In the Gospel of “John,” the author, whomever he might have been, alleged that Jesus’ disciples met the resurrected Jesus, whilst fishing. Apparently, they weren’t too convinced by his earthly miracles and following his death, returned to their former profession, fishing! The story of this incredible meeting is as follows:
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
Leaving aside the apparent absurdity regarding the fact that his disciples did not recognize their teacher, lord and saviour in the flesh, or the fact that even after realizing the son of God was standing before them, they still stopped to count the 153 fish; there is a symbolic aspect to this tale, which may be derived from the Pythagoreans.
The author of “John” tells us that there were exactly 153 fish! Now, if the story be a fiction, or allegory, and I think that it may well be, then we have to ask, why 153 fish and are there any earlier tales, from other legends or mythologies that the author(s) of this Gospel may have been drawing from.
Let us begin with the number 153.
This number was sacred to the cult of the Pythagoreans, as it is a mathematically significant number. 153 is a triangular number(1) and also, each digit cubed and added together produce the number 153 (2), but this is not the most significant fact about this number for the purpose of this investigation. To illustrate the most significant aspect of this number for our comparison between the Pythagoreans and the later Christians, allow me to present a diagram, depicting a very popular Pythagorean symbol.
Here is the Diagram:
Notice the centre shape, or vesica pisces, or ‘Ichthys’ as it later came to be known. It has a ratio of 153/256 and so, the number 153 became known to the people living prior to, and contemporaneously with, the author of “John’s” Gospel as, the ‘Measure of The Fish.’
We know that this ‘measure of the fish’ goes back to at least the third-century BCE, for we have the testimony of the famous mathematician, Archimedes, in his ‘Measurement of Circles’ who referred to this ratio (153/265), as constituting the ‘measure of the fish.’(3)
So, we have enough to establish that the Vesica Pisces was a symbol going back to the third-century BCE, if not further, and also, later we see this symbolic shape in early Christian art and architecture. Below are two examples:
Ok, so at present we have a symbolically significant number relating to fish, woven into a narrative about fishermen catching a whole heap of fish in their nets. This alone, merely gives us grounds to ponder a connection; however, when coupled with an ancient tale of Pythagoras, we are given more justification to seriously consider that the author of “John” may have been drawing upon this ancient allegory.
Writing in the third-century CE, the Neoplatonist, Iamblichus, author of the 'Life of Pythagoras,'
relayed an ancient tale of Pythagoras and it is as follows:AT that time also, when he was journeying from Sybaris to Crotona, he met near the shore with some fishermen, who were then drawing their nets heavily laden with fishes from the deep, and told them he knew the exact number of the fish they had caught. But the fishermen promising they would perform whatever he should order them to do, if the event corresponded with his prediction, he ordered them, after they had accurately numbered the fish, to return them alive to the sea: and what is yet more wonderful, not one of the fish died while he stood on the shore, though they had been detained from the water a considerable time. Having therefore paid the fishermen the price of their fish, he departed for Crotona.(4)
Although the number of fish in the tale is not mentioned, it has, for obvious reasons, been suggested that the number of fish in this story, was the measure, or number of the fish, 153.
What do you guys think? References
3. David Fideler. Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism. The Theosophical Publishing House. (1993). p. 307.
4. Iamblichus. (trans. Thomas Taylor). Life of Pythagoras. J.M Watkins. (1818). p. 17