Happy Sunday, Seekers! Before we stop apologizing, let me explain that “apologetics” is a genre of religious argument that mounts a reasoned intellectual defense against attacks from cultured despisers. Apologetics is actually the opposite of apologizing.
So I was browsing a web hub for some modern brother Seeker and ran across his own little apologia against Atheists and New Agers who say the fish was a pagan religious symbol stolen by early Christians.
Brother Seeker is a guy names James Patrick Holding who appears to be a kind of full-time intellectual Evangelical, with a YouTube channel, e-books, reams of rapidly written articles on topics from Star Trek to the Resurrection. He’s an active part of the online Evangelical pseudo-science universe, which is absolutely thriving.
Apparently this fish-pagan-copyist accusation was raised in a popular womynist reference doorstop called The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, by Barbara Walker, written in 1988 and still very much in print.
Holding offers the standard rebuttal that the fish symbol derives from the “fishers of men” parable in Matthew 4:19 and the coincidence that the Greek word for fish (“ICTYS”) forms an anagram for “Iesous Christos Theous Yios Soter” (“Jesus Christ, Son of God the Savior”). This clever-anagram apology is the standard Evangelical position.
No paganism here, right? Whew.
But wait. Ground stop. 10 count. The Evangelicals are only half-right.
Had they been prancing their way through Augustine’s “City of God,” like us, they would have discovered the REAL story. In Book XVIII, Chapter 23, Augustine talks about the Ancient Greek Erythrean Sibyl, whose prophecies — pagan prophecies! — were widely quoted and revered by early Christians because they were thought to anticipate Christ, six centuries earlier. (Michelangelo depicts her in the Sistine Chapel.)
Augustine says a certain Roman scholar and proconsul named Flaccianus showed him a Greek manuscript one day. A manuscript that he claimed contained the original prophecies of the Erythrean Sibyl. One passage Augustine saw was a poem, the first letter of each line of which spelled out “Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Savior” in Greek.
Our code-breaking pal Augustine also notes that there are 27 lines in the Sibyl’s poem, which is 3 cubed, which is like Trinity Times Three = Turbo Trinity! Coincidence?
And this pagan prophecy yields the Greek anagram for FISH, as he says:
“… in which word Christ is mystically understood, because He was able to live, that is, to exist, without sin in the abyss of this mortality as in the depth of waters.”
Now, Augustine had no way of knowing that the so-called Sibylline Oracles so revered by early Christians are obvious first- and second-century forgeries entirely unrelated to the REAL Sibylline prophecies, which were probably destroyed by fire about a century before Christ’s time. Which is no doubt why modern Christian apologists have written them out of church history.
Happy fishing! And sorry.