Daniel Dockery

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Home of published musician, recording artist, mathematician, programmer, translator, artist, classicist, and general polymath.

The Redemption of Lucifer

May 30th, 2011

AKA Mistranslated Bibles and Errant Theology

[This ramble brought to you by seeing one too many misrepresentations of the Isaian passage, sparked by this morning seeing an anon—ostensibly Christian—troll* citing it while haranguing a [now deleted] Tumblr with farcical “arguments” about the beliefs of anon’s patchwork theopoeia. Hat-tip, Renée. (*Which is just another mangled myth, since traditionally trolls are supposed to eat Christians!)]

As a translator, I am accustomed to encountering passages where someone has slipped in our craft, and I have been as culpable as any; these are sometimes embarrassing, sometimes amusing, but sometimes a translator so misses the mark as to change the entire meaning of a passage and confound those who, unacquainted with the original material, rely on that translation. Perhaps the most pernicious example of this can be found in the “translations” of the Christian editions of the Tanakh‘s book of Isaiah, cap. 14, verse 12, which has endured so long as to become part of their theology.

איך נפלת משמים הילל בן־שחר

How you are fallen from heaven, Hêlēl ben-Šāḥar!

The problem lies in that single bolded phrase, the name Hêlēl ben-Šāḥar. The figure as a whole is most likely a survival from Canaanite myth, and scholars have found parallels in the larger story in that Isaian passage to some of the texts uncovered at Ugarit, such as that of Athtar attempting to usurp the Most High Baal. But the first name, Hêlēl, meaning “bright” or “shining”, was an epithet of the planet Venus rising as the morning star. This was still understood by the translators of the LXX (working between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE in Alexandria):

πῶς ἐξέπεσεν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὁ ἑωσφόρος ὁ πρωὶ ἀνατέλλων

They rendered the name as Heosphoros, the morning star, also classically understood to be Venus, and was discussed as such from Homer to Plato and Hesiod among others, called Ἀφροδίτης ἀστήρ, the star of Aphrodite (whom the Romans called Venus). But nearly 500 years later, when Jerome was commissioned by the 37th pope, Damascus I, to produce the Vulgate Latin “translation” of the canonical Biblical texts, the error arises. For הילל and ἑωσφόρος, he chose to use the Latin lucifer. While הילל is an hapax legomenon and we cannot compare the translations of it in other parts of the text, the more accurate Greek translation appears in six other places in the Tanakh passages of the LXX.

In the first of these, I Samuel 30:17, the Hebrew is מהנשׁף ועד־הערב—”from before sunrise to after sunset”—rendered correctly in the LXX as ἀπὸ ἑωσφόρου ἕως δείλης, but mistakenly rendered by Jerome as a uespere usque ad uesperam, “from evening to evening”.

In Psalm 109:3, “from the dawn” is in Hebrew משׁחר, which the LXX gave as “before dawn”, πρὸ ἑωσφόρου and Jerome gave as “before the morning star”, ante luciferum.

In Job, where we find the largest concentration of this term, the first, in 3:9, is simply dawn, שׁחר in Hebrew, ἑωσφόρον in the LXX, but this time Jerome opted for auroræ, which still means dawn (or the goddess of the dawn). In 11:17, “like the morning” is in Hebrew כבקר, ὥσπερ ἑωσφόρος in the LXX, but here Jerome went back to his other term, with ut lucifer, “as the morning star”. In 38:12, we have dawn again, the Hebrew שׁחר, the LXX‘s ἑωσφόρος, and Jerome vacillates back to aurorae. Finally in 41:10, the Hebrew once more offers שׁחר for dawn, the LXX sticks to ἑωσφόρου and Jerome… came up with yet another word, diluculi. It can still mean dawn, though usually meant the earliest or first rays of sun in the morning.

