🔼The name Aquila: Summary
- Eagle, and thus Enforcer, Protector or Sun Eclipser and Counsel Darkener
- Unclear, but perhaps from the noun αγελη (agele), herd, plus the verb קלל (qalal), to be light or swift.
🔼The name Aquila in the Bible
The name Aquila belongs to one of the earliest pioneers of the Gospel. He was a Jew, a native of Pontus (and compare Acts 2:9 to 18:2) and was married to Priscilla. They lived in Rome but were expelled during the reign of Claudius. Hence they moved to Corinth where they teamed up with Paul, and most likely also Timothy and Silas, who joined Paul in Corinth. Aquila and Priscilla accompanied Paul on his journey into Syria, but remained in Ephesus while Paul traveled on (Acts 18:19).
In Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla met Apollos, an extremely gifted theorist who was nevertheless missing a few essential pieces of the Gospel (Acts 18:26). The instruction of Apollos demonstrates that the Gospel was never a simple affair, and might be known in part while it's not at all clear to the believer that his faith is incomplete.
Paul maintained a close friendship with Aquila and Priscilla and greeted them in three of his epistles (Romans, First Corinthians and Second Timothy). The name Aquila appears 6 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
🔼Chickens and eagles
The name Aquila is the Greek rendering of the Latin word aquila, meaning eagle (our English word "eagle" directly stems from aquila), but that comes with an enormous footnote. Eagles, whether single or double-headed, have been venerated since deep antiquity, by the great cultures of Mesopotamia, the Hittites, the Persians, the Greeks and finally the Romans and modern Europeans. The eagle featured particularly prominent as the signature standard of the Roman legions, particularly after the Marian reforms of 107 BC. Still, it's rarely explained why the Roman army would identify with an eagle. Or even where the word aquila, and thus "eagle", comes from, and what this term may have actually signified to whoever began to use it first.
Some have proposed that aquila relates to the very rare adjective aquilus, dark-colored, and ultimately to the familiar noun aqua, water, from the Proto-Indo-European root "akwa-", meaning water. The obvious objection to this is that neither eagles nor water are typically dark, and that eagles aren't particularly watery. The obvious objection to that, however, is that ancient convention on interpreting colors was rather unlike our modern one — Homer famously called the sea wine-colored, or more precise: looking like wine (from οινος, oinos, wine, and ωψ, ops, eye). Furthermore, the ancients had a surprisingly good bead on the hydrological cycle (see our article on the noun νεφελη, nephele, cloud). And that suggests that to the ancients, an eagle may have resembled a dark rain cloud much more than, say, a farmyard chicken.
The name Priscilla means Antiquity, and so the duo Priscilla-Aquila quite literally means Ancient Eagle. This immediately brings to mind the name Moses, which means Extraction, suggesting that the historical reality of the literary character called Moses was not so much one princely misplaced Israelite, but rather the entire natural selection process of a free commercial market; a market that naturally favors certain stories, even certain themes, associations and metaphors, over a great many ultimately rejected ones, so as to finally come up with a kind of Mankind's Greatest Hits compilation: that document that we know today as the Torah, which survived the Bronze Age Collapse while most of the rest of the great human library perished in the world's sudden liquidation.
To meet God, Moses went into the midst of the cloud (Exodus 24:18) and Paul wrote that "our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:2). The word מורה (moreh) means both rain and teacher, and is closely related to the familiar word תורה (tora), meaning instructions (hence the name Torah).
🔼Angels and eagles
The Hebrew word for eagle is נשר (nesher), which appears first in Exodus 19:4, where YHWH says: "You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself." This not only pretty much equates Moses with an eagle (which, incidentally, in turn explains why Maimonides could be called the Great Eagle), it also explains the purpose of the wings of an eagle, or even any bird, or even angels — see αγγελος, aggelos, angel — and ultimately God Himself. Psalm 91:4 reads, "He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge." And Deuteronomy 32:11 reads: "Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions."
The word for pinion is אבר ('eber), from which comes the divine name Abir, meaning Mighty One (not to be confused with עבר, 'eber, to pass over, from which come the names Hebrew and Abarim). The ancients appear to have understood that, in evolutionary terms, birds developed wings not to fly with but rather to protect with. Said otherwise: birds were once four-footed reptiles who decided (whose females decided to favor males who decided) to give up the use of their forearms in order to better shield their chicks. The gift of flight and thus an extra dimension of freedom and thus a vast scope, came later, probably quite to the surprise of everyone involved.
In ancient imagery, wings always signify protection and not flight. Angels have wings because their nature and primary function is to shield and protect. The first thing the Word of God said when he entered the story of humanity was: "Have no fear; I am your shield" (Genesis 15:1). God has wings (God has no body, so his "wings" are "that" with which he shields) and since man was made in God's image, man has wings too (see Ephesians 6:16 for a hint).
The Hebrew word נשר (nesher) describes not only eagles but all great flying carnivorous birds (eagles, vultures, hawks). Its origin is formally unclear but it looks suspiciously similar to a participle of the verb שרר (sarar), to rise in splendor, or else שרר (sharar), to be firm or truthful. The Greek equivalent of this noun נשר (nesher) is αετος (aetos), which relates to the Latin avis and ultimately to a Proto-Indo-European verb meaning to be clothed or dressed (hence, also, ovis, sheep, or so it's been suggested).
But the Latin speakers appear to have bypassed these two terms and devised their own word for the eagle. Germans came up with Adler, from their word for noble (hence too names like Adelaide and Edelweiss), but for some reason, the Latins decided on aquila. Very curiously, seeing that the eagle would be so important to the Romans, the how and why of this was lost over time.
🔼Etymology of the name Aquila
Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either, but we frequently make the point that a mind without script is a completely different kind of mind than a mind with script. Specifically, without writing it's virtually impossible to come up with words for invisible things and abstract ideas, and thus it's virtually impossible to arrive at a collective and societal experience of abstractions (and this explains the need for gods, because polytheistic gods generally embody basic abstractions).
Mass literacy wasn't possible until the introduction of the alphabet, and both the Greek and the Latin alphabets are adaptations from the Hebrew one. The alphabet was gradually developed by the Hebrews, but introduced suddenly to the Greeks and Latins (and see our articles on Hellas and Aeneas for a closer look at these incredibly significant events). And that means that most likely, the alphabet was imported along with a hardy helping of basic abstract terms: Hebrew terms. But because societies are turbulent, and abstract ideas require significant social contraction to take root, the imported terms rarely came to signify the same ideas in the host language as they had done in the original.
The eagle standard of the Roman military essentially replaced the fascis, the bundle of rods around an axe — which was originally a symbol of law enforcement, but later came to denote the bundling of forces and pooling of resources; hence Fascism — around which people would gather. Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that the formation of the noun aquila may have been inspired by the noun αγελη (agele), meaning herd or a group of animals driven:
The verb αγω (ago) means to guide or lead, and comes with an enormous array of derivations. Among these, perhaps most notably, are the noun αγωγη (agoge), literally meaning a carrying away or a leading (hence English words like pedagogue and demagogue); the adjective αξιος (axios), meaning guiding in the sense of being a standard or norm (hence the English word axiom); the noun στρατεγος (strategos), meaning army-leader (hence our English word "strategy"), and the noun συναγωγη (sunagoge), synagogue, a place for joint leadership (i.e. a senate, the polar opposite of tyranny).
The noun αγελη (agele) means herd, and particularly a herd that's forcibly driven (specifically a herd of pigs, in contrast to a flock of sheep, which is not driven from behind but guided from up front). This word may have helped the formation of the Latin word aquila, eagle, also since the eagle standard replaced the fascis.
But despite its possible mimicry of a familiar Greek noun, here at Abarim Publications we further surmise that our noun formally originated with the Hebrew verb קלל (qalal), to be light (of abating water: Genesis 8:8), to be swift (of horses and soldiers; see 2 Samuel 1:23) or to make light of, to deride. When Sarai complained of Hagar, she said: I was despised (אקל, 'aqal) in her sight (Genesis 16:5):
The verb קלל (qalal) means to be light-weight and hence to be swift or trifling. It's the opposite of being weighty and thus important or glorious. Adjective קל (qal) means light or swift. Noun קל (qol) means lightness or frivolity. Noun קללה (qelala) means "a making light" or a dishonoring. Adjective קלקל (qeloqel) means contemptible or worthless. Noun קיקלון (qiqalon) means disgrace.
Likewise, verb קלה (qala) means to be lightly esteemed or dishonored. Noun קלון (qalon) means shame or dishonor. Surprisingly hip, this verb may also be used in the sense of to roast or burn. Noun קלי (qali) denotes parched grain, which was a common staple in Biblical times.
As stated above, the word aqua, to which our noun aquila appears to be linked, comes from the Proto-Indo-European root "akwa-". This root in turn relates to "hek-", meaning swift or quick, and which also appears to have been the word for horse. In Hebrew exists the noun סוס (sus), which means both horse and swallow.
