OK…So I’m tooling along Hebron Parkway (Yeah, it’s Texas) between Plano and my place when a fellow in a red Ford van cuts in front of me. No problem, I’m not in a huge hurry so I back off a bit. That was when I noticed it…the ubiquitous “Christian Fish”… prominently displayed on his rear bumper. More and more these days I find myself in awe of how few brain waves some folks manage to get by on.
A while later, after Mr. High Testosterone Christian had weaved into yet another lane, I passed him when he got stuck behind another car. A moment later he was on my tail and, via my rearview mirror, I noticed him leaning front, seeming to stare at MY bumper.
“I wonder”, I thought. Yeah, as you might have guessed, my bumper sports a “Darwin Fish”. Can’t let superstitious crackers go totally unchallenged now, can we?
Well soon HTC swung into the outside lane and, believe it or not, I saw him glaring at me as he whipped past. I really did try to suppress my smile. Honest.
Once home, I started wondering about the whole fish thing. When, how did it become a Christian symbol? I had always thought it originated with Yeshua himself, or at least with the earliest Christians. So I did some research, and…
It’s true that the old water-walker supposedly referred to his disciples as “fishers of men”, and we all know the story about how he even out-did the make-do prowess of my Aunt Sarah by feeding almost a gazillion hangers-on with some day-old bread and a couple of ripe fish, but, and here’s the thing…there is no evidence the fish was all that important a symbol of the original Jesus Movement.
Rather, the fish was a religious symbol in pagan cultures at least six centuries before Mary pulled the wool over Joseph’s eyes with her incredible story.
Barbara G. Walker, in “The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects”, writes that the acronym (using the greek spelling of fish) pertaining to Jesus was a “rationale invented after the fact”. Christians simply copied this pagan symbol along with all the other pagan symbols they pinched — Christmas on the winter solstice, Easter following the vernal equinox, the virgin birth, sacrifice and resurrection…all well known symbols and myths predating Jesus.
Ichthys was the offspring son of the ancient Sea goddess Atargatis, and was known in various mythic systems as Tirgata, Aphrodite, Pelagia or Delphine. The word also meant “womb” and “dolphin” in some tongues, and representations appear in the mythology of mermaids. The fish is also a central element in other myths, including the Goddess of Ephesus (who has a fish amulet covering her genital region), and the tale of the fish that swallowed the penis of Osiris. A fish was also considered a symbol of the vulva of Isis.
Along with being a generative and reproductive spirit in mythology, the fish also has been identified in certain cultures with reincarnation and the life force. Sir James George Frazer noted in his work, “Adonis, Attis, Osiris: Studies in the History of Oriental Religion” that among one group in India, the fish was believed to house a deceased soul, and that as part of a fertility ritual specific fish is eaten in the belief that it will be reincarnated in a newborn child.
So well before Christianity then, the fish symbol was well known among the ancients. Another example is as “the Great Mother,” a pointed oval sign, the “vesica piscis” or Vessel of the Fish. “Fish” and “womb” were synonymous terms in ancient Greek,”delphos.” Its link to fertility, birth, feminine sexuality and the natural force of women was acknowledged also by the Celts, as well as pagan cultures throughout northern Europe.
Eleanor Gaddon traces a “Cult of the Fish Mother” as far back as the hunting and fishing people of the Danube River Basin in the sixth millennium B.C.E. Over fifty shrines have been found throughout the region which depict a fishlike deity, a female creature who “incorporates aspects of an egg, a fish and a woman which could have been a primeval creator or a mythical ancestress…” The “Great Goddess” was portrayed elsewhere with oversized breasts, accentuated buttocks and a conspicuous vaginal orifice, the upright “vesica piscis” which Christians later adopted and rotated 90-degrees to serve as their symbol.
Look…if you’re a Christian and this upsets you, I’m sorry. But I have a duty to you…to hold up the truth in front of you, to show you that your religion isn’t some bright, new revelation, but rather a compilation of myths and practices that can be traced as far back in human history as we can see. There is nothing new about the claims made for your Christ – shepherds, caves, virgins, savior, resurrection…all retreads, all seen many times before, all well-known myths to folks living in first century Palestine.
And the fish is just one more Christian retread.
So get ye hence and, if you must prostrate your intellect to one or another superstition, at least try to find an original one.