We can see that the most common term here in the Hebrew is שׁחר, yet for that single term, Jerome offered lucifer, aurora and diluculum (and elsewhere in his text used mane to translate the same word), and is inconsistent even in the use of those. For instance, in Psalm 109:3 he used lucifer for שׁחר, yet in Isaiah 14:12, it is הילל that he translated as lucifer while rendering שׁחר as qui mane oriebaris, “who rose early in the morning”. In Job 11:17, he used lucifer for another term altogether (בקר); in Job 38:32, he “translated” מזרות as lucifer, which seems to be intended for מזלות—the constellations—as used in II Kings 23:5, which Jerome there translated as duodecim signis, the “twelve signs”! The LXX gave the transliterated μαζουρωθ in both places. In Job 38:12, he used both diluculum and aurora in the same passage, writing diluculo for בקר, “morning” (which word he translated as lucifer in Job 11:17) and auroræ for שׁחר. In Job 24:17, he decided בקר could then be… aurora. Elsewhere (Psalm 73:16) he also used aurora to translate the Hebrew word אור (light). Diluculum is easily his favorite of these, however, as it occurs some 41 times in his text, as translations of these Hebrew terms and some others as you might have come to expect.

These are not examples of translating a text’s meaning idiomatically into another language as he varies these terms haphazardly even when the meaning and context remains the same; it’s just bad translation. But the point of this article is to focus more particularly on the consequences of his bad translation, especially as concerns Isaiah 14:12. There, despite having used lucifer in five places in his text, he chose to treat the word in only that one place as a proper name—despite that the context in which he’d used it in every other passage should also make it a proper name in Latin. That is, if not a name, the word only means “light-bringing” and was used in Latin to refer to everything from lightning (lucifera lampade) and meteors (luciferas faces) to the moon, and sometimes, as a feminine adjective, referring to the goddess of the moon, Diana (as Cicero writes in de Natura Deorum, 2.68). But when used in Latin to refer to the morning star, it is a masculine proper noun, the name of a mythological figure who appears in the works of Ovid, Lucretius, Pliny, Propertius, Cicero and many others. Awkwardly, for Jerome, Lucifer the Morning Star was mythologically the son of Aurora, though he seems to use the two synonymously. Lucifer, the Roman god’s myth, was well enough established to root him firmly in the Greek and Roman genealogies. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, XI, 266, we meet Ceyx, king and son of Lucifer, who tells the story of his brother Dædalion. Dædalion had a daughter, Chione, who gave birth to a son, Autolycus, by the god Mercury. In Homer’s Odyssey, we find Odysseus the son of Anticleia, the daughter of that same Autolycus, making the hero Odysseus the great-great-great grandson of Lucifer. Which is simply to say, each time Jerome used Lucifer as a translation of the morning star, it should have been a personification, and not just in the one place.

The problem is not just one of vocabulary but interpretation, as it seems clear Jerome, if not the whole early (and subsequent) church, misunderstood the meaning of the entire passage. The original is an allegorical reference to the predicted fall of the King of Babylon, casting him in the role of the mythological figure of Hêlēl, and yet, for some reason, Jerome and the early church fathers, perhaps, particularly Tertullian and Origen, have tried to make the passage out to be about their imaginary devil, and Jerome’s choice to personify this one reference has had the consequence of creating the immense error that “Lucifer” is the name of “the devil”! They seem to choose to ignore the significance of the other occurrences of “lucifer” in the text, including, singificantly, in Jerome’s version of the Christian “New Testament” books, for he uses it in II Peter 1:19, where they talk of the time when the morning star will rise in their hearts as if it’s a good thing—yet Jerome, correctly for once, translates the Greek φωσφόρος as lucifer: donec dies inlucescat et lucifer oriatur in cordibus uestris, “until the day dawns and Lucifer rises in your hearts”. (Ἑωσφόρος and φωσφόρος were synonymous, both being translated as lucifer by the Romans; e.g., in Apollodorus’ Library, I.7.4, “Ἀλκυόνην δὲ Κῆυξ ἔγημεν Ἑωσφόρου παῖς“—Alcyone was married by Ceyx, son of Lucifer—Ἑωσφόρος was used, while in Cicero, de Natura Deorum, 2.53, we find stella Ueneris, quæ Φωσφόρος Græce Lucifer Latine dicitur, “the star of Venus, which is called by the Greeks Phosphorus is Lucifer in Latin”.)