🔼The wings of Shahar
In addition to birds and angels, the entity called Shahar too has wings (Psalm 139:9, Job 3:9, 41:18, Amos 4:13). This word שחר (shahar) is commonly translated with "dawn" but in our article on that word we demonstrate that this is not the proper translation. Instead, this noun derives from the verb שחר (shahar), to be or become dark, and describes a solar eclipse: an utterly unique and disturbing few moments when (in any one earthly location once in 375 years) the moon moves in front of the sun, reduces its light to a blazing corona, so that the stars appear (Genesis 15:5, Psalm 45:16, Matthew 27:52). A solar eclipse shows that even during the day, the heavenly host is with us (2 Kings 6:13-17).
Any observer is able to review her world because the sun illuminates it. She may see people around her, but she cannot see what they see. She can only see what she sees. And that means that the external sun that illuminates her world is literally the same "thing" as her internal ratio that also illuminates her world. One's celebrated human ratio is nothing but a localized and personalized manifestation of the sun, like a blazing dot of fire under a magnifying glass: literally the same entity. One's ratio and one's sun relate like Jesus on earth and Jesus in heaven.
One's own personal enlightenment is of course crucially important, but what's even more important is one's ability to willfully eclipse it, so that one's own sun no longer overwhelms the light of the stars (Proverbs 3:5-6, John 12:24). The stars are other people's suns: for any observer very far away, but strung together they form a dazzling silver Milky Way in an infinite expanse (Daniel 7:9-10).
The sun we see over our own heads is our sun alone. Other people literally see other suns, and we have no idea what they see (their sun might look like a huge red strawberry, for all we know). We simply cannot see what they see. That is, unless we all learn to speak the same language, and we all describe our own world in the common words we share (Deuteronomy 30:14, Luke 17:21, 1 Corinthians 4:5). Observations and feelings are deeply personal and cannot be shared, but words are "things" that can only exist in multiple heads at once and can only be shared. Words allow us to hone our own perspective according to the shared perspectives of millions of eyes. This is why it's so very important that we insist that everybody is honest about their own reflections (and not parrot after some teacher or tribal creed) and that we allow all voices to speak, no matter how bizarre or disturbing. Without the input of the smallest unique whispers, all of us are hopelessly incomplete (Exodus 22:21-24, Micah 6:8, Matthew 19:14).
One's own enlightenment and ratio are wholly solar, but language is utterly stellar. And language and stellar consciousness start with Theory of Mind: the understanding that our own ratio (and thus our own sun) is limited, and that the most formidable feat of our own enlightenment is establishing where the limits of our own enlightenment are, so that we can surpass these limits and enter a much larger world of the stellar consciousness (Nehemiah 4:21, Daniel 12:3, Philippians 2:15).
The word for wings (with which Shahar is equipped) is the same as for eyelid: עפעף ('ap'ap), and closing one's eyes in prayer brings about a solar eclipse, albeit without the clear appearance of the stars. The national deity of Assyria was Asshur, who was commonly depicted as a bearded man seated within a winged solar disk. This obviously draws from this same imagery.
When an eagle flies in front of the sun, its shadow falls on the earth, and any observer in that shadow will see the sun eclipsed, and her own ratio fill with dark dread (Job 38:2). That is, unless the observer is an eagle chick, and the eclipse means food and protection (Proverbs 23:5, Isaiah 40:31). In any case, the Roman army probably also personified with the eagle because its mere presence eclipsed the scope of any druid or priestly elite, and filled the general population with paralyzing dread and the desire to simply surrender.
The name Aquila means Eagle, or any such large bird. But a large bird that had taken off from the earth and now soared high in flight appears to have been considered closely akin to water that had evaporated from the sea and now collected as clouds in the sky (Proverbs 23:5, Matthew 24:28). The author of the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of "a great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1), which appears to tie into the same idea.
Moreover, the wings of the great eagle signified coverage and protection, which is precisely the main function of any army in peace time. Vultures trail the dead and dying, and eagles hunt rodents, which in turn symbolize thieves, petty criminals and subversive elements that dig in river banks and destabilize fluvial territories (see our article on Tigris). In wartime, an army that identifies with an eagle disdainfully expresses to be out of reach of any attacker, whilst always able to swoop in and capture with heavenly impunity (Deuteronomy 28:49).
Although Aquila was a fairly regular name in Rome, note that senator Lucius Pontius Aquila was among the Liberators who assassinated Julius Caesar. This event definitively ended the Republic and triggered the rise of the Empire under Augustus.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ differs crucially from Roman Imperial Theology. Imperial Rome believed that the world had to be centralized upon a divine emperor, who subsequently directed his goons and armies in pummeling the lesser mortals into productive obedience. The Gospel tells of a world that is decentralized (1 Corinthians 15:24), in which people are wise and mature enough to be able to govern themselves. Rome insisted that the mighty would inherit the earth, whereas the Gospel said that the weak would (Matthew 5:5). And so, Rome associated with the eagle, and the Gospel with the dove (see περιστερα, peristera, dove).