🔼The name Hodu (India): Summary
- Snake Charming
- From the verb הדה (hada), to handle snakes, to snake-charm.
🔼The name Hodu (India) in the Bible
The name India occurs only twice in the Bible, or so it seems. In Esther 1:1 and 8:9 occurs the similar formulaic description of Ahasuerus, the Persian emperor who ruled over "127 provinces stretching from Hodu to Cush," and since Cush is generally thought to be the same as Ethiopia, Hodu is generally thought to represent India. Both the Septuagint and the Vulgate translated Hodu with India and so have all major translations since (with the pleasant exception of the Young translation, which has Hodu).
The problem with translating Hodu with India is that no other tradition in history called India Hodu. India was a major power house in the ancient world, and since the dawn of recorded history, folks as far west as Britain traded wares that had originated in India. And none of them referred to India as Hodu but rather as Sindu or Hindu or Hind. Hodu is similar to but certainly not the same as Hindu, just like the name Ahasuerus is similar to but certainly not the same as Xerxes.
The Hebrew alphabet was perfectly capable of transliterating foreign names properly but, starting with Amraphel, pretty much all the names of ancient figures in the Bible have been altered by Hebrew scribes, and it's obvious that this was done as a literary device. This literary device, of course, was to emphasize the Bible's primary interest, that of the evolution of the wisdom tradition, rather than that of the political or military situations.
Kings and emperors not only governed their realms' economic progress but also presided over its wisdom (i.e. its science, technology, literature and other cultural expressions). Since the head of state was not necessarily the most gifted in matters of pure abstraction, the names that rang with political or military reverence were altered to reflect their bearers' diminished role in the wisdom arena, or rather more precise: to reflect the level of wisdom maintained within the ruler's realm relative to neighboring traditions.
🔼Etymology of the name India
The name Hodu, derives from the verb הדה (hada), to do with snake-charming:
The verb הדה (hada) means to stretch out one's hand, or more specifically: to manually extract snakes from their burrows, or to snake-charm.
Snakes feature prominently in ancient symbolic jargons all over the world, and obviously also in the Bible. Sin was introduced to the world of man via the mouth of a snake (Genesis 3:1), snakes troubled travelers (Numbers 21:6; see our article on the name Nehushtan), or mere collectors of fire wood (Acts 28:3; see the name Dike). The magicians of Egypt were famously able to handle snakes and even immobilize them (Exodus 7:8-13) and Psalm 58 shows that king David of Israel was intimately familiar with the practical and theatrical potency of snake-charming:
Psalm 58:4-5 reads: "[The wicked] have venom like the venom of a serpent, like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers, or a skillful caster of spells," which explains that the serpents of the Bible are predominantly mental phenomena rather than biological ones.
Likewise, the snake-handling believers of which Jesus speaks in Mark 16:18, aren't handling animals but deceptions. And the only Biblical instance of our verb הדה (hada) tells of a child reaching into the den of a viper without coming to harm (Isaiah 11:8), which speaks of a culture so sophisticated that even toddlers know when they are being played by any sort of deceiver.
But, as so often, the symbol seems to have overwhelmed the mental skill it was supposed to symbolize, and while India's formidable wisdom tradition declined, the art of actual snake charming waxed into the theatrical equivalent of a ruined and abandoned temple.
The name India derives from the Sanskrit word for the Indus river, namely Sindhu, and where that word came from is no longer clear. The Hebrew name Hodu, however, refers to the art of (mental) snake handling, that is the ability to recognize and extract from general discourse a bias or even delusion that is so enticing that it commonly fells lesser pedestrians.
The name Hodu means Snake Charming.