🔼The name Rhodes: Summary
- Wild Land
- Place Of The Rose, Place Of The Dawn
- From the noun ערוד ('arod), wild donkey, from the verb ערד ('arad), to flee or be free.
- From the noun ροδη (rhode), rose-bush, or ροδον (rhodon), rose.
🔼The name Rhodes in the Bible
The name Rhodes belongs to an island close to the coast of Anatolia (i.e. modern Turkey). It's mentioned only once, in Acts 21:1, where Paul and Luke (assuming from the first person narrative) and probably several others (see Acts 20:4), are on their way from Troas to Tyre (which is an obvious nod to Homer's Iliad and thus Rome's destruction of Carthage; see our article on Pyrrhus), and ultimately Jerusalem, where Paul would be arrested and put on a transport to Rome.
Rhodes, whose capital on its northern tip is also called Rhodes, is an almond-shaped island aligned along the diagonal (NE-SW) pointing at the south-western point of Turkey's main block-shaped landmass (where Patara was). In the other direction, Rhodes points toward the east-end of Crete. To Rhodes' northwest is the island Cos.
Like that of Cyprus and Crete, Rhodes' earliest civilization was Minoan, but after the Minoan world collapsed, Rhodes became home a mighty independent kingdom. Just after the Bronze Age collapse, Rhodes was Dorian, mostly associated with Argos. At some point it appears to have been occupied by the Phoenicians. Rhodes was conquered by the Persians, and later incorporated in Alexander's early empire. Almost as soon as the opportunity arose, Rhodes sided with Rome against the Macedonians. A century later, Rhodes was decimated and plundered by Caesar-killer Cassius.
Rhodes' other claim to fame came with the Roman Lex Rhodia (Rhodian Law), which expounded the law of general average that is the basis of all effective insurance (Galatians 6:2). This principle originated on Rhodes, where shipping insurance was invented, most probably by the ever inventive Phoenicians.
Greek mythology considered Rhodes a son of Helios, the sun god, and Rhodos (or Rhoda), a nymph. Rhodes' brother Actis was said to have gone to Egypt and built Heliopolis, which is clearly similar to the Biblical story of Joseph's journey to Egypt and his subsequent support of Heliopolis (Genesis 41:45). In 282 BC was completed the famous bronze Colossus of Rhodes, which depicted Helios, and which was erected at the entrance of the capital's harbor. Rhodes the city also boasted a sophisticated water supply network and a sewer system.
In Greco-Roman times, Rhodes was home to many famous schools. Luminaries such as Cato and Julius Caesar received their training there.
🔼Etymology of the name Rhodes
The name Rhodes is hugely old and it's no longer clear how it originated, or even in which language. Some commentators have proposed that it was originally Phoenician, after the noun ערוד ('arod), meaning snake or serpent. This same root exists in Biblical Hebrew, but not with that meaning; in Hebrew the noun ