan at the messianic feast (specific symbolism).
  3. Fish, as a symbol of the messianic meal, were thence transferred to the eucharistic meal.
The concept of sacred fish was widespread in Greek and Roman society. There was the Piscus Austrinus constellation (one of Ptolemy's 48):

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And there are specific references to sacred fish in the literature. For example:

Julian the Apostate, Oration 5 (Hymn to the Mother of the Gods): But after this, we are forbidden to feed on any kind of fish, the reason of which is, a problem in common with us and the Egyptians. But it appears to me, that any one may, with great propriety, always abstain from fish, for two reasons, and especially in purifying ceremonies: In the first place, because it is not proper to feed on things which we sacrifice to the gods; and here, indeed, I shall have no occasion to fear being accused of gluttony, which I recollect was once the case, should any one enquire why we do not frequently sacrifice these to the gods; for we have something to offer in reply to this interrogation. And we sacrifice these, indeed, O blessed man, in certain telestic rites; just as the Romans sacrifice a horse, and, both Greeks and Romans, many other animals and wild beasts, as, for instance, dogs to Hecate: and among other nations, in telestic sacrifices, such like victims are offered, once or twice a year. But this is not the case in the most honoured sacrifices, through which alone we are rendered worthy of entering into communion and banqueting with the gods. Hence, we do not sacrifice fishes in the most venerable rites, because we neither feed on them, nor take any care of their propagation; nor, lastly, have we any herds of fishes, as we have of oxen and sheep; for as these animals are assisted and multiplied through the attention which we pay to them, they are on this account useful to us for other purposes, and for honourable sacrifices to the gods: and this is one reason why I do not think it is proper to feed on fish during the time of the purifying rites. But the other reason, and which, I think, harmonizes better with what has been before said, is this, that fishes being after a certain manner merged in the profundities of the earth, are more terrestrial than seeds; but he who desires to fly away, and soar sublimely above the air to the very summit of the heavens, will justly abhor every thing of this kind, and will pursue and convert himself to natures tending towards the air, and hastening to arduous sublimities, and, that I may speak in poetical language, beholding the heavens.

IG XII.3 330, an inscription on Thera dated to circa 210-195 BC, specifies a funerary meal of "sacrificial sheep" (ἱερείου) and "cake and bread and pastry and t[hre]e fish" (ἐλλύταν καὶ ἄρτον καὶ πάρακα καὶ ὀψάρια τ[ρί]α).

In Jewish culture, fish became associated with Leviathan, the marine creature upon whose defeated corpse the faithful would feast during the messianic age:

2 Baruch 29.1-8: 29 1 And He answered and said unto me: "Whatever will then befall (will befall) the whole earth; therefore all who live will experience (them). 2 For at that time I will protect only those who are found in those self-same days in this land. 3 And it shall come to pass when all is accomplished that was to come to pass in those parts, that the Messiah shall then begin to be revealed. 4 And Behemoth shall be revealed from his place and Leviathan shall ascend from the sea, those two great monsters which I created on the fifth day of creation, and shall have kept until that time; and then they shall be for food for all that are left. 5 The earth also shall yield its fruit ten-thousandfold and on each (?) vine there shall be a thousand branches, and each branch shall produce a thousand clusters, and each cluster produce a thousand grapes, and each grape produce a cor of wine. 6 And those who have hungered shall rejoice: moreover, also, they shall behold marvels every day. 7 For winds shall go forth from before Me to bring every morning the fragrance of aromatic fruits, and at the close of the day clouds distilling the dew of health. 8 And it shall come to pass at that self-same time that the treasury of manna shall again descend from on high, and they will eat of it in those years, because these are they who have come to the consummation of time."

This association, I suggest, made fish a good symbol for a eucharistic meal designed to foreshadow the messianic feast. Catacomb art seems to associate fish with the eucharistic meal, but not strictly with the Last Supper, as Robin Margaret Jensen writes on page 59 of Understanding Early Christian Art:

Thus, given the compositional details of the scenes, the meals should not be identified as actual agape meals or eucharists, although they may symbolically be related by virtue of the basic theme of eating together with Christ. The New Testament texts that seem most relevant are not narratives of the miraculous feeding or even the Last Supper, although these are obviously connected. The key texts are those that refer to the heavenly banquet (Luke 13:29; 14:15-24; Mark 14:25 and parallels) or describe Jesus' postresurrectional meals. Moreover, given the sepulchral setting of the paintings — not an insignificant matter — the eschatological significance of these postdeath meals not only fits the context, but simultaneously connects the images most closely with the tradition of the funeral banquet.

I believe that the earliest Christian eucharist was bread and some kind of liquid (either water or wine). Fish became symbolically involved only as the symbolism developed. The feedings of the 5000 and the 4000 seem to me to symbolize, at bare minimum, the eschatological feast and bounty expected during the messianic age, and they have strong overlaps with descriptions of the eucharist (the presence of bread; the verbs "took, broke, blessed, and gave"); thus they attracted this fish symbolism to themselves quite naturally. They are not the origin of the symbolism, but are rather a result of it. I have pointed out elsewhere that the bread seems to be an integral part of both feedings whereas the fish appear to be somewhat superfluous.

Once fish was associated with the eucharist, at least symbolically (I am not sure how often it may have made its literal way into the feast itself), it found itself attached not only to eucharistic catacomb art but also to literary and epigraphic treatments of the eucharist:

Inscription of Abercius of Hieropolis: The citizen of a chosen city, this [monument] I made [while] living, that there I might have in time a resting-place of my body, [I] being by name Abercius, the disciple of a holy shepherd who feeds flocks of sheep [both] on mountains and on plains, who has great eyes that see everywhere. For this [shepherd] taught me [that the] book [of life] is worthy of belief. And to Rome he sent me to contemplate majesty, and to see a queen golden-robed and golden-sandalled; there also I saw a people bearing a shining mark. And I saw the land of Syria and all [its] cities; Nisibis [I saw] when I passed over Euphrates. But everywhere I had brethren. I had Paul ... Faith everywhere led me forward, and everywhere provided as my food a fish of exceeding great size, and perfect, which a holy virgin drew with her hands from a fountain and this it [faith] ever gives to its friends to eat, it having wine of great virtue, and giving it mingled with bread. These things I, Abercius, having been a witness [of them] told to be written here. Verily I was passing through my seventy-second year. He that discerneth these things, every fellow-believer [namely], let him pray for Abercius. And no one shall put another grave over my grave; but if he do, then shall he pay to the treasury of [the] Romans two thousand pieces of gold and to my good native city of Hieropolis one thousand pieces of gold.

Inscription of Pectorius of Autun: Divine race of the celestial fish, make use of a pious heart, as you, one among mortals, receive the immortal spring of oracular waters. Refresh your soul, friend, with the ever-flowing waters of wealth-giving wisdom. Receive the honey-sweet food of the savior of the saints. As you hunger, eat a fish that you hold in the palms of your hands. Bring satisfaction with a fish, for which I yearn, Lord Savior. I pray to you, light of the dead, that my mother rests well. My father Aschandius, dear to my heart, along with my sweet mother and brothers, remember your Pectorius in the peace of the fish. [Interpretation of Religious Symbols in the Graeco-Roman World: A Case Study of Early Christian Fish Symbolism, by Laurence Harold Kant, appendix 1.]

The "divine race of the celestial fish" would be Christians, who are indeed called a race in Christian literature:

Apology of Aristides 2.2 [addressed to Hadrian, emperor 117-138]: Φανερὸν γάρ ἐστιν ἡμῖν, ὦ βασιλεῦ, ὅτι τρία γένη εἰσὶν ἀνθρώπων ἐν τῷδε τῷ κόσμῳ, ὧν εἰσὶν οἱ τῶν παρ' ὑμῶν λεγομένων θεῶν προσκυνηταί, καὶ Ἰουδαῖοι, καὶ Χριστιανοί. / 2 For it is clear to us, O king, that there are three races of men in this world, of whom there are the worshipers of what are called gods by you, and Jews, and Christians. [The Syriac and Armenian have four races, and specify them as Barbarians and Greeks, Jews and Christians.]

The "fish that you hold in the palms of your hands" is probably the eucharist:

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 23.21-22: 21 In approaching therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers spread; but make thy left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then after having carefully hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest thou lose any portion thereof; for whatever thou losest, is evidently a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members. For tell me, if any one gave thee grains of gold, wouldest thou not hold them with all carefulness, being on thy guard against losing any of them, and suffering loss? Wilt thou not then much more carefully keep watch, that not a crumb fall from thee of what is more precious than gold and precious stones? 22 Then after thou hast partaken of the Body of Christ, draw near also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth thine hands, but bending, and saying with an air of worship and reverence, Amen , hallow thyself by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. And while the moisture is still upon thy lips, touch it with thine hands, and hallow thine eyes and brow and the other organs of sense. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who hath accounted thee worthy of so great mysteries.

It would be nice if this eucharistic origin for early Christian fish symbolism, rooted in eschatological expectations of the messianic banquet, could account for the other two fishy aspects I have yet to discuss — the postresurrectional fish and the disciples as fishermen — but alas, I do not think it can.

The Resurrection Fish

The postresurrectional fish in John and Luke certainly looks like it could be eucharistic:

John 21.2-14: 2 Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter says to them, "I am going fishing." They say to him, "We will also come with you." They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 So Jesus says to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered Him, "No." 6 And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch." So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved says to Peter, "It is the Lord." So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish. 9 So when they got out on the land, they see a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. 10 Jesus says to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have now caught." 11 Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus says to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?" knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus comes and takes the bread and gives it to them, and the fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.

Luke 24.36-43: 36 While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and says to them, "Peace be to you." 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38 And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave Him a piece of a roasted fish [ἰχθύος ὀπτοῦ μέρος; the Byzantine adds: καὶ ἀπὸ μελισσίου κηρίου, "and of a honeycomb"]; 43 and He took it and ate it before them.

Luke has an Ignatian parallel here:

Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 3.1-3: 1 Ἐγὼ γὰρ καὶ μετὰ τὴν ἀνάστασιν ἐν σαρκὶ αὐτὸν οἶδα καὶ πιστεύω ὄντα. 2 καὶ ὅτε πρὸς τοὺς περὶ Πέτρον ἦλθεν, ἔφη αὐτοῖς· Λάβετε, ψηλαφήσατέ με καὶ ἴδετε, ὅτι οὐκ εἰμὶ δαιμόνιον ἀσώματον. καὶ εὐθὺς αὐτοῦ ἥψαντο καὶ ἐπίστευσαν, καρθέντες τῇ σαρκὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ τῷ πνεύματι. διὰ τοῦτο καὶ θανάτου κατεφρόνησαν, ηὑρέθησαν δὲ ὑπὲρ θάνατον. 3 μετὰ δὲ τὴν ἀνάσασιν συνέφαγεν αὐτοῖς καὶ συνέπιεν ὡς σαρκικός, καίπερ πνευματικῶς ἡνωμένος τῷ πατρί. / 1 For I know and believe that he was in the flesh even after the resurrection. 2 And when he came to those who were with Peter, he said to them, "Reach out, touch me and see that I am not a bodiless daimon." And immediately they touched him and believed, having been intermixed with his flesh and spirit. For this reason they also despised death, for they were found to be beyond death. 3 And after his resurrection he ate and drank with them as a fleshly being, even though he was spiritually united with the Father.

For Ignatius, the eating and drinking is a sign that Jesus is not a docetic being. For Luke, however, the eating of the fish comes after the nondocetic stuff, really. It can be read as adding to the impression that Jesus is flesh and bone, but strictly speaking this has already been established by the invitation to touch him, and the eating comes across as an extra detail, one which would not have been missed had it been absent. Also, any strictly antidocetic interpretation of this Lucan passage fails to reckon with the coincidence that Jesus eats fish in John 21, as well, albeit in completely different circumstances. On top of that, there is the coincidence that the calling of the disciples earlier in the three synoptic gospels bears similarities to the postresurrectional appearances, as I have described elsewhere. Accordingly, I think there is something deeper at work here, something involving fish in particular and not just any old food that Jesus could have eaten. And I do not think that the fish as a eucharistic symbol is the etiology I am seeking, simply because most of our texts seem to insist that any resurrection fish available to Jesus cannot be eucharistic!

Matthew 26.29: 29 "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom."

Mark 14.25: 25 "Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."

Luke 22.15-18: 15 And He said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." 17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes."

1 Corinthians 11.26: 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

Didache 9.4: 4 As this broken bread was once scattered on the mountains and, after it had been brought together, became one, so may Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth unto Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.

Didache 10.5: 5 Remember, Lord, Your Church, to redeem it from every evil and to perfect it in Your love, and gather it together from the four winds, even that which has been sanctified for Your kingdom which You have prepared for it; for Yours is the kingdom and the glory forever.

In all of these texts, the eucharist is associated, not with the resurrection, but with the advent (the parousia), the coming of the Lord. There is a text which seems to place a eucharist at the resurrection, but it does so with bread, not with fish:

Jerome, On Famous Men 2: 2 .... The Gospel also which is called the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and which I have recently translated into Greek and Latin and which also Origen often makes use of, after the account of the resurrection of the Savior says, "But the Lord, after he had given his grave clothes to the servant of the priest, appeared to James" (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he drank the cup of the Lord until he should see him rising again from among those that sleep) and again, a little later, it says, "'Bring a table and bread,' said the Lord." And immediately it is added, "He brought bread and blessed and broke and gave to James the Just and said to him, 'My brother, eat your bread, for the Son of Man is risen from among those that sleep.'" ....

Gospel of the Hebrews 7: 7 The Lord, however, when he had given the shroud to the servant of the priest, went to James and appeared to him. James indeed had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour when he had drunk the chalice of the Lord until he saw him risen from among those who sleep. .... "Bear forth," said the Lord, "a table and bread." He bore bread and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to James the Just, and said to him, "My brother, eat your bread, because the Son of Man has resurrected from among those who sleep." [This is my extraction from Jerome.]

It seems unlikely to me, therefore, that fish came to be the food of choice for some of the resurrection appearances based on its eucharistic associations. Also, I think that the eucharistic symbolism is powerless to explain the disciples as fishermen commissioned to become fishers of men (which is why I originally thought it possible that the disciples being fishermen might be a genuine reminiscence). The eucharistic use of fish stands on its own, and we must seek another explanation for the postresurrectional fish; I think it look something like this:
  1. Fishing was symbolic in Greek and Roman culture of drawing men in with rhetoric, and therefore of converting them.
  2. Fishing was symbolic in the Hebrew scriptures of much the same thing.
  3. Fishing was thus a suitable symbol for the commissioning of the apostles.
  4. Fishing belongs, then, to a setting after the resurrection.
  5. Fishing being set before the resurrection is an extension of this, bringing the commissioning full circle.
Fishing was a natural symbol for drawing people in with one's words, as Petronius shows:

Petronius, Satyricon 3: 3 Agamemnon would not allow me to stand declaiming out in the colonnade longer than he had spent sweating inside the school. "Your talk has an uncommon flavour, young man," he said, "and what is most unusual, you appreciate good sense. I will not therefore deceive you by making a mystery of my art. The fact is that the teachers are not to blame for these exhibitions. They are in a madhouse, and they must gibber. Unless they speak to the taste of their young masters they will be left alone in the colleges, as Cicero remarks. Like the toadies [of Comedy] cadging after the rich man's dinners, they think first about what is calculated to please their audience. They will never gain their object unless they lay traps for the ear. A master of oratory is like a fisher [piscator]; he must put the particular bait on his hook which he knows will tempt the little fish [pisciculos], or he may sit waiting on his rock with no hope of a catch."

Notice how those drawn to the master's oratory are called little fish, exactly as we find Christians being called by Tertullian.

The Jewish tradition was not lacking this kind of metaphor:

Jeremiah 16.16: "Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen [דַיָּגִ֥ים, ἁλεεῖς]," declares Yahweh, "and they will fish [דִיג֑וּם, ἁλιεύσουσιν] for them; and afterwards I shall send for many hunters [צַיָּדִ֔ים, θηρευτάς], and they will hunt [צָד֞וּם, θηρεύσουσιν] them from every mountain and every hill, and from the clefts of the rocks." / (LXX) Ἰδοὺ, ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω τοὺς ἁλεεῖς τοὺς πολλούς, λέγει κύριος, καὶ ἁλιεύσουσιν αὐτούς, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἀποστελῶ τοὺς πολλοὺς θηρευτάς, καὶ θηρεύσουσιν αὐτοὺς ἐπάνω παντὸς ὄρους καὶ ἐπάνω παντὸς βουνοῦ καὶ ἐκ τῶν τρυμαλιῶν τῶν πετρῶν.

The imagery can be neutral or negative, as well:

Ezekiel 47.8-10: 8 Then he said to me, "These waters go out toward the eastern region and go down into the Arabah; then they go toward the sea, being made to flow into the sea, and the waters of the sea become fresh. 9 It will come about that every living creature which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live. And there will be very many fish, for these waters go there and the others become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. 10 And it will come about that fishermen will stand beside it; from Engedi to Eneglaim there will be a place for the spreading of nets. Their fish will be according to their kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea, very many."

Habakkuk 1.14-17: 14 Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler over them? 15 The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook, drag them away with their net, and gather them together in their fishing net. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. 16 Therefore they offer a sacrifice to their net and burn incense to their fishing net, because through these things their catch is large, and their food is plentiful. 17 Will they therefore empty their net and continually slay nations without sparing?

At any rate, the passage from Jeremiah has often been suspected of lying behind the fisherman narratives in the gospels to some extent. In context, the metaphorical fishermen are fishing for Judeans to restore after the captivity; one can detect thematic similarities with the notion of the disciples being sent to the lost sheep of Israel in Matthew 15.24. I think that the fishing narrative in John 21 (and, to my mind, probably also in the lost ending of Mark) reflects this theme: without Jesus the disciples caught nothing; with Jesus they caught a netload. The imagery of feeding sheep is also present (and of similar meaning) in verses 15-17. I have given reasons for suspecting that the gospel of Luke knew the lost ending of Mark, and I think that Jesus eating fish in Luke 24.42-43 is a relic either from that lost ending or from the Johannine traditions feeding into John 21 (for reasons too numerous and complex to describe here I think that Luke knew the Johannine traditions at some stage of the game). Also, of course, the lost ending to the gospel of Peter seems to be describing the beginning of a postresurrectional fishing expedition.

Fishing was considered a fitting metaphor for the apostles' commission by Christ to win souls for the kingdom:

Origen, Commentary on Matthew 13.10: τοῦτο δὲ τὸ νόμισμα ἐν μὲν τῇ οἰκίᾳ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ οὐκ ἦν, ἐν δὲ τῇ θαλάσσῃ ἐτύγχανεν, καὶ ἦν ἐν τῷ στόματι τοῦ θαλασσίου ἰχθύος, ὃν καὶ αὐτὸν οἶμαι εὐεργετούμενον ἀναβεβηκέναι ἐν τῷ Πέτρου ἀγκίστρῳ συνειλημμένον, γενομένου ἁλιέως «ἀνθρώπων», ἐν οἷς ἦν ὁ τροπικῶς λεγόμενος ἰχθύς, ἵνα καὶ ἀπαρθῇ ἀπ' αὐτοῦ <τὸ> ἔχον τὴν εἰκόνα «Καίσαρος» νόμισμα, καὶ γένηται ἐν οἷς οἱ ἁλιευόμενοι ὑπὸ τῶν μεμαθηκότων ἀνθρώπους ἁλιεύειν. / Hoc autemnomisma in domo quiden Iesu non erat, in mari autemerat et erat in ore piscis marini, quemipsumpiscemarbitror adiuvatumadscendisse ad hamumPetri et comprehensumab eo, qui hominumpiscator fuerat factus, in quibus erat qui nunc moraliter dicitur piscis, ut tollatur ab eo nomisma, quod habebat imaginem Caesaris, et fiat inter eos qui piscati sunt eum. / This coin was not in the house of Jesus, but was found in the sea and in the mouth of the sea fish, which, when caught on the hook of Peter, who had become a fisher of persons, rose up, I believe, to its benefit. The fish on the hook was a figurative reference to him, in order that the coin with an image of Caesar might be taken up and in order that it might be among those fishermen who learned to catch persons.

Jerome, Commentary on Ezekiel 14.47: 47 Hoc totum non superfluo sed necessario dictum sit, quia mare mortuum influente in se flumine domini dicitur esse curatum. super hoc mare... erunt piscatores, quibus loquitur Iesus: venite ad me et faciam vos piscatores, de quibus et Hieremias: ecce ego, inquit, mittam piscatores; et plurimae species immo genera piscium erunt in mari quondam mortuo, quos pisces ad dexteram partem iubente domino extraxit Petrus et erant centum quinquaginta tres ita ut prae multitudine eorum retia rumperentur – aiunt autem qui de animantium scripsere naturis et proprie qui ἁλιευτικά tam Latino quam Graeco edidere sermone – de quibus opianicus cilex est poeta doctissimus – centum quinquaginta tria esse genera piscium; quae omnia capta sunt ab apostolis, et nihil remansit incaptum, dum et nobiles et ignobiles et divites et pauperes et omne genus hominum de mari huius saeculi extrahitur ad salutem. / All of this was said not superflously, but necessarily, because it is said that the Dead Sea is healed by the river of the Lord which flows into it. Above this sea... there will be fishers, to whom Jesus said: "Come to me and I will make you fishers," concerning whom Jeremiah says, "Behold, I will send fishermen." And there will be many species, indeed many kinds of fish, in the sea which was once dead. At the command of the Lord, Peter brought themto the right side and there were one hundred and fifty-three so that, because of their multitude, their nets broke. Those who write on the nature and characteristics of living creatures, which they publish in Latin and in Greek as Halieutica (and among them Oppian the Cilician is most learned) say that there are one hundred and fifty-three kinds of fish. All of these have been caught by the apostles, and nothing remains uncaptured, both noble and ignoble, both rich and poor. And all kinds of persons are brought from the sea of this world to salvation.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 17.21: And again in the same power of the Holy Ghost, Peter and John went up into the Temple at the hour of prayer, which was the ninth hour, and in the Name of Jesus healed the man at the Beautiful gate, who had been lame from his mother's womb for forty years; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken, "Then shall the lame man leap as an hart." And thus, as they captured in the spiritual net of their doctrine five thousand believers at once, so they confuted the misguided rulers of the people and chief priests, and that, not through their own wisdom, for they were unlearned and ignorant men, but through the mighty power of the Holy Ghost; for it is written, "Then Peter filled with the Holy Ghost said to them...."

By the time John 21 was completed, the meal of fish by the lake of Tiberias resembled something eucharistic, but I think that the metaphor of preachers as fishers came first; once the apostles were established as holy orators, fishing was a natural metaphor to apply, and then, precisely because fish had also come to represent the eucharist sometimes for completely independent reasons, it was all too easy to merge the two concepts and make the resurrection fish eucharistic. But the apostolic commission came first.

The Disciples as Fishermen

As it happens, I believe the explanation for the origins of the resurrection fish also explains the disciples being fishermen in the first place. There are reasons to doubt that the core group of disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) really originated as fishermen:
  1. John 1 has the disciples following John, not fishing. It is only the synoptic gospels which portray them as fishing. Thus gospel texts which are notorious for how much copying has gone on between them here seem not to be able to agree on how Jesus first encountered his inner circle of followers.
  2. Luke 5.1-11 looks like it deliberately combines the calling of the first disciples with the commissioning of the apostles and the miraculous catch, which is better suited for its context in John 21 than in its present Lucan context. (Again, reasons are given elsewhere.)
  3. The beloved disciple seems out of place as a fisherman in John 21. He seems to belong to Jerusalem and its environs earlier in the gospel, and now he is fishing with Peter and company. While this is certainly not impossible, no extant line of gospel tradition traces this development.
  4. Levi of Alphaeus seems out of place as a fisherman in Peter 14.60. He was a tax collector in Luke and Mark, and the gospel of Peter itself seems perhaps about to point back to his calling by Jesus just when the text breaks off. And now he is off fishing. Both Levi and the beloved disciple seem to me to hint at the whole motif of fishing having originated as a metaphor for the apostolic commission. (I would not insist that the evangelists themselves are necessarily aware of this; I am tracing the development of ideas and traditions, not of individual texts or their individual authors.)
  5. Whereas Mark 1.21, 29 implies that Peter and Andrew's hometown is Capernaum and Mark 6.45 has them crossing the sea toward Bethsaida, John 1.44 states that Peter and Andrew's hometown is Bethsaida and John 6.17 has them crossing the sea toward Capernaum. Since the very meaning of the place name Bethsaida is "house of hunting" or "house of fishing" (in Hebrew), it does not seem unlikely to me that John or one of his tradents moved their hometown from Capernaum to the more fitting Bethsaida, under the assumption that fishermen would hail from a village with the word "fishing" in its name. At any rate, that this kind of move can be made so tracelessly in the gospel tradition (even if by chance it went in the other direction) gives me no confidence that the same kind of reasoning might not have turned the apostles into fishermen.
  6. The fishing metaphor just seems more at home in the postresurrectional setting; it looks to me as if it has been moved forward in the gospel tradition (all too tangibly in the case of Luke 5.1-11) in order to give the disciples careers, for better or worse, before they officially became the apostles they were later known to be.
There is thus a stronger connection between fish and the resurrection commissions than between fish(ing) and the disciples called away from their nets.

