Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vayeitzei - The Origin of the Word God


No, this is not about the 'word god' as in the storm god and the love god, who may or may not be a lurking blogger. Yes, that would have been a more exciting topic, but I didn't know how to connect it to the parsha. So I'm going to talk about etymology.

A brief Wikipedia search on the origin of the word ‘god’ reveals the following:

“The earliest written form of the Germanic word god comes from the 6th century Christian Codex Argenteus. The English word itself is derived from the Proto-Germanic * ǥuđan. Most linguists agree that the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European form * ǵhu-tó-m was based on the root * ǵhau(ə)-, which meant either ‘to call’ or ‘to invoke’.”

Google came up with this link which presents a survey of various sources that attempt to decipher the origin of the word. It begins with a short summary of its conclusion, which contains the following sentence:

“The word God is a relatively new European invention, which was never used in any of the ancient Judaeo-Christian scripture manuscripts that were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin.”

I am befuddled by the fact that they seem to have overlooked a very clear source.

In this week’s parsha - Genesis 30:11 - we read:

וַתֹּאמֶר לֵאָה בגד (בָּא גָד)

Targum [Pseudo-]Jonathan interprets:

וַאֲמַרַת לֵאָה אָתָא מַזְלָא טָבָא

I would assume that if ‘mazal’ = ‘gad’ then we could have a pretty good indication of where the word ‘god’ came from.

If this isn’t good enough, note the word גדא which is mentioned several times in the Talmud. See, for example, Hullin 40a:

אמר אביי לא קשיא הא דאמר להר הא דאמר לגדא דהר דיקא נמי דקתני דומיא דמיכאל שר הגדול

It is quite clear from the context that גדא דהר means just that; god of the mountain!

I have never studied etymology but to me this seems like a very clear source. I am curious to hear your comments.

1 comment:

  1. In Dari lnaguage, one of the oldest living IE languages, the word for God is 'ghuda.' Ghuda means 'of itself.' This is an important cognate to other IE languages, like English, German, Sanskrit, et al. that seems overlooked in your discussions of word origins. Therefore, it is likely a cognate of proto-IE origins.

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