Mythologically, Lucifer’s a nice fellow; he heralds the new day, ushers the darkness away, and helps the lost find their way back home. So, Christians, you’ve been picking on and blaming the wrong guy for nearly two thousand years. Isn’t it time you leave him alone and get your own Bible right?

Oration on the “Dignity” of Man—no, not that one

December 19th, 2007

Inspired by an old post of the Laudator temporis acti which I ran across today, I thought I’d take a moment to share a bit of hope and cheerful optimism from the ancient world concerning the role and state of man.

Palladas, ever a charmer, left a bit of verse that’s come down to us in the Greek Anthology (X, 45), known generally as “The Descent of Man”. Frustrated by the vain puffings of fellow humans of his own time on the topic of the majesty of man, he sought to recall to mind a few details so often forgotten by them, or seemingly so:

Ἄν μνήμην, ἄνθρωπε, λάβῃς ὁ πατήρ σε τί ποιῶν
    ἔσπειρεν, παύσῃ τῆς μεγαοφροσύνης.
ἀλλ᾽ ὁ Πλάτων σοὶ τῦφον ὀνειρώσσων ἐνέφυσεν,
    ἀθάνατόν σε λέγων καὶ φυτὸν οὐράνιον.
ἐκ πηλοῦ γέγονας· τί φρονεῖς μέγα; τοῦτο μὲν οὕτως
    εἶπ’ ἄν τις, κοσμῶν πλάσματι σεμνοτέρῳ.
εἰ δὲ λόγον ζητεῖς τὸν ἀληθινόν, ἐξ ἀκολάστου
    λαγνείας γέγονας καὶ μιαρᾶς ῥανίδος.


If you would recall, o man,
just how your father sowed you,
you’d bridle your vain pride.

Yet the dreamer Plato’s deception
has taken root in you,
calling you immortal,
a heavenly plant.

“You come from dirt;
how are you proud?”
So one might ask,
arranging the figure more pompously.

But if you seek the truth,
you were begotten
of unbridled lust
and an unclean drop.

But he was hardly the first to say or think it. A couple of centuries or so before him, Aurelius (Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν, βιβλίον δʹ, μηʹ, δʹ; c. 174/180) quipped,

ἀεὶ τὰ ἀνθρώπινα ὡς ἐφήμερα καὶ εὐτελῆ καὶ ἐχθὲς μὲν μυξάριον, αὔριον δὲ τάριχος ἢ τέφρα.

Human (lives) are always cheap and ephemeral: yesterday, a little ejaculate; tomorrow, embalming or ashes.

In roughly the same time period, a passage of similar nature appeared in the Mishnah tractate, Pirké Avot,

עקביא בן מהללאל אומר, “הסתכל בשלשה דברים ואין אתה בא לידי עברה.” (א) דע מאין באת, (ב) ולאן אתה הולך, (ג) ולפני מי אתה עתיד לתן דין וחשבון.

מאין באת? מטפה סרוחה

ולאן אתה הולך? למקום עפר רמה ותולעה

ולפני מי אתה עתיד לתן דין וחשבון? לפני מלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא

פרקי אבות, ג׃א


Akavya ben Mahalal’el used to say, “Reflect on three things and you will escape the hand of sin.” (1) Know where you came from; (2) know where you are going; and (3) know in whose presence you will have to make an accounting.

Where do you come from? An unclean drop.

Where are you going? To dust, worms and maggots.

To whom shall you make a reckoning? To the King of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.

Pirké Avot, 3:1

Arithmology in the Bible

September 26th, 2001

Number, both the concept and specific concrete individual numbers, in the ancient world was a highly philosophized subject, with a variety of treatises written on the symbology of single numbers or whole classes and families of numbers, and much of this material, this arithmology, was taught alongside ordinary mathematics and not as a distinct topic. Elements of these traditions continued down from the Pythagoreans and the neo-Pythagoreans through the kabbalists, Renaissance neo-Platonists, the German paragrammaticists and many others, down through the more diffuse and watered down modern notions of “numerology”.

