Biblical Archaeology Review 41:3, May/June 2015

Iconoclasts and Fishermen: Christian Symbols Survive

By Zaraza Friedman

Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2015

This short article is a kind of pushback against the iconoclasts of the eighth century C.E. who gouged out images of people and animals in churches and synagogues. They offend me. I am going to explore the meaning of two mosaic medallions involving fish and fishing that the iconoclasts partially destroyed in a church in Israel. These mosaic medallions continue to tell us of early Christian devotion to fish and fishermen—even where there was no fishing site in the area.

In Christian art, fish, fishing nets and fishermen became the symbolic image of Jesus or the apostles who brought salvation to believers. The metaphors drawn from the natural world, seas or rivers inhabited by varied fish and water creatures, became popular subjects in sermons and teachings of the Church Fathers, which also provided the visual source for the symbolism of such motifs in early Christian iconography.

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