None of this is of any certainty, obviously, but on balance I am currently more comfortable with the idea that the disciples became fishermen because the risen Jesus (so to speak) commissioned them as apostles than with the idea that they became apostles because Jesus found them as fishermen.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Wed Mar 07, 2018 10:13 am, edited 6 times in total.
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Re: Going fishing.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Oct 05, 2017 1:39 pm

Conclusion

In summary, my hypothesis for the development of the fish imagery so prevalent in early Christianity runs as follows:

Stage 1a: Fishing as a metaphor for preaching. This stage is based on general fish symbolism in the Greco-Roman world and specific fish passages in the Jewish scriptures.
Stage 1b: Fish as a symbol for the eucharist. This stage is based on general fish symbolism in the Greco-Roman world and specific fish symbolism in Jewish eschatological thought.
Stage 2: Disciples as fishermen. This stage developed directly from 1a.
Stage 3: The Jesus fish. This stage developed mainly from 1b, but possibly also from 2: the disciples/apostles preached to "little fish" (as it were), and if believers are little fish then Jesus is the great fish.

Stages 1a and 1b share the same number because I believe they originated independently of one another. I also have no firm opinion on which came first (that is, the a and the b are arbitrary). The fish as eucharistic symbol postdates, I believe, the bread and cup, but that tells us nothing about when the apostleship first came to be linked to the metaphor of fishing for humans.

Appendix

In an effort to trace the development of the Bethsaida tradition, I happened to track down every mention of the village both in the gospels and in Josephus. I have no firm conclusions to draw from these data yet (well, none that I am willing to share as yet), but I present them here because I have them, and why not?

The gospels:

Matthew 11.21: 21 "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."

Luke 10.13: 13 "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes."

Mark 6.45: 45 And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the multitude away.

Luke 9.10: 10 And when the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done. And taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida.

Mark 8.22: 22 And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Him, and entreated Him to touch him.

John 1.44: 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter.

John 12.21: 21 These therefore came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."

Josephus:

Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.1 §26-28: 26 Κυρίνιος δὲ τὰ Ἀρχελάου χρήματα ἀποδόμενος ἤδη καὶ τῶν ἀποτιμήσεων πέρας ἐχουσῶν, αἳ ἐγένοντο τριακοστῷ καὶ ἑβδόμῳ ἔτει μετὰ τὴν Ἀντωνίου ἐν Ἀκτίῳ ἧτταν ὑπὸ Καίσαρος, Ἰωάζαρον τὸν ἀρχιερέα καταστασιασθέντα ὑπὸ τῆς πληθύος ἀφελόμενος τὸ ἀξίωμα τῆς τιμῆς Ἄνανον τὸν Σεθὶ καθίσταται ἀρχιερέα. 27 Ἡρώδης δὲ καὶ Φίλιππος τετραρχίαν ἑκάτερος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ παρειληφότες καθίσταντο. καὶ Ἡρώδης Σέπφωριν τειχίσας πρόσχημα τοῦ Γαλιλαίου παντὸς ἠγόρευεν αὐτὴν Αὐτοκρατορίδα: Βηθαραμφθᾶ δέ, πόλις καὶ αὐτὴ τυγχάνει, τείχει περιλαβὼν Ἰουλιάδα ἀπὸ τοῦ αὐτοκράτορος προσαγορεύει τῆς γυναικός. 28 Φίλιππος δὲ Πανεάδα τὴν πρὸς ταῖς πηγαῖς τοῦ Ἰορδάνου κατασκευάσας ὀνομάζει Καισάρειαν, κώμην δὲ Βηθσαϊδὰ πρὸς λίμνῃ τῇ Γεννησαρίτιδι πόλεως παρασχὼν ἀξίωμα πλήθει τε οἰκητόρων καὶ τῇ ἄλλῃ δυνάμει Ἰουλίᾳ θυγατρὶ τῇ Καίσαρος ὁμώνυμον ἐκάλεσεν. / 26 When Cyrenius had now disposed of Archelaus's money, and when the taxings were come to a conclusion, which were made in the thirty-seventh year of Caesar's victory over Antony at Actium, he deprived Joazar of the high priesthood, which dignity had been conferred on him by the multitude, and he appointed Ananus, the son of Seth, to be high priest; 27 while Herod and Philip had each of them received their own tetrarchy, and settled the affairs thereof. Herod also built a wall about Sepphoris, (which is the security of all Galilee,) and made it the metropolis of the country. He also built a wall round Betharamphtha, which was itself a city also, and called it Julias, from the name of the emperor's wife. 28 When Philip also had built Paneas, a city at the fountains of Jordan, he named it Cesarea. He also advanced the village Bethsaids, situate at the lake of Gennesareth, unto the dignity of a city, both by the number of inhabitants it contained, and its other grandeur, and called it by the name of Julias, the same name with Caesar's daughter.

Josephus, Antiquities 18.4.6 §106-108: 106 Τότε δὲ καὶ Φίλιππος, Ἡρώδου δὲ ἦν ἀδελφός, τελευτᾷ τὸν βίον εἰκοστῷ μὲν ἐνιαυτῷ τῆς Τιβερίου ἀρχῆς, ἡγησάμενος δὲ αὐτὸς ἑπτὰ καὶ τριάκοντα τῆς Τραχωνίτιδος καὶ Γαυλανίτιδος καὶ τοῦ Βατανέων ἔθνους πρὸς αὐταῖς, μέτριον δὲ ἐν οἷς ἦρχεν παρασχὼν τὸν τρόπον καὶ ἀπράγμονα: 107 δίαιταν μὲν γὰρ τὸ πᾶν ἐν γῇ τῇ ὑποτελεῖ ἐποιεῖτο, πρόοδοι δ᾽ ἦσαν αὐτῷ σὺν ὀλίγοις τῶν ἐπιλέκτων, καὶ τοῦ θρόνου εἰς ὃν ἔκρινεν καθεζόμενος ἐν ταῖς ὁδοῖς ἑπομένου, ὁπότε τις ὑπαντιάσας ἐν χρείᾳ γένοιτο αὐτῷ ἐπιβοηθεῖν, οὐδὲν εἰς ἀναβολὰς ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ τοῦ ὀξέος ἱδρύσεως τοῦ θρόνου ᾗ καὶ τύχοι γενομένης καθεζόμενος ἠκροᾶτο καὶ τιμωρίας τε ἐπετίμα τοῖς ἁλοῦσι καὶ ἠφίει τοὺς ἀδίκως ἐν ἐγκλήμασι γενομένους. 108 τελευτᾷ δ᾽ ἐν Ἰουλιάδι καὶ αὐτοῦ κομισθέντος ἐπὶ τὸ μνημεῖον, ὃ ἔτι πρότερον ᾠκοδόμησεν αὐτός, ταφαὶ γίνονται πολυτελεῖς. τὴν δ᾽ ἀρχήν, οὐ γὰρ κατελίπετο παῖδας, Τιβέριος παραλαβὼν προσθήκην ἐπαρχίας ποιεῖται τῆς Σύρων, τοὺς μέντοι φόρους ἐκέλευσε συλλεγομένους ἐν τῇ τετραρχίᾳ τῇ ἐκείνου γενομένῃ κατατίθεσθαι. / 106 About this time it was that Philip, Herod's brother, departed this life, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius, after he had been tetrarch of Trachonitis and Gaulanitis, and of the nation of the Bataneans also, thirty-seven years. He had showed himself a person of moderation and quietness in the conduct of his life and government; 107 he constantly lived in that country which was subject to him; he used to make his progress with a few chosen friends; his tribunal also, on which he sat in judgment, followed him in his progress; and when any one met him who wanted his assistance, he made no delay, but had his tribunal set down immediately, wheresoever he happened to be, and sat down upon it, and heard his complaint: he there ordered the guilty that were convicted to be punished, and absolved those that had been accused unjustly. 108 He died at Julias; and when he was carried to that monument which he had already erected for himself beforehand, he was buried with great pomp. His principality Tiberius took, (for he left no sons behind him,) and added it to the province of Syria, but gave order that the tributes which arose from it should be collected, and laid up in his tetrachy.