Often overlooked is the role such number symbolism played in the text of the Bible. (Even the few texts like E.W. Bullinger’s Number in Scripture tend to focus only on the occurrence of literal numbers in the text.) Few seem to notice it at all beyond the ever popular “666” of the Book of Revelation. It’s an example of isopsephia, or Greek gematria, the assigning of numerical values to words or phrases based on the values their constituent letters have in the alphabetic numeral systems of languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Coptic and so forth. It was believed that words and expressions whose tallies were equal themselves had some kind of equality or symbolic connection.

῟Ωδε ἡ σοφία ἐστίν. ὁ ἔχων νοῦν ψηφισάτω τὸν ἀριθμὸν τοῦ θηρίου, ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν, καὶ ὁ ἀριθμὸς αὐτοῦ ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ.

hic sapientia est qui habet intellectum conputet numerum bestiae numerus enim hominis est et numerus eius est sescenti sexaginta sex

Here is wisdom. Who has understanding, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and the number is 666.

Revelation 13:18

Over the ages, an overwhelming amount of time and effort has seemingly been spent by people trying to find a way to make a name—typically of some favored villain of the day—sum to this number, whether the attempts in the earliest days to suggest it was the Emperor Nero to more modern Protestant lines implying it was this Pope or that, all of which seem to miss a slight jest inherent in the problem. What? The Greek phrase τὸ μέγα θηρίον means “the great beast”, and its number is itself 666: τ + ὸ (300 + 70), μ + έ + γ + α (40 + 5 + 3 + 1), θ + η + ρ + ί + ο + ν (9 + 8 + 100 + 10 + 70 + 50), 370 + 49 + 247 = 666. In the same text, there is talk of the woman who rides the beast, arrayed in reds and scarlets; some have observed that ἡ κόκκινη γυνὴ, “the scarlet woman”, enumerates to 667, “one” on “the beast”.

Something slightly strange however is that before the number was in its way demonized via the Revelation reference, 6 and its extension on three scales as 666, was interpreted quite positively. Six is the third of the (arithmologically) important triangular numbers, the last before the tetractys so important in Pythagoreanism. It’s the first perfect number, the first number to be equal to the sum of its aliquot parts; it’s the second circular number; it was held classically to be the number of the “directions” (front/back/left/right or n/s/e/w and up/down) and myriad other things. None of which, of course, mean much to us today as number symbolism holds no great sway in our time, yet to the arithmologists of that era and for a few centuries prior, these thoughts were considered quite important. Pseudo-Iamblichus’ Τα Θεολογούμενα της Αριθμητικής (The Theology of Arithmetic) devotes several pages to the symbolism of the number 6 alone. The next rank of polygonal numbers beyond the triangular is the square, and the square of 6 brings us back around to the number above, in that the square of 6 is 36—and the 36th triangular number is 666, the sum of the numbers from 1 to 36, the sum of 6, 6 by the tetractys and that by the tetractys again. Pseudo-Iamblichus was at pains to observe in that context that 600 is itself the enumeration of κόσμος (world, universe, cosmos). All told, before Revelation 666 should have been positive and important.

Indeed, in Hebrew, the word for gain, profit, advantage, superiority, etc., יתרון, enumerates to 666 (10 + 400 + 200 + 6 + 50), which occurs twelve times in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes (1:3; 2:11, 13×2; 3:9; 5:8; 5:15; 7:12; 10:10-11). In I Kings 10:14 and II Chronicles 9:13, it’s stated that Solomon was given 666 talents a year (and the acronym [שמשוך] of that line [שש מאות ששים ושש ככר], itself enumerates to 666), and the number occurs as well as the number of the “sons of Adonikam” in Ezra 2:13 (and their number turns into 667 in the Nehemiah 7:18 version). The number was routinely related to the Sun and solar symbolism, due largely to the ancient numbering of the “planets” associating 6 to the Sun, which made 666 the sum of its magic square.

