Today we will look at a 16th century fresco from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mt. Athos in Greece. Unfortunately, part of the image is blocked by the gaudy, gilt baroque-style woodwork in front of it, but nonetheless we can see enough of the image for our purposes. Here it is:
This icon image is a good example of how helpful it is to have general biblical knowledge when trying to identify a scene.
Obviously, it is a boat full of men fishing, and one man swimming toward shore:
If we look to the right, we can see a figure (partially hidden by the woodwork in the foreground) identifiable as Jesus. How do we know? First, he has the halo with three points of the cross visible in it. That is characteristic of Jesus. Second, we see the Greek letters IC XC above his head, abbreviating Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ” — so there is no doubt about who it represents:
We should also look down below Jesus, where we see — again partially hidden by the woodwork — a round loaf of bread marked with a cross, and part of a fish lying on what look like red rocks. That is another clue.
If you know the New Testament reasonably well, you probably already identified the scene. But if there is any doubt, we need only look at the fragment of Greek inscription at upper right:
The beginning is not visible, but we can see at least this much:
As is common in older Greek inscriptions, the letters are all run together, without spaces separating the words. At the beginning of this portion, we see a T followed by the joined letters O and U, with the U looking like a V and placed on top of the O. can see the ligature joining the letters O and U. And we also see at the end the joined letters T and O, with the T placed atop the O. You will be familiar with those ligatures from past articles here.
Here is the visible portion of the inscription again:
If we separate it into words, we get:
–[T]Α ΔΕΞΙΑ ΜΕΡΗ ΤΟΥ ΠΛΟΙΟΥ ΤΟ ΔΙΚΤΥΟΝ
It is not a title inscription. It is Jesus talking, and we find his words in the Gospel called “of John,” chapter 21:
ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· Βάλετε εἰς τὰ δεξιὰ μέρη τοῦ πλοίου τὸ δίκτυον, καὶ εὑρήσετε.
Ho de eipen autois Balete eis ta dexia mere tou ploiou to diktuon, kai
“And he said to them, Cast to the right side of-the boat the net, and
So that tells us this is a scene from the story told in John 21. It is the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. Here is the portion relevant to the fresco image:
1. After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and in this manner he showed himself. 2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.
3 Simon Peter says to them, I am going fishing. They say to him, We also are going with you. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
4 But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus says to them, Children, have you anything to eat*? They answered him, No.
6 And he said to them, Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to pull it [in] because of the multitude of fishes.
7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer garment around him, (for he was naked,) and cast himself into the sea.
8 And the other disciples came in a little boat; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.
9 As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
Notice that in this story, as mentioned in previous postings about the ability of Jesus to appear in “another form,” the disciples do not at first recognize him.
Also, it is interesting to note that the word translated above as “anything to eat,” when Jesus asks the disciples if they have any, is προσφάγιον/prosphagion in the original Greek. It commonly means cooked fish as food, but it can also mean other things eaten with/on bread — literally something “to eat.”
Notice that we also now know what the little “red rocks” are that the fish is lying on in the fresco — they are the hot coals mentioned in 21:9:
As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
The round loaf of bread is reminiscent of the Eucharist.
The image of the appearance of Jesus to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias is a common part of later Russian “Resurrection” icons that combine several related scenes. If we look at this central image from a 19th century Palekh (that famous icon-painting village) icon of the Resurrection and Major Church Festivals, we see the “Appearance at the Sea of Tiberias” at lower right:
The painter of this image has given the disciples a rather grand sailing ship with three masts. We see Peter in the water, and Jesus standing on the shore at left.