Josephus, Wars 2.9.1 §167-168: 167 Τῆς Ἀρχελάου δ᾽ ἐθναρχίας μεταπεσούσης εἰς ἐπαρχίαν οἱ λοιποί, Φίλιππος καὶ Ἡρώδης ὁ κληθεὶς Ἀντίπας, διῴκουν τὰς ἑαυτῶν τετραρχίας: Σαλώμη γὰρ τελευτῶσα Ἰουλίᾳ τῇ τοῦ Σεβαστοῦ γυναικὶ τήν τε αὐτῆς τοπαρχίαν καὶ Ἰάμνειαν καὶ τοὺς ἐν Φασαηλίδι φοινικῶνας κατέλιπεν. 168 μεταβάσης δὲ εἰς Τιβέριον τὸν Ἰουλίας υἱὸν τῆς Ῥωμαίων ἡγεμονίας μετὰ τὴν Αὐγούστου τελευτήν, ἀφηγησαμένου τῶν πραγμάτων ἔτεσιν ἑπτὰ καὶ πεντήκοντα πρὸς δὲ μησὶν ἓξ καὶ ἡμέραις δύο, διαμείναντες ἐν ταῖς τετραρχίαις ὅ τε Ἡρώδης καὶ ὁ Φίλιππος, ὁ μὲν πρὸς ταῖς τοῦ Ἰορδάνου πηγαῖς ἐν Πανεάδι πόλιν κτίζει Καισάρειαν κἀν τῇ κάτω Γαυλανιτικῇ Ἰουλιάδα, Ἡρώδης δ᾽ ἐν μὲν τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ Τιβεριάδα, ἐν δὲ τῇ Περαίᾳ φερώνυμον Ἰουλίας. / 167 And now as the ethnarchy of Archelaus was fallen into a Roman province, the other sons of Herod, Philip, and that Herod who was called Antipas, each of them took upon them the administration of their own tetrarchies; for when Salome died, she bequeathed to Julia, the wife of Augustus, both her toparchy, and Jamnia, as also her plantation of palm trees that were in Phasaelis. 168 But when the Roman empire was translated to Tiberius, the son of Julia, upon the death of Augustus, who had reigned fifty-seven years, six months, and two days, both Herod and Philip continued in their tetrarchies; and the latter of them built the city Caesarea, at the fountains of Jordan, and in the region of Paneas; as also the city Julias, in the lower Gaulonitis. Herod also built the city Tiberius in Galilee, and in Perea another that was also called Julias.

Josephus, Wars 3.3.5 §51-58: 51 Μεθόριος δ᾽ αὐτῶν ἡ Ἀνουάθου Βόρκαιος προσαγορευομένη κώμη: πέρας αὕτη τῆς Ἰουδαίας τὰ πρὸς βορέαν, τὰ νότια δ᾽ αὐτῆς ἐπὶ μῆκος μετρουμένης ὁρίζει προσκυροῦσα τοῖς Ἀράβων ὅροις κώμη, καλοῦσι δ᾽ αὐτὴν Ἰορδὰν οἱ τῇδε Ἰουδαῖοι. εὖρός γε μὴν ἀπὸ Ἰορδάνου ποταμοῦ μέχρις Ἰόππης ἀναπέπταται. 52 μεσαιτάτη δ᾽ αὐτῆς πόλις τὰ Ἱεροσόλυμα κεῖται, παρ᾽ ὃ καί τινες οὐκ ἀσκόπως ὀμφαλὸν τὸ ἄστυ τῆς χώρας ἐκάλεσαν. 53 ἀφῄρηται δ᾽ οὐδὲ τῶν ἐκ θαλάσσης τερπνῶν ἡ Ἰουδαία τοῖς παραλίοις κατατείνουσα μέχρι Πτολεμαΐδος. 54 μερίζεται δ᾽ εἰς ἕνδεκα κληρουχίας, ὧν ἄρχει μὲν βασίλειον τὰ Ἱεροσόλυμα προανίσχουσα τῆς περιοίκου πάσης ὥσπερ ἡ κεφαλὴ σώματος: αἱ λοιπαὶ δὲ μετ᾽ αὐτὴν διῄρηνται τὰς τοπαρχίας. 55 Γοφνὰ δευτέρα καὶ μετὰ ταύτην Ἀκραβετά, Θαμνὰ πρὸς ταύταις καὶ Λύδδα, Ἀμμαοῦς καὶ Πέλλη καὶ Ἰδουμαία καὶ Ἐνγαδδαὶ καὶ Ἡρώδειον καὶ Ἱεριχοῦς, 56 μεθ᾽ ἃς Ἰάμνεια καὶ Ἰόππη τῶν περιοίκων ἀφηγοῦνται, κἀπὶ ταύταις ἥ τε Γαμαλιτικὴ καὶ Γαυλανῖτις Βαταναία τε καὶ Τραχωνῖτις, αἳ καὶ τῆς Ἀγρίππα βασιλείας εἰσὶ μοῖραι. 57 ἀρχομένη δὲ ἀπὸ Λιβάνου ὄρους καὶ τῶν Ἰορδάνου πηγῶν ἡ χώρα μέχρι τῆς πρὸς Τιβεριάδα λίμνης εὐρύνεται, ἀπὸ δὲ κώμης καλουμένης Ἀρφᾶς μέχρις Ἰουλιάδος ἐκτείνεται τὸ μῆκος. οἰκοῦσι δ᾽ αὐτὴν μιγάδες Ἰουδαῖοί τε καὶ Σύροι. 58 τὰ μὲν δὴ περὶ τῆς Ἰουδαίων τε καὶ πέριξ χώρας ὡς ἐνῆν μάλιστα συντόμως ἀπηγγέλκαμεν. / 51 In the limits of Samaria and Judea lies the village Anuath, which is also named Borceos. This is the northern boundary of Judea. The southern parts of Judea, if they be measured lengthways, are bounded by a Village adjoining to the confines of Arabia; the Jews that dwell there call it Jordan. However, its breadth is extended from the river Jordan to Joppa. 52 The city Jerusalem is situated in the very middle; on which account some have, with sagacity enough, called that city the Navel of the country. 53 Nor indeed is Judea destitute of such delights as come from the sea, since its maritime places extend as far as Ptolemais: 54 it was parted into eleven portions, of which the royal city Jerusalem was the supreme, and presided over all the neighboring country, as the head does over the body. As to the other cities that were inferior to it, they presided over their several toparchies; 55 Gophna was the second of those cities, and next to that Acrabatta, after them Thamna, and Lydda, and Emmaus, and Pella, and Idumea, and Engaddi, and Herodium, and Jericho; 56 and after them came Jamnia and Joppa, as presiding over the neighboring people; and besides these there was the region of Gamala, and Gaulonitis, and Batanea, and Trachonitis, which are also parts of the kingdom of Agrippa. 57 This [last] country begins at Mount Libanus, and the fountains of Jordan, and reaches breadthways to the lake of Tiberias; and in length is extended from a village called Arpha, as far as Julias. Its inhabitants are a mixture of Jews and Syrians. 58 And thus have I, with all possible brevity, described the country of Judea, and those that lie round about it.

