Fish Story:

Catch of 153 fish

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The Catch of 153 fish is an episode in the appendix of the Gospel of John, in which seven of the Twelve Apostles were out fishing when they unexpectedly witness one of the resurrection appearances of Jesus (Luke 5:1-11 has a similar story placed before the resurrection). In the narrative (John 21:1-14), a mysterious stranger asks the apostles for fish, but when they say that they have none, the stranger tells the apostles to throw their net into the water, and the apostles are unable to pull it back due to the volume of fish. The narrative goes on to state that the (unnamed) beloved disciple identifies the stranger as Jesus, which causes Simon Peter to jump into the water, wrapping his coat around him, while the others follow in their boat dragging the net behind them. The number of fish caught is specified to have been 153.

The precision of the number of fish has long been considered peculiar, and many scholars, throughout history, have argued that 153 has some deeper significance. Jerome, for example, claimed that the Greeks had identified that there were exactly 153 species of fish in the sea (modern marine biology puts the figure as something over 29,000, though the disciples were fishing in the Sea of Tibeias, which actually is a lake). Mathematically, 153 is a triangular number, more precisely it is the sum of the integer numbers from 1 to 17 inclusive; more significantly, 153 also has the rare property that it is the sum of the cubes of its own digits (i.e. 153 = 1x1x1 + 5x5x5 + 3x3x3). In the time of Pythagoras, 153 was most significant for being one of the two numbers in the closest fraction known, at the time, to the true value of the square root of 3, the fraction in question being 265/153 (the difference between this and the square root of 3 is merely 0.000025......). The ratio of 153:265 was consequently known throughout the Hellenic world as the measure of the fish.

The fact that the measure of the fish was known to include 153, as one of its two numbers, and that the measure of how many fish the disciples are said to have caught is also 153, has not gone unnoticed by many scholars, with some suggesting that the number of fish in the New Testament episode is simply down to being the most familiar large number to the writer, or a deliberate reference to the geometric nomenclature as a sort of in-joke. It is significant that a story was told of Pythagoras, and later reported by Plato, that is very similar, even in wording, to the Biblical narrative of this event; some scholars have argued that that the entire Biblical episode is a coded reference to a geometric diagram, since Pythagoreanism saw geometry and numbers as having deep esoteric meaning, and via Hermeticism (and more minor routes) it was profoundly influential in the development of Hellenic mystery religions, and in certain aspects of gnosticism, an early form of Christianity. While such themes would be unusual if the New Testament was only intended to be taken literally, several modern scholars, as well as most ancient followers of gnosticism, have argued that parts of the New Testament were written as gnostic documents.

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The Pythagorean diagram
 that can be constructed
 from the story of 153 fish

A diagram with significance to Pythagoreanism can be constructed easily by attempting to represent the biblical scene using simple geometric shapes, whose sizes and number are dictated by the numbers given in the text, as well as by the Isopsephia values of significant words and short phrases in the narrative (the Greeks often wrote numbers by using letters of their alphabet - Isopsephia is the reverse system of working out what numbers are indicated by various words). The scene essentially involves representing Simon Peter as a circle of the same radius as the Isopsephia of the Greek words translated as Simon Peter (in any unit), and the 6 other disciples as identical circles with a single point in common and circumscribed by a circle representing the boat. Since Simon Peter is said by the narrative to have entered the water in front of the disciples, in the diagram he is shown adjacent to the boat, with a chord representing his coat that has the same width as the Isopsephia of the Greek term translated as fisher's coat (in the same units as before), and with the shape of a vesica piscis divided in half along its length. The net is depicted on the opposite side to Simon Peter, by a symmetrical 4x4 grid oriented so that only one point is in contact with the circle representing the ship (i.e. the grid is drawn as a rhombus), as if it had been thrown out by the ship and held only at the corner; the grid is adjusted so that it has 153:265 (the measure of the fish) as the ratio of distances between opposite corners, and has the same width as the Isopsephia of the Greek term translated as The Net.

Despite the apparent simplicity of constructing the diagram, it has several additional features that the re-enforce suggestions of the diagram being deliberately encoded in the text. The Isopsephia of the Greek term translated as The Net is exactly the same as that for Fishes, and by choosing a 4x4 grid, in addition to the body of the fish (i.e. vesica piscis) that exists for the net itself we also have 16 smaller bodies of fish, due to each cell in the grid being mathematically similar to the net; by numbering each of these fish and adding up the numbers, we end up with the total of the numbers of the fish being 153, as in the biblical narrative. Also, the half vesica piscis representing Simon Peter's coat is one corresponding to the intersection of two circles of exactly the same size as the circle representing the boat, which is also true of a vesica piscis circumscribing the grid representing the net. The resulting diagram is mentioned in pre-Christian Pythagorean works, and is mentioned briefly in Plato's Timaeus; supposedly the upper portion, resembling depictions of emergence such as the sun emerging from the horizon, represented to the pythagoreans the realm of the gods, while the central portion represented humanity, and the lower portion represented the shifting world of manifestation.

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