🔼The name Javan: Summary
- Mire, Mud Man
- From the noun יון (yawen), mire.
🔼The name Javan in the Bible
Javan is the Biblical name for Greece, and his most famous brother is Madai, or Media. Together these two gave the world the bi-polar theology of Zoroastrianism, in which two opposed forces (light and dark or good and evil) are forever locked in the cosmic battle that creates our universe.
Later Bible writers considered themselves Shemites, of course, who adhered to the monopolar world view that demands that darkness and evil are nor organized the way light and virtue are; only good is a pole around which creation becomes ordered, but evil is a state of dispersal and its measure of chaos increases the further away from the ordered good one goes.
Still, according to Noah, Japheth was to live in the tents of Shem (Genesis 9:27), and the Bible writers appear to have had considerable respect for their Japhethite cousins. See our article on the name Homer for a look at the attitude of the Bible writers towards Greek theogony.
🔼Etymology of the name Javan
The name Javan comes from יון (yawen) meaning mire, which is wet or soft mud and represents the transitional state between water (complete ignorance) and dry land (complete understanding):
Assumed root יון (ywn) yields the noun יון (yawen), meaning mire or swampy, boggy ground. Mire's signature failure to provide secure footing is often used proverbially. Note that in the Bible dry land often signifies factual and consensual certainty, whereas water (seas and rivers) denote liquidity, growth and potential. This is why in the Bible the great cultures are always associated with their respective great rivers.
From the same or identical second root יון (ywn) comes noun יונה (yona), meaning dove. In the Bible the dove serves both as a symbol of weakness or indecisiveness, and of vast abundance (as well as being the bodily form of the Holy Spirit). Apparently, in antiquity doves were everywhere. They were recognized to show no resolute dedication to an ecological niche (like, say, the eagle), and to flutter about in uncertain circles, much unlike the straight paths of, say, ravens. Ravens are associated with hearing and doves with sight. The Greek word for dove is περιστερα (peristera), of which element περι (peri) indeed describes both a broad circle and ubiquity.
Curiously similar to the word for dove, the verb ינה (yana) means to do someone wrong or to oppress or vex someone. Perhaps the two have nothing to do with each other but where the great leaps are most celebrated, it's the little irritations in life that provoke the most massive progress. Or in other words: for every one brilliantly engineered iPhone there are hundreds of staples, paperclips and rubber bands that tie much more of life together.
The noun יין (yayan) is of unclear pedigree but is obviously similar to the previous. It means wine; either simply fermented grape juice or mankind's culture at large, seeing that in the Bible humanity's cultural world is often depicted as a vineyard: many separate grapes make much liquid wine, and many separate minds make much liquid culture.
The functions of the Holy Spirit are legion of course but possibly he chose the appearance of a dove to indicate that God brings people together by their weaknesses and not by their strengths, and the fabric of Truth is uncertainty, contrary to deterministic certainty. The mind of Christ is not about knowing all things down to the most minute facts, but being alive in a whole new way. Being able to waver is a quality of life; lifeless objects travel by straight, predictable lines.
But since Javan (or at least his father Japheth) is living in the tents of Shem (Genesis 9:27), uncertainty without a fundament of the Rock is fatal. In an odd and almost paradoxical sense a human being can be somewhat of a saved Christian without having been endowed with the Holy Spirit (the disciples between ascension and Pentecost; but also Acts 8:14-17), but cannot be saved by being endowed by the Holy Spirit without having been set upon Christ.
A fine example of a Javanite thinker is Socrates, who challenged people's certainties not because he had the answers but because he knew that the things that the people were certain of, were provable flaws. Another Javanite thinker is Buddha, who taught a lifetime to die saying that he never really knew a thing. A truly honest man keeps doubting until he meets the Truth.
The name Javan means Mud Man and this name may even be a playful reference to the name Adam; Earthling. We sons of Adam have bodies made of solid earth (even though we are mostly fluid); the sons of Javan have minds that begin to yield some wobbly foothold to the mind. It is by no means a coincidence that the gospel of Jesus Christ was first successfully promoted in the realm of Greek philosophy (see our article on the Epicureans).
For a meaning of the name Javan, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Supple, Clay. NOBSE Study Bible Name List simply reads Greece.