Josephus Wars 3.10.7 §506-515: 506 Ἡ δὲ λίμνη Γεννησὰρ μὲν ἀπὸ τῆς προσεχοῦς χώρας καλεῖται, σταδίων δ᾽ εὖρος οὖσα τεσσαράκοντα καὶ πρὸς τούτοις ἑτέρων ἑκατὸν τὸ μῆκος γλυκεῖά τε ὅμως ἐστὶ καὶ ποτιμωτάτη: [507] καὶ γὰρ τῆς ἑλώδους παχύτητος ἔχει τὸ νᾶμα λεπτότερον καθαρά τ᾽ ἐστὶν πάντοθεν αἰγιαλοῖς ἐπιλήγουσα καὶ ψάμμῳ, πρὸς δὲ εὔκρατος ἀρύσασθαι, ποταμοῦ μὲν ἢ κρήνης προσηνεστέρα, ψυχροτέρα δὲ ἢ κατὰ λίμνης διάχυσιν ἀεὶ μένουσα. 508 τὸ μὲν γὰρ ὕδωρ οὐκ ἀπᾴδει χιόνος ἐξαιθριασθέν, ὅπερ θέρους νυκτὸς ποιεῖν ἔθος τοῖς ἐπιχωρίοις, γένη δὲ ἰχθύων ἐν αὐτῇ διάφορα πρὸς τοὺς ἀλλαχοῦ γεῦσίν τε καὶ ἰδέαν. 509 μέση δ᾽ ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἰορδάνου τέμνεται. καὶ δοκεῖ μὲν Ἰορδάνου πηγὴ τὸ Πάνειον, φέρεται δ᾽ ὑπὸ γῆν εἰς τοῦτο κρυπτῶς ἐκ τῆς καλουμένης Φιάλης: 510 ἡ δ᾽ ἐστὶν ἀνιόντων εἰς τὴν Τραχωνῖτιν ἀπὸ σταδίων ἑκατὸν εἴκοσι Καισαρείας τῆς ὁδοῦ κατὰ τὸ δεξιὸν μέρος οὐκ ἄπωθεν. 511 ἐκ μὲν οὖν τῆς περιφερείας ἐτύμως Φιάλη καλεῖται τροχοειδὴς οὖσα λίμνη, μένει δ᾽ ἐπὶ χείλους αὐτῆς ἀεὶ τὸ ὕδωρ μήθ᾽ ὑπονοστοῦν μήθ᾽ ὑπερχεόμενον. 512 ἀγνοούμενος δὲ τέως ὁ Ἰορδάνης ἐντεῦθεν ἄρχεσθαι διὰ τοῦ τετραρχήσαντος Τραχωνιτῶν ἠλέγχθη Φιλίππου: 513 βαλὼν γὰρ οὗτος εἰς τὴν Φιάλην ἄχυρα κατὰ τὸ Πάνειον, ἔνθεν ἐδόκουν οἱ παλαιοὶ γεννᾶσθαι τὸν ποταμόν, εὗρεν ἀνενεχθέντα. 514 τοῦ μὲν οὖν Πανείου τὸ φυσικὸν κάλλος ὑπὸ τῆς βασιλικῆς προσεξήσκηται πολυτελείας τῷ Ἀγρίππα πλούτῳ κεκοσμημένον: 515 ἀρχόμενος δὲ φανεροῦ ῥεύματος ὁ Ἰορδάνης ἀπὸ τοῦδε τοῦ ἄντρου κόπτει μὲν τὰ τῆς Σεμεχωνίτιδος λίμνης ἕλη καὶ τέλματα, διαμείψας δ᾽ ἑτέρους ἑκατὸν εἴκοσι σταδίους μετὰ πόλιν Ἰουλιάδα διεκπαίει τὴν Γεννησὰρ μέσην, ἔπειτα πολλὴν ἀναμετρούμενος ἐρημίαν εἰς τὴν Ἀσφαλτῖτιν ἔξεισι λίμνην. / 506 Now this lake of Gennesareth is so called from the country adjoining to it. Its breadth is forty furlongs, and its length one hundred and forty; its waters are sweet, and very agreeable for drinking, for they are finer than the thick waters of other fens; 507 the lake is also pure, and on every side ends directly at the shores, and at the sand; it is also of a temperate nature when you draw it up, and of a more gentle nature than river or fountain water, and yet always cooler than one could expect in so diffuse a place as this is. 508 Now when this water is kept in the open air, it is as cold as that snow which the country people are accustomed to make by night in summer. There are several kinds of fish in it, different both to the taste and the sight from those elsewhere. 509 It is divided into two parts by the river Jordan. Now Panium is thought to be the fountain of Jordan, but in reality it is carried thither after an occult manner from the place called Phiala: 510 this place lies as you go up to Trachonitis, and is a hundred and twenty furlongs from Cesarea, and is not far out of the road on the right hand; 511 and indeed it hath its name of Phiala [vial or bowl] very justly, from the roundness of its circumference, as being round like a wheel; its water continues always up to its edges, without either sinking or running over. 512 And as this origin of Jordan was formerly not known, it was discovered so to be when Philip was tetrarch of Trachonitis; 513 for he had chaff thrown into Phiala, and it was found at Paninto, where the ancients thought the fountain-head of the river was, whither it had been therefore carried [by the waters]. 514 As for Panium itself, its natural beauty had been improved by the royal liberality of Agrippa, and adorned at his expenses. 515 Now Jordan's visible stream arises from this cavern, and divides the marshes and fens of the lake Semechonitis; when it hath run another hundred and twenty furlongs, it first passes by the city Julias, and then passes through the middle of the lake Gennesareth; after which it runs a long way over a desert, and then makes its exit into the lake Asphaltitis.

Josephus Wars 4.8.2 §451-458: 451 Τὸ μὲν οὖν πολὺ πλῆθος ἐκ τῆς Ἱεριχοῦς φθάσαν τὴν ἔφοδον αὐτῶν εἰς τὴν ἄντικρυς Ἱεροσολύμων ὀρεινὴν διαπεφεύγει, καταλειφθὲν δὲ οὐκ ὀλίγον διαφθείρεται. 452 τὴν δὲ πόλιν ἔρημον κατειλήφεσαν, ἥτις ἵδρυται μὲν ἐν πεδίῳ, ψιλὸν δὲ ὑπέρκειται αὐτῇ καὶ ἄκαρπον ὄρος μήκιστον: 453 κατὰ γὰρ τὸ βόρειον κλίμα μέχρι τῆς Σκυθοπολιτῶν γῆς ἐκτείνεται, κατὰ δὲ τὸ μεσημβρινὸν μέχρι τῆς Σοδομιτῶν χώρας καὶ τῶν περάτων τῆς Ἀσφαλτίτιδος. ἔστιν δὲ ἀνώμαλόν τε πᾶν καὶ ἀοίκητον διὰ τὴν ἀγονίαν. 454 ἀντίκειται δὲ τούτῳ τὸ περὶ τὸν Ἰορδάνην ὄρος ἀρχόμενον ἀπὸ Ἰουλιάδος καὶ τῶν βορείων κλιμάτων, παρατεῖνον δὲ εἰς μεσημβρίαν ἕως Σομόρων, ἥπερ ὁρίζει τὴν Πέτραν τῆς Ἀραβίας. ἐν τούτῳ δ᾽ ἐστὶ καὶ τὸ Σιδηροῦν καλούμενον ὄρος μηκυνόμενον μέχρι τῆς Μωαβίτιδος. 455 ἡ μέση δὲ τῶν δύο ὀρέων χώρα τὸ μέγα πεδίον καλεῖται, ἀπὸ κώμης Γινναβρὶν διῆκον μέχρι τῆς Ἀσφαλτίτιδος. 456 ἔστι δὲ αὐτοῦ μῆκος μὲν σταδίων χιλίων διακοσίων, εὖρος δ᾽ εἴκοσι καὶ ἑκατόν, καὶ μέσον ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἰορδάνου τέμνεται λίμνας τε ἔχει τήν τε Ἀσφαλτῖτιν καὶ τὴν Τιβεριέων φύσιν ἐναντίας: ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἁλμυρώδης καὶ ἄγονος, ἡ Τιβεριέων δὲ γλυκεῖα καὶ γόνιμος. 457 ἐκπυροῦται δὲ ὥρᾳ θέρους τὸ πεδίον καὶ δι᾽ ὑπερβολὴν αὐχμοῦ περιέχει νοσώδη τὸν ἀέρα: 458 πᾶν γὰρ ἄνυδρον πλὴν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, παρὸ καὶ τοὺς μὲν ἐπὶ ταῖς ὄχθαις φοινικῶνας εὐθαλεστέρους καὶ πολυφορωτέρους εἶναι συμβέβηκεν, ἧττον δὲ τοὺς πόρρω κεχωρισμένους. / 451 Hereupon a great multitude prevented their approach, and came out of Jericho, and fled to those mountainous parts that lay over against Jerusalem, while that part which was left behind was in a great measure destroyed; 452 they also found the city desolate. It is situated in a plain; but a naked and barren mountain, of a very great length, hangs over it, 453 which extends itself to the land about Scythopolis northward, but as far as the country of Sodom, and the utmost limits of the lake Asphaltiris, southward. This mountain is all of it very uneven and uninhabited, by reason of its barrenness: 454 there is an opposite mountain that is situated over against it, on the other side of Jordan; this last begins at Julias, and the northern quarters, and extends itself southward as far as Somorrhon, which is the bounds of Petra, in Arabia. In this ridge of mountains there is one called the Iron Mountain, that runs in length as far as Moab. 455 Now the region that lies in the middle between these ridges of mountains is called the Great Plain; it reaches from the village Ginnabris, as far as the lake Asphaltitis; 456 its length is two hundred and thirty furlongs, and its breadth a hundred and twenty, and it is divided in the midst by Jordan. It hath two lakes in it, that of Asphaltitis, and that of Tiberias, whose natures are opposite to each other; for the former is salt and unfruitful, but that of Tiberias is sweet and fruitful. 457 This plain is much burnt up in summer time, and, by reason of the extraordinary heat, contains a very unwholesome air; 458 it is all destitute of water excepting the river Jordan, which water of Jordan is the occasion why those plantations of palm trees that are near its banks are more flourishing, and much more fruitful, as are those that are remote from it not so flourishing, or fruitful.

