🔼The name Asia: Summary
- Place Of Healing, Place Of Ascent
- From the verb אסה ('asa), to heal or rise.
🔼The name Asia in the Bible
In Biblical times, the name Asia belonged to a Roman province in western Anatolia (modern Turkey). It's mentioned 18 times in the New Testament, see full concordance. In Acts 20:4 occurs the adjective Ασιανος, meaning Asiatic — not Asian, that would be Ασιοσ (Asios). The difference between these two words is that the latter denotes an indigenous Asian, whereas the former denotes a Jew who happens to live in Asia. In Acts 19:31 occurs the noun ασιαρχης (Asiarches), or Asia-ruler.
There was also a region named Asia in Persia, and to keep the two apart, Christian writers from the 4th century AD onward (starting with a historian named Orosius) began to refer to Anatolian Asia as Asia Minor, and Persian Asia as Asia Major (also because the name Asia had begun to be applied to the entire Asian continent). Why this one name had come to be attached to two rather separate regions isn't clear, but something similar had happened to the names Aram and Assyria.
In the New Testament, the name Asia refers in a literal sense to the Roman province, where many Jewish people lived (Acts 21:27). But in a figurative sense, the "Jews from Asia" may also refer to the Babylonian tradition that had compiled the Torah and subsequently created Pharisaic Judaism. These formidable scholars had grown out of the remainers, those who had not returned with Zerubbabel, but had chosen to stay in Persia and help govern the Jewish people there. Tradition calls them ראש גלות (rosh galut), meaning Head of the Exile(d), which rather playfully refers to the "head of Goliath" (1 Samuel 17:46-51).
Although Christ was born in Judea, the Babylonian Jews were the ones who first identified him. In Matthew they are called Magi from the East (Matthew 2:1); in Luke they are called "shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8). But they are the same people.
John the Revelator addresses the "seven churches that are in Asia" (Revelation 1:4), which of course correspond to the cities he names: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea (1:11), but his mentioning of Christ as the first-born (Revelation 1:5) also draws attention to the pleasing parallel between Patmos relative to the Seven Churches, and Bethlehem (means House Of Bread) relative to the great wisdom schools of Asia Major.
Tradition holds that there were three Magi, but that's nowhere stated in the Bible. What we do read is that David came to Ahimelech the priest, asking for five loaves of bread and whatever else was available (1 Samuel 21:3). Since there was nothing, the priest gave him yesterday's Bread of the Presence. David accepted the Bread, as well as Goliath's sword that Ahimelech had laying there, wrapped in a cloth (21:9). Much later, the "shepherds" found the Child, likewise, wrapped in a cloth (Luke 2:7, see 2:35).
Later still, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees by comparing his disciples' picking grain on the Sabbath to David's eating the Bread of the Presence (Matthew 12:3). David asked for five loaves of bread plus whatever else, but there was no food to share. Jesus took five loaves of bread plus two fish, and distributed these to 5,000 hungry men plus their wives and children (Matthew 14:13-21).
🔼Etymology of the name Asia
The name Asia has a complex pedigree, and perhaps more than a single origin. The native Hittites appear to have referred to the land around Ephesus as Assuwa, which lent its name to a league of 22 states (including Troy) that in the 14th century BC bravely opposed the Hittite empire, but was defeated by it. Mythology connected Asia — as the name of a local nymph, an Oceanid and celebrated wife or mother — to Atlas and Prometheus, and thus to the advance of mankind's wisdom and technological sophistication. In Homer's Iliad (and see our article on Hellas for more on Homer's Iliad), two men are named Asios (meaning Asian), one an uncle of the illustrious Hector (Il.16.717). In the Bible, David's wife Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, had first been the wife of Uriah the Hittite. And Homer's Helen of Troy is obviously based on the same archetype as Esther (means star) of Persia (Matthew 2:2).
The advance of mankind's wisdom goes hand in hand with advances in information technology, and the introduction of the alphabet to Hellas changed the world forever. The Greek alphabet is an adaptation of the Phoenician one, and quite a few names and words that encapsulated the core ideas of the Semitic wisdom tradition were introduced along with the alphabet (see our article on the familiar adjective κολος, kolos). That means that the formation of our name Asia, although based on a Hittite term, may have been lubricated by a helpful Semitic term. Since the suffix "-uwa" is common for Hittite toponyms, the core term of our name Assuwa is probably as(u) or as(a).
Scholars have proposed this core term to be asu, which exists in Akkadian with the meaning of to ascend and in Phoenician meaning east. The Hebrew word for east (and past) is קדם (qedem), which isn't very helpful right now, but the word for to rise is רום (rum), from which comes the name Aram. The Latin name Levant, which was originally applied to Anatolia, means to rise (from the verb levo, to rise, hence our word levity). And, indeed, the name Anatolia means Place of Rising — from ανατολη (anatole), a rising.
Although it's generally assumed that all this rising refers to the rising of the sun, this is a rather unlikely distinction for a land that since deep antiquity has existed precisely in the center of all the goings on, even west of the Semitic language basin. Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that these proverbial risings have to do with the rising of the light of mankind's wisdom (i.e. science, technology and information technology: script). The verb ανατελλω (anatello), to rise, relates to στελλω (stello), to put or set, hence our words apostle (see Hebrews 3:1) and stellar (see Philippians 2:15).
The Hebrew verb for to rise is עלה ('ala), which again is not very helpful in our present context, but there is a Judean king Asa — son and successor of Abijam, son of Rehoboam, son of Solomon; all ancestors of Christ — whose name is suspiciously similar to the proposed Semitic source word of our name Asia: אסא ('as'a), which is thought to derive from the verb אסה ('asa), to heal:
The unused verb אסה ('asa) correlates to a cognate verb meaning to heal. But an identical root correlates to a cognate verb that means to suffer harm or mischief. A noun that does occur in the Bible is אסון ('ason), mischief or harm. Perhaps they meet in the obvious fact that a doctor is a "man of sorrows."
This draws the attention to the city in Asia Minor called Hierapolis, or Sacred City, which was a huge center of healing. The primary Hebrew verb for to heal or make healthy is רפא (rapa'), hence also the names Rephaim and Raphael.
The two most common Greek verbs that mean to heal are θεραπευω (therapeuo), which comes from θερω (thero), to make warm (and see our article on these words for more connections between David and Esther). The other verb is ιαομαι (iaomai), which is the source of the name Jason, of Argonaut fame. The Jewish equivalent of the story of Jason is told as the story of Tobias, whose helping angel was Raphael.
It's ultimately unclear what the Hittites had meant to say with their name Assuwa, or Assu-uwa or Asia, but allowing that the asu-part indeed may have come from the Semitic language basin, our name Asia means Place Of Healing or Place Of The Rise [Of Reason].