Monday, November 01, 2010

YHWH in Ancient Rome?

Okay, I might be going a little out in left field with this one, but I thought I would bring it before you and see what you all think of it. Anyone who has studied biblical or ancient history has invariably come across a whole genre of quak-historical studies having to do with theories of where the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel vanished to. You know what I'm talking about...the "British Israel" theory, that the Irish and original British were displaced Israelites (and that the prophecies and promises made to Old Testament Israel apply to the British Empire, and by extension, to the United States, which had its origin in the British Empire). Some say the Israelites sailed across the Atlantic and became the Mayan peoples...there are ethnic groups in India, southeastern Asia and Ethiopia that all claim descent from Israel's Ten Lost Tribes; of course, the Mormons have their own absurd take on this theme. There is even a theory that the Lost Tribes had something to do with Atlantis.

Therefore, please take what I am going to say with a HUGE grain of salt, because I am in no way wedded to this theory that I am about to propose. I merely noticed something and am interested in some feedback.

First, we know that the ancient Israelites, whether the ten northern tribes or the southern tribes of Judah, did not pronounce the name of God. They considered it too holy, choosing instead in speech to replace His name with phrase like "heaven" (as found in Maccabees) or more simply LORD, as found in most of the Old Testament. In writing, the holy Name was usually written in the form of the Tetragrammton, which consists of the four consonants of God's Name with the vowels removed so as to render in unpronounceable - the Tetragammaton in Hebrew is, יְהֹוָה,which is translated into English as the consonants YHWH. Though nobody knows how the Holy Name was pronounced, most Hebrew scholars believe it was close to "Yahweh."

This much really isn't in question - but now let's look at the ancient Roman connection. The three supreme deities of the Roman pantheon were Jupiter, Minerva and Mars. Of course, as St. Augsutine points out in City of God, the deities of the Romans were legion, including gods for door hinges and gods for the stems of plants. But in the Etruscan and early Republican periods, Jupiter, Minerva and Mars were supreme, followed by Vesta, Vertumnus, Janus, Terminus, etc. It is unknown when worship of Jupiter first came to Rome, but it is generally agreed that the cult of Jupiter predates the establishment of the Republic.

Now, next point: Jupiter is itself a compound of two words: Iou and Pater, or "Father Jove," as Jove is the more antiquated name for Jupiter. Jupiter is really Jove.

If we remember our Latin (and Indiana Jones 3: The Last Crusade), we know, of course that the "J" in Latin was not pronounced as the English J, but rather as a kind of Y sound, as in the Latin Iesus ("yay-zoos").

Furthermore, as the classicists remind us, the "V" in classical Latin was not pronounced with a V sound, but had more of a W sound to it. I remember my Latin professor at college pointing out that Caesar's "veni, vidi, vici" would have been pronounced weni, widi, wici. I know that ecclesiastical Latin does not use the classical pronounciation, for which I am extremely grateful; but, as far as I know, there is no debate that the Romans of the Republic used this pronounciation; my understanding is that the debate is about how we ought to pronounce Latin today, not whether or not it was ever pronounced this way in the past. 

Okay, so to put this all together - the Tetragrammaton was pronounced close to the English "Yahweh." If we take the ancient Roman JOVE, which is the real name of Jupiter, and pronounce it how the ancient Romans would have pronounced it (with the J as an I and the V as a W), then we get something that sounds astonishingly similar: IOVE ("Yo-way")...Yahweh ("Yah-way"). Compound this with the fact that Jove was a sky god, which was seen as the dwelling place of the God of Israel (see, for example, 1 Kings 20:23, but also many other places in the Old Testament referring to God's dwelling place as being in the heavens or at the highest places).

So, without getting into a whole complicated theory positing the migration of the Ten Lost Tribes to iron age Italy in the pre-Republican period, could it possible that there was some sort of cultural exchange and that brought the knowledge of the true God into ancient Latium or Etruria? I don't think this is too implausible; and though I am not an expert in the field of etymology, it seems odd that two contemporary peoples could have gods with such similar names without some cultural connection.

Does any of this sound credible or am I drawing lines between points that aren't there?


Clifford Carvalho said...

You might be onto something. The false god Jove (I think I'll stick to the ecclesial pronunciation for simplicity's sake) does seem to be based on the True God.

Anonymous said...

I think that the most probable explanation is that "Father Jove" or Jupiter refers simpy to Iapetus or Yafet, one of the sons of Noah. Romans were not a semitic nation to be sure and the idea that they were venerating their ancestor is rather natural. I cannot recall where I first saw this explanation, it might have been in the visions of blessed Katherine Emmerich.

Richard said...

It's a tempting coincidence. But the Latin "Iovis" is systematically better explained as related to an earlier stem "div-" or "diav-", which appears to go back to the indo-european root "deyw-o-", meaning divinity.

Richard said...

I might also mention that the Japheth-Iapetus-(egyptian)Ptah connection is similarly apocryphal. It's very enticing at first glance, but then it quickly begins to break down when you look into the details.

For example, the roles of each personage are quite different in each narrative tradition, so a lot of unhistorical speculation about religious developments must be assumed for any connection to be made. Also, the Hebrew for Iapheth is "Yepheth"; "Iapheth" comes from the LXX. So one would need to account systematically for the vowel and consonants changes, since the Greek is "Iapetos" and not "Iaphethos"--this is a crucial phonemic distinction of aspiration which gets lost in English. (One could very reasonably doubt whether the comparatively mush later spelling of "Yepheth" accurately reflects the original pronunciation, or whether the LXX preserves something more accurate, or whether there might have been regional variation...)

Finally, in a cursory investigation into this I found a number of unsubstantiated claims that the Iapetus-Japheth connection was based on an "old Jewish tradition" or some such. Well, we must remember that one of the oldest Jewish "traditions", as it were, is Hellenistic syncretism that takes its cue from the massive cultural cross-pollination that occurred after the conquests of Alexander the Great in the late 4th C. BC, esp. in the city of Alexandria. Considering this, my two cents are that the speculative theory of an actual Japheth-Iapetus connection is approximately as believable and as substantiated as the speculative theory that Alexandrian Jews of the Hellenistic era altered the vocalization from Yepheth to Yapheth in order to make the prestigious claim that Greek mythology was a derivative of Hebrew history. In either case, the theory is highly suspect.

Boniface said...


Thanks for the great input!

Couldn't the theory still be valid if both the words Iovis and Yahweh were traceable to the deyw-u Indoeuropean?

Richard said...

You're welcome. And while we're on compliments, let me say that I love the content of your blog. It always makes me think, and I very much appreciate your holding (not only, but especially) lay Catholicism to a high intellectual standard.

Regarding the matter at hand, even though there's plenty of evidence to back up the phenomenon of massive Mediterranean cultural exchange in the first half of the 1st millennium BC, I don't think it would be valid to associate this particular linguistic similarity with the Lost Tribes. If the Lost Tribes were in some way responsible for a relationship between "deyw-o-" and "yahweh", then they would have to have been lost much earlier than the 8th C. BC.

Of course, that doesn't invalidate the possibility of a relationship between the indoeuropean root and Yahweh. But that strikes me as an enormously difficult proposition to prove, mostly because we just don't have reliable historical linguistic evidence to substantiate it, let alone draw social conclusions from it.

Joseph Smith said...

sir, why are you happy the church uses ecclesial pronunciation instead? I love church latin pronunciation but its messes me up when I pronounce Latin "wrong" by accident sometimes in my college Latin class.

Anonymous said...

Boniface all I will say is you are indeed drawing lines between points that aren't there.

Some things are to be a mystery and sometimes we touch on things that could be dangerous to touch.

I myself have ask about the ten lost tribes of Israel and although I have my theories I don't allow myself to go to deep into them.

I feel that those comparisons you made about Jupiter etc, are even blasphemus since I"ve done some studying into the greek and roman pagan deities and find their relation to occult practices or demonic entities.

That is all I will say.

Boniface said...

Thanks...I, too, think it is a little far-fetched, especially since another poster has offered a better explanation.

I don't think it is blasphemous to suggest though..we are talking about etymology, not theology. Even if Jupiter were a corruption of Yahweh, it says nothing about whether those two gods are actually substantially the same. Any word can get corrupted over time.

Boniface said...

Joseph Smith-

I like ecclesiastical pronunciation because:

(1) This is the authentic pronunciation as developed in the Church over the centuries, the classical pronunciation having died out even in the Late Roman times

(2) I think the ecclesiastical pronunciation is objectively more beautiful (who wouldn't choose "veni" over "weni"?)

(3) The move towards classical pronunciation in academia is relatively recent (c. 1900) and is based on a determined move against ecclesiastical pronunciation.

tubbs said...

excellent discussion here.
Please, good Boniface, some good references/sources for this academic vs. ecclesiastical Latin debate.
I remember pondering this topic of God's name, when I was in school, and reading an Alexander Pope ditty about 'Jupiter, Jehova, or Jove'. Anyone remember that poem?