Josephus, Life 72 §399: As soon as I had gotten intelligence of this, I sent two thousand armed men, and a captain over them, whose name was Jeremiah, who raised a bank a furlong off Julias, near to the river Jordan, and did no more than skirmish with the enemy; till I took three thousand soldiers myself, and came to them.

In other news, Ptolemy Claudius locates Julias (Iulias) among the "interior towns" of Galilaea in "Judaea toward the Dead Sea" in Geography 15. And here are a couple of miscellaneous other references:

Pliny, Natural History 5.14-15.68-73: 68 A Pelusio Chabriae castra, Casius mons, delubrum Iovis Casii, tumulus Magni Pompei. Ostracine Arabia finitur, a Pelusio LXV p. mox Idumaea incipit et Palaestina ab emersu Sirbonis lacus, quem quidam CL circuitu tradidere. Herodotus Casio monti adplicuit, nunc est palus modica. oppida Rhinocolura et intus Rhaphaea, Gaza et intus Anthedon, mons Argaris. regio per oram Samaria; oppidum Ascalo liberum, Azotos, Iamneae duae, altera intus. 69 Iope Phoenicum, antiquior terrarum inundatione, ut ferunt, insidet collem, praeiacente saxo, in quo vinculorum Andromedae vestigia ostendit. colitur illic fabulosa Ceto. inde Apollonia, Stratonis Turris, eadem Caesarea ab Herode rege condita, nunc colonia Prima Flavia a Vespasiano Imperatore deducta, finis Palaestines, CLXXXVIIII p. a confinio Arabiae. dein Phoenice; intus autem Samariae oppida Neapolis, quod antea Mamortha dicebatur, Sebaste in monte, et altiore Gamala. 70 Supra Idumaeam et Samariam Iudaea longe lateque funditur. pars eius Syriae iuncta Galilaea vocatur, Arabiae vero et Aegypto proxima Peraea, asperis dispersa montibus et a ceteris Iudaeis Iordane amne discreta. reliqua Iudaea dividitur in toparchias decem quo dicemus ordine: Hiericuntem palmetis consitam, fontibus riguam, Emmaum, Lyddam, Iopicam, Acrabatenam, Gophaniticam, Thamniticam, Betholeptephenen, Orinen, in qua fuere Hierosolyma, longe clarissima urbium orientis, non Iudaeae modo, Herodium cum oppido inlustri eiusdem nominis. 71 Iordanes amnis oritur e fonte Paneade, qui cognomen dedit Caesareae, de qua dicemus. amnis amoenus et, quatenus locorum situs patitur, ambitiosus accolisque se praebens velut invitus Asphaltiten lacum dirum natura petit, a quo postremo ebibitur aquasque laudatas perdit, pestilentibus mixtas. ergo ubi prima convallium fuit occasio, in lacum se fundit, quem plures Genesarem vocant, XVI p. longitudinis, VI latitudinis, amoenis circumsaeptum oppidis, ab oriente Iuliade et Hippo, a meridie Tarichea, quo nomine aliqui et lacum appellant, ab occidente Tiberiade, aquis calidis salubri. 72 Asphaltites nihil praeter bitumen gignit, unde et nomen. nullum corpus animalium recipit, tauri camelique fluitant; inde fama nihil in eo mergi. longitudine excedit C p., latitudine maxima LXXV implet, minima VI. prospicit eum ab oriente Arabia Nomadum, a meridie Machaerus, secunda quondam arx Iudaeae ab Hierosolymis. eodem latere est calidus fons medicae salubritatis Callirrhoe, aquarum gloriam ipso nomine praeferens. 73 Ab occidente litora Esseni fugiunt usque qua nocent, gens sola et in toto orbe praeter ceteras mira, sine ulla femina, omni venere abdicata, sine pecunia, socia palmarum. in diem ex aequo convenarum turba renascitur, large frequentantibus quos vita fessos ad mores eorum fortuna fluctibus agit. ita per saeculorum milia — incredibile dictu — gens aeterna est, in qua nemo nascitur. tam fecunda illis aliorum vitae paenitentia est! infra hos Engada oppidum fuit, secundum ab Hierosolymis fertilitate palmetorumque nemoribus, nunc alterum bustum. inde Masada castellum in rupe, et ipsum haut procul Asphaltite. et hactenus Iudaea est. / 68 On leaving Pelusium we come to the Camp of Chabrias, Mount Casius, the temple of Jupiter Casius, and the tomb of Pompeius Magnus. Ostracine, at a distance of sixty-five miles from Pelusium, is the frontier town of Arabia. After this, at the point where the Sirbonian Lake becomes visible, Idumæa and Palæstina begin. This lake, which some writers have made to be 150 miles in circumference, Herodotus has placed at the foot of Mount Casius; it is now an inconsiderable fen. The towns are Rhinocolura, and, in the interior, Rhaphea, Gaza, and, still more inland, Anthedon: there is also Mount Argaris. Proceeding along the coast we come to the region of Samaria; Ascalo, a free town, Azotus, the two Jamniæ, one of them in the interior. 69 And Joppe, a city of the Phœnicians, which existed, it is said, before the deluge of the earth. It is situated on the slope of a hill, and in front of it lies a rock, upon which they point out the vestiges of the chains by which Andromeda was bound. Here the fabulous goddess Ceto is worshipped. Next to this place comes Apollonia, and then the Tower of Strato, otherwise Cæsarea, built by King Herod, but now the Colony of Prima Flavia, established by the Emperor Vespasianus: this place is the frontier town of Palæstina, at a distance of 188 miles from the confines of Arabia; after which comes Phœnice. In the interior of Samaria are the towns of Neapolis, formerly called Mamortha, Sebaste, situate on a mountain, and, on a still more lofty one, Gamala. 70 Beyond Idumæa and Samaria, Judæa extends far and wide. That part of it which joins up to Syria is called Galilæa, while that which is nearest to Arabia and Egypt bears the name of Peræa. This last is thickly covered with rugged mountains, and is separated from the rest of Judæa by the river Jordanes. The remaining part of Judæa is divided into ten Toparchies, which we will mention in the following order:—That of Hiericus, covered with groves of palm-trees, and watered by numerous springs, and those of Emmaüs, Lydda, Joppe, Acrabatena, Gophna, Thamna, Bethleptephene, Orina, in which formerly stood Hierosolyma, by far the most famous city, not of Judæa only, but of the East, and Herodium, with a celebrated town of the same name. 71 The river Jordanes rises from the spring of Panias, which has given its surname to Cæsarea, of which we shall have occasion to speak. This is a delightful stream, and, so far as the situation of the localities will allow of, winds along in its course and lingers among the dwellers upon its banks. With the greatest reluctance, as it were, it moves onward towards Asphaltites, a lake of a gloomy and unpropitious nature, by which it is at last swallowed up, and its be praised waters are lost sight of on being mingled with the pestilential streams of the lake. For this reason it is that, as soon as ever the valleys through which it runs afford it the opportunity, it discharges itself into a lake, by many writers known as Genesara, sixteen miles in length and six wide; which is skirted by the pleasant towns of Julias and Hippo on the east, of Tarichea on the south (a name which is by many persons given to the lake itself), and of Tiberias on the west, the hot springs of which are so conducive to the restoration of health. 72 Asphaltites produces nothing whatever except bitumen, to which indeed it owes its name. The bodies of animals will not sink in its waters, and even those of bulls and camels float there. In length it exceeds 100 miles being at its greatest breadth twenty-five, and at its smallest six. Arabia of the Nomades faces it on the east, and Machærus on the south, at one time, next to Hierosolyma, the most strongly fortified place in Judæa. On the same side lies Callirrhoë, a warm spring, remarkable for its medicinal qualities, and which, by its name, indicates the celebrity its waters have gained. 73 Lying on the west of Asphaltites, and sufficiently distant to escape its noxious exhalations, are the Esseni, a people that live apart from the world, and marvellous beyond all others throughout the whole earth, for they have no women among them; to sexual desire they are strangers; money they have none; the palm-trees are their only companions. Day after day, however, their numbers are fully recruited by multitudes of strangers that resort to them, driven thither to adopt their usages by the tempests of fortune, and wearied with the miseries of life. Thus it is, that through thousands of ages, incredible to relate, this people eternally prolongs its existence, without a single birth taking place there; so fruitful a source of population to it is that weariness of life which is felt by others. Below this people was formerly the town of Engadda, second only to Hierosolyma in the fertility of its soil and its groves of palm-trees; now, like it, it is another heap of ashes. Next to it we come to Masada, a fortress on a rock, not far from Lake Asphaltites. Thus much concerning Judæa.

Eusebius, Onomasticon B: Βηθσαϊδά, πόλις Ἀνδρέου καὶ Πέτρου καὶ Φιλίππου. κεῖται δὲ ἐν τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ τῇ πρὸς τῇ Γενησαρίτιδι λίμνῃ. / Bethsaida, civitas in Galilaea, Andreae, Petri, et Philippi apostolorum, prope stagnum Genesareth. / Bethsaida, city of Andrew and Peter and Philip. It lies in Galilee near the lake Gennesareth.

ΤΙ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ

pavurcn
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Re: Going fishing.

Post by pavurcn » Thu Oct 05, 2017 2:44 pm

There is also Matthew 12:39-41, on Jonah and his spending time in the belly of a "large fish" according to some translations. Themes of repentance and resurrection are connected with Jonah.

pavurcn
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Re: Going fishing.

Post by pavurcn » Thu Oct 05, 2017 2:56 pm

Also: fish / Hebrew dag are connected with growth and multiplication (See here). Jesus's parables of growth and expansion come to mind.

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Ben C. Smith
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Re: Going fishing.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Oct 05, 2017 3:19 pm

pavurcn wrote:
Thu Oct 05, 2017 2:44 pm
There is also Matthew 12:39-41, on Jonah and his spending time in the belly of a "large fish" according to some translations. Themes of repentance and resurrection are connected with Jonah.
Jonah is a very popular motif in the catacombs, as well:

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Kunigunde Kreuzerin
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Re: Going fishing.

Post by Kunigunde Kreuzerin » Fri Oct 13, 2017 11:50 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Thu Oct 05, 2017 1:35 pm
Lately I have been mulling over the multifaceted symbolism surrounding fish in the early Christian record ...
Thank you for this excellent investigation :cheers:

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Ben C. Smith
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Re: Going fishing.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sat Oct 14, 2017 6:59 am

Kunigunde Kreuzerin wrote:
Fri Oct 13, 2017 11:50 am
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Thu Oct 05, 2017 1:35 pm
Lately I have been mulling over the multifaceted symbolism surrounding fish in the early Christian record ...
Thank you for this excellent investigation :cheers:
Glad you enjoyed it. :)
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Michael BG
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Re: Going fishing.

Post by Michael BG » Sat Oct 14, 2017 3:23 pm

I don’t think you have provided clear linkages between fish being symbolic of something in Judaism, or of it being a particular symbol of the Messianic banquet.

There are no fish at the Last Supper or the Eucharist.

The earliest reference to the Eucharist are likely to be 1 Cor. 10:16-17

[16] The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
[17] Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

And 1 Cor. 11:20-21

[20] When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.
[21] For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk.

The second one could be a communal meal as a foretaste for the Messiah banquet. The first one could be a reference to the blessings over the bread and wine at these communal meals which confirm those partaking as one body of believers.

The Didache 9:1-10 appears to share this communal meal meaning with different blessings over the wine and bread:

9:1 But as touching the eucharistic thanksgiving give thanks thus. 9:2 First, as regards the cup: 9:3 We give You thanks, O our Father, for the holy vine of Your son David, which You made known to us through Your Son Jesus; 9:4 Yours is the glory for ever and ever.

9:5 Then as regards the broken bread: 9:6 We give You thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Your Son Jesus; 9:7 Yours is the glory for ever and ever. 9:8 As this broken bread was scattered on the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; 9:9 for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever.

9:10 But let no one eat or drink of this eucharistic thanksgiving, except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord;

I am interested in the relationship between the Eucharist and the Messianic banquet.

2 Baruch 29:1-8 has people eating the Behemoth and the Leviathan monsters but not fish. I am not sure there is any evidence that anyone in first century Judaism would have seen the Leviathan as a fish rather than a serpent. Therefore the association of the Behemoth and the Leviathan monsters does not make fish a good symbol for the Messiah banquet or the Last Supper or even a post resurrection meal with Jesus.

It should also be noted that the two Lucan passages that refer to a Messianic banquet do not contain any fish – Lk 13:29 and 14:15-24 and nor do the parallels in Matthew (8:11, 22:1-10).

You seem to be on firmer ground when you see the “eschatological feast and bounty expected during the messianic age” in the feedings of the 5000 and 4000 with the addition of Eucharist wording “blessing, breaking and giving”. The idea that the fish were added later is worth considering. It raises the question of where did Mk 8:14-21 come from? It is possible that verses 14b-15 was a separate pericope. However verses 16-21 can’t have existed on their own, they can only exist once the feeding of the 5000 and 4000 stories exist. If we assume that verses 16-21 were created by Mark then the lack of fish could be because it has been attached to a story about bread vv 14-15.

It seems odd to me to talk of a meal that only consists of a drink and eating bread. However in a Jewish setting, in a desolate place, it might not be so odd. It could be a parallel with the manna from heaven in the wilderness after fleeing Egypt. This linkage is made much clearer in the gospel of John 6:30-32 which follows on from the feeding of the 5000 (6:1-15).

If the original feeding stories had no fish why were the fish added?

It is possible to see the feeding of the 5000 and 4000 as having a relationship with the Messiah banquet and the words spoken at the Last Supper. However if we didn’t have the Last Supper story I don’t think we would be surprised by a blessing, a breaking and a giving or sharing. In a Jewish household would there not be a blessing said, would the food not be divided into small portions (if meat by craving, if bread by breaking up) and then the food given out to those at the meal?

It is of course possible that fish are eaten at meals in the gospels because the original settings of the stories were near a sea, such as the Sea of Galilee. If a person lived on the coast in the past we should expect that their main meat dish would be fish.

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Re: Going fishing.

Post by Charles Wilson » Sun Oct 15, 2017 7:58 am

Michael BG wrote:
Sat Oct 14, 2017 3:23 pm
The earliest reference to the Eucharist are likely to be 1 Cor. 10:16-17

[16] The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

Hello MBG --

I believe that the Transvaluation comes from the Roman side on this one:

Dio, Epitome 64:

"...As often as the moon shone out (it was constantly being concealed by numerous clouds of all shapes that kept passing in front of it), one might have seen them sometimes fighting, sometimes standing and leaning on their spears or even sitting down. Now they would all shout together on one side the name of Vespasian and on the other side that of Vitellius, and they would challenge each other in turn, indulging in abuse or in praise of the one leader or the other. Again one soldier would have a private conversation with an opponent: "Comrade, fellow-citizen, what are we doing? Why are we fighting? Come over to my side." "No, indeed! You come to my side." But what is there surprising about this, considering that when the women of the city in the course of the night brought food and drink to give to the soldiers of Vitellius, the latter, after eating and drinking themselves, passed the supplies on to their antagonists? One of them would call out the name of his adversary (for they practically all knew one another and were well acquainted) and would say: "Comrade, take and eat this; I give you, not a sword, but bread. Take and drink this; I hold out to you, not a shield, but a cup. Thus, whether you kill me or I you, we shall quit life more comfortably, and the hand that slays will not be feeble and nerveless, whether it be yours that smites me or mine that smites you. For these are the meats of consecration that Vitellius and Vespasian give us while we are yet alive, in order that they may offer us as a sacrifice to the dead slain long since."

CW

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