Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun ναος (naos) means dwelling and is often used synonymously for temple. It is the Bible's most common word for the central temple building (the temple complex at large is mostly referred to with the noun ιερον, hieron, meaning sacred place or sanctuary). In the New Testament this word is employed 46 times; see full concordance.
Our noun ναος (naos) may denote pagan temples, such as those of Artemis of Ephesus (Acts 19:24) and also the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:5, Luke 1:9, John 2:19) and ultimately the living temple (1 Peter 2:5, Revelation 3:12). What this living temple in practice comes down to is a hotly debated issue, but here at Abarim Publications we surmise that the living temple complex will consists of the biosphere that contains a humanity that is fully synchronous with and wholly aware of the natural laws that make creation work.
Where pagans embodied their deities in effigies and placed these things in temples for them to live in, the Temple of YHWH was designed to achieve two goals:
- To provide a home for the worship of YHWH, which not only comes down to singing songs and distributing food, but also to researching the workings of creation (Exodus 33:13, Psalm 25:4, Romans 1:20), to teach God's natural law to the people (Nehemiah 8:8, Luke 2:46, John 8:20) and to preserve the library of Scriptures that dealt with natural law (1 Samuel 10:25, 2 Kings 22:8, Psalm 40:5-8).
- To center the entire temple complex on an ostensibly empty room that specifically reminded Israel that the Living Creator of the universe does not live in a common temple (Acts 7:48, 17:24, see 1 Kings 8:27).
When in 64-63 BC the Roman general Pompey conquered the nations of the Levant, his first order of business was to enter the temple of the defeated nation's national deity, to demonstrate his superiority over this national deity and even the deity's passive consent for him being there. When he entered Jerusalem's Holy of Holies in 63 BC, he found no deity and was thus unable to demonstrate his superiority.
Rome's subsequent hate for Jews and thus Christians stemmed from their atheism (that means: without an effigy, "a charge on which many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned," in the words of Cassius Dio, Hist.67.14) because Rome needed any kind of theism to make its monstrous world work.
Our noun has one derivative, namely the noun νεωκορος (neokoros), which combines our noun with the otherwise unused verb κορεω (koreo), meaning to sweep and which literally denotes a temple sweeper.
In time, as temples grew more elaborate, this word became the title of any temple worker or keeper, and by New Testament times it had become an honorary title of cities that housed and maintained certain famous temples. This word occurs only once in the New Testament, namely in Acts 19:35, where Ephesus is called the νεωκορος (neokoros) of the temple of Artemis.
Temples, ships and treasure troves
Ancient humans appear to have started to erect huge monuments as expressions of their collectivity, quite literally "to make a name for themselves" (Genesis 11:4). When a stranger ventured into some lush valley and happened upon a monument that had no evident purpose but could only have been put there by thousands of strong men working closely together like a colony of ants, this stranger would think twice to meddle with any of them in fear of getting in trouble with the rest. From the Uffington White Horse to the enigmatic talaiot of Minorca and Majorca, the torri of Corsica, the sesi of Pantelleria, the nurraghes of Sardinia or the brochs of Scotland, it appears that in recent pre-history mankind went through a phase during which communities flaunted their degree of intraregional cooperation like peacocks do their feathers.
The monumental expression of a society's collective muscle obviously also expressed the collective identity of the society, and probably evolved into facilities for storage of the society's collective surplus. The next step was the rise of tribal totems and then patron deities and subsequently priestly elites and wisdom traditions. An uninformed observer of the modern age may be forgiven to surmise that the job of ancient shamans and priests was to swindle the masses out of their pocket moneys, but the truth is (obvious to the rest of us) that religion and priestly classes were originally designed to develop, channel and store a society's wisdom and skills.
Throughout antiquity, it has always been the job of priests to find ways to bundle the individual capacities of people into a unified force (which in Biblical jargon is usually equated with a river). The strength of this unified force was demonstrated in the impressiveness of its central monument, which in turn depended on:
- The smartness and skillfulness of the average individual
- The amount of individuals
- The diversity of the individuals
- The degree of their synchronicity
Recent studies suggest that music and song are older than linear speech and may indeed also have arisen as show of collective synchronicity and communal muscle. It's this quest for collective synchronicity that ultimately evolved into religions (and thus central governments and central banking systems).
People like the Hebrews understood that the success of humanity depended largely on humanity's knowledge of the natural world (Romans 1:20), which drove them to study nature, to perfect writing systems, and to turn their temple into a library (see our articles on the names Mary and Magdalene for more on this). It was also understood that the size and diversity of the collective that unified was proportional to the strength of the unified force, which drove them to engage as many societies as possible and learn from them and develop a world bustling with international trade.
Fleets, trade winds and novelties
Etymologically, our word ναος (naos) derives from the unused verb ναιω (naio), meaning to dwell, which in turn is identical to the verb ναιω (naio) meaning to overflow or be full (of a storehouse), from whence derives the verb ναω (nao), meaning to flow, and from that verb comes the noun ναυς (naus), meaning ship. Ships brought in wealth and military security, and ships were doubtlessly recognized as the cousins of temples (Revelation 8:9).
That this similarity is more than a cute coincidence is demonstrated by Matthew 4:1, which tells of Jesus being "led up" by the Spirit into the wilderness. With the sole exception of this Matthean occurrence, the passive voice of this verb αναγω (anago), meaning to lead up, invariably means to "set sail" or "to depart per ship." The word for spirit, namely πνευμα (pneuma), literally means wind, and back then wind was the means by which ships got around. It's likewise also no coincidence that the name Canaan means merchant, and for more on the connection between the gospel of Jesus Christ and international trade, see our article on the name Abraham.
Another word that looks rather similar to all these is the familiar adjective νεος (neos), meaning new or young.