Three More Fish Stories (John 21:11)

By Kiley, Mark | Journal of Biblical Literature, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Three More Fish Stories (John 21:11)


Kiley, Mark, Journal of Biblical Literature


(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

The perennially interesting conundrum of the 153 fish finds its most complete recent treatment in the commentary of Craig Keener.1 Of the approximately dozen suggestions that are highlighted there, it is probably fair to say that the one holding sway at this moment sees the number as a gematrical sum alluding to the Hebrew for children of God. In this critical note, I wish to add three suggestions to the hopper.

1. Peter when old. This is perhaps the simplest of the three suggestions, based on an inter-Greek exercise of gematria.

The number 153 is the sum of the digits of the following Greek letters: gamma, rho, nu.

γ = 3

ρ = 100

v = 50

These letters form the consonantal spine of the word for old, in verbal form applied by Jesus to Peter in John 21:18.2

2. Justice. As described by the neo-Pythagorean Iamblichus, justice is "a power of rendering what is equal and fitting comprehended by the mean of an odd square number."3 This fourth-century C.E. definition, preserving earlier tradition, is relevant to the Fourth Gospel in the following way: The first odd number is 3; its square is 9.4 The mean of 9 is 5. Five is the "mean" of the number of fish 1, 5, 3. There are also five places in the farewell discourse, each buffered by a different theme, where the disciples are commanded to ask (...).5 Further, according to one recent commentator, five provides the numerical substructure of the whole text.6 By his having returned to the Father, Jesus has demonstrated the justice of God (16:10), and that justice is here adumbrated in the 153 fish.

3. Providence. The sum of the digits in 153 is 9,7 and it occurs following a portion of the text in which eight people are present at the cross of Jesus.8 This 8, 9 sequence is used as a structuring principle in Sirach's panegyric in honor of Simeon the high priest, according to a recent article by Jeremy Corley.9 He links this pattern to statements in Sir 18:6 and 42:21 and Qoh 3:14 and suggests that the numerical pattern alludes to the exact providence of God's action in history, where nothing needs to be added and nothing subtracted.10 John's attention to 8 and 9 may have a similar intention of praising God's providence in the history of its preeminent high priest, Jesus.

Moreover, the sum of 8 and 9 is 17,11 and 153 is the result of multiplying 9 × 17. This "increase and multiply" dynamic may be playing with Gen 1:28 LXX, whose ... is directed to the man and woman. The double command echoes the identical command to the sea creatures in Gen 1:22, though 1:28 goes on to give the couple dominion over the fish of the sea. Therefore, the providential reading of 153 is grounded in the lifting up of Jesus as well as in the initial creative and sustaining will of God.

Conclusion. Each of these three options presents itself against a horizon-ofnine. Nine is present in option 2's square of 3, as well as in the sum of the digits and use of 9 as a multiple in option 3. Nine is a remote horizon for option 1 as well: The high point of Peter's confession, that which acts as immediate pretext for the Peter-as-old saying, contains nine words in the Greek: ..., , "Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you" (21:17). We cannot be certain about the evangelist's motivation in utilizing 9 as a background horizon. Perhaps the fact that the last items in the Hebrew lexicon build on the nine stem, JJWn, suggested the root as a fitting one for the conclusion of the text. We know, after all, that Daniel's 1,290 days (Dan 12:11) constitute the penultimate statement ofthat apocalyptic presentation. The Johannine editor may have chosen this numerical frame as a suitable one for the text's final reflection on Jesus' coming (21:23). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Three More Fish Stories (John 21:11)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.