In the early 1970’s the Apollo Mission was going strong.
Neil Armstrong was a national hero. People like to talk about their
heroes. And they like to talk about what made that person a “hero.” So,
we can safely assume that the average person in that culture and
in that time would make that connection.
However, these numbers and this phrase would be meaningless to the first
century Greek citizen. The “national” or cultural heroes for the Greeks
were their great mathematicians. And Archimedes was the greatest
mathematician of the ancient Greeks.
Archimedes most important work was the one that was most applicable, the
one that was most widely used, and the one that was most needed. It was
his work on Pi,
He devised a new method to calculate the value of Pi that was very
The section where Archimedes calculates Pi to be approximately 3 1/7 is
very short. Archimedes gives 10 equations. Each one is based on the
previous one. And he adds very little additional text. The striking
peculiarity of his work is that the first 9 of these 10 equations end
with the number 153.
For the writer to be successful in the above
modern examples, it would not be necessary for the modern reader to know
the definition of Pi. The only thing required would be that he recognize
the number sequence of 3.14 when he saw it.
Also, it would not have been necessary when making the connection to the
landing on the Moon that a person know rocket science, or even remember
Neil Armstrong’s name. The only thing necessary would be that a person
recognize the phrase when he saw it. The fact that this phrase was
repeated again and again in the culture of the 1970’s ensures that such
a person would have.
Similarly, in order for John to make his connection with wisdom, it
would not be necessary that his readers understand Archimedes
mathematics, or even to know the definition of Pi - although in that
culture we can be reasonably sure that they did.
The only thing necessary would be that John’s readers would have known
about their greatest cultural hero, Archimedes, and that 153 was the key
number in his work. His work on Pi represents his wisdom.
And it was wisdom that the Greeks most valued. Therefore, John
would know his readers would have been thinking about wisdom when they
read the peculiar detail of 153 fish.
The reason that people today often do not recognize John’s analogy is
because they look and they judge things from a modern-day perspective.
We must learn the culture in which John wrote. We must learn what they
valued and why.
Since the average Greek man on the streets of
Ephesus would have made the connection between 153 and their cultural
hero Archimedes then we can safely reason that St. John, who lived with
them in Ephesus, would also have
seen the connection. And if John was Not intending to make that
connection then he probably should have pointed out that he was NOT
intending what would have seemed as an obvious connection to his
readers. Since John offered no explanation as to what 153 meant, unlike the Church Fathers, then we can reasonably conclude that St. John knew his meaning was
already obvious to his readers.
Would the Greeks have remembered more
details of Archimedes use of 153 when they read John’s Gospel ?
Since the 12th century the West has had
the advantage of the decimal system (using the decimal point in America)
to denote portions of numbers in between whole numbers. Before this
time a person had to use fractions. Although fractions are harder to
remember he would have done so, as person tends to step up to the
demands set before him. A person does what he needs to do. Remembering
six digits is not that hard. It might seem that way to us now only
because those digits are unfamiliar to us today.
Remembering 6 digit fractions seems difficult to us
today because we are spoiled with the decimal system that makes it
unnecessary. We should not be surprised that people in ages past
memorized a lot better than we do today.
It is reasonable to assume that an older and wiser
Greek individual would want to explain to younger Greek individuals the
accomplishments of their cultural heroes.
He would naturally want to speak
about Pythagoras, and Euclid, but he would also and especially want to
talk about Archimedes who was “considered the greatest mathematician of
He would want to talk about his great
accomplishment in finding a new and much better method for calculating
the value of Pi. The younger person would be curious and want to hear or
read an explanation of that method. Archimedes begins his calculations
with the value of the square root of 3.
It is doubtful that a conversation would end with
“Archimedes used the square root of 3.”
is a too uncommon number to not arouse at
least some curiosity in the young person who is wants to learn about his
national and cultural hero. It seems inescapable that an interested
younger person would respond with the question, “What is the square root
of 3?” Because this number is an
irrational number only a rational approximation can be offered
and substituted in order to make mathematical calculations that result
in practical and rational answers. Between the time from Archimedes
up to the time of the adoption of the decimal
system in the West in the 12th century, the most practical
way to express the mathematical values of the square root of 3, as best
as it could be expressed in small whole numbers, is to use the fraction
So, even a very basic
explanation of Archimedes accomplishment and his new method and
how he determined the measure of the perimeters of the polygons that he
inscribed within the circle would need to include this number of 153
since it was so prominent in his calculations.