Adding to the significance is that it is one of the numbers that are “equal in their ranks” (in modern positional notation it simply means that the number has the same digit in the ones, tens, hundreds, etc., places; the multiples of (10^y-1)/9). Virgil, in his Aeneid, ll. 257–277, uses the symbolism of 333; and the Christian numerologists also focused on 777 and 888, where 888 was the enumeration of Ἰησοῦς (Jesus) and by substituting Ϛ (stigma, 6) for the expected στ (s and t, 500) in the word σταυρὸς (cross) it was made to enumerate to 777 (6 + 1 + 400 + 100+ 70 + 200).

The classical theory with gematria (rather than pure arithmology) being, however, that these numbers are less significant as things in themselves than in the context of the words and phrases that bear them as their sum, what do we find if we look for words and phrases enumerating to these numbers? Over the years, I have entertained myself by playing with such number puzzles as these, sometimes doing tallies by hand, sometimes running computerized searches against some text or other. The results are occasionally amusing. Now and then you can run across an older source that suggests one or another of these results was known to earlier generations, and some have been written about elsewhere, but I will present some few oddments here for possible interest.


    εἰμι ἡ ζωή (“I am the life”, John 14:6)

    λόγος ἐστί (“the Word is”, which “word” was theologically identified with Jesus)

    παρακληθήσονται (“they shall be comforted”, Matthew 5:4)

    אלהינו עולם ועד

    [“our god forever”, Psalms 48:14/15)]

    אני יהוה לא שניתי

    [“I am YHWH, I do not change”, Malachi 3:6]

    השמים מספרים כבוד-אל

    [“the heavens declare the glory of god”, Psalms 19:2]

    ישועת אלהינו

    [“the salvation of our god”, Psalms 98:3]


    τὸν ἄρσενα (“the child”, Revelation 12:13)

    ברקיע השמים

    [“in the expanse of the heavens”, Genesis 1:14]

    שער אור

    [“gate of light”]

    והנחמדים מזהב

    [“more desirable than gold”]

    מרים מגדלית

    [“Mary Magdalene”]


    ἀπολλύμεθα (“we perish”, Matthew 8:25, Mark 4:38, Luke 8:24)

    δι’ ἀπιστίαν (“because of disbelief”, Hebrews 3:19)

    εὐπορία (“wealth”)

    παρὰ θεοῦ (“from god”, John 1:6)

    παράδοσις (“tradition”)


    [“as/like god”]


    [“your god”, Isaiah 40:9]

    עשה ארץ

    [“he made the earth”, Jeremiah 10:12, 51:15]

    רקע הארץ

    [“he spread out the earth”, Isaiah 42:5]

    האל יהוה בורא השמים

    [“the god YHWH who made the heavens”, Isaiah 42:5]

    יהי מארת

    [“let there be luminaries”, Genesis 1:14]

    שמש יהוה

    [“YHWH is a sun”, Psalms 84:12/11]

    יום יהוה הוא חשך ולא אור

    [“the day of YHWH will be darkness not light”, Amos 5:18]

    חשיכה ואורה היא כאחד ליהוה

    [“darkness and light are like one to YHWH”, cf. Psalms 139:12]

    ענן וערפל סביבי יהוה

    [“cloud and gloom surround YHWH”, Psalms 97:2]


    [“secret / hiding place”, Psalms 18:12/11]


    [“your dwelling-place”, Psalms 91:9]

    ארון הקדש

    [“holy ark”, II Chronicles 35:3]

    נזר הקדש

    [“holy crown/diadem”, Exodus 29:6, 39:30, Leviticus 8:9]


    [“your joy”]

    ורב שלום בניך

    [“and great will be the happiness of your children”, Isaiah 54:13]

    מחרבו הקשה

    [“from his cruel sword”, Isaiah 27:1]

    כעפר הארץ

    [“as the dust of the earth”]

    מעון תנים

    [“den of jackals”, Jeremiah 51:37]

    אין אדם אשר לא יחטא

    [“No man is without sin”, II Chronicles 6:36]

    אני אדם

    [“I am a man”, “I am Adam”]

Daniel Dockery

animî nostrî dêbent interdum âlûcinâri

Home of published musician, recording artist, mathematician, programmer, translator, artist, classicist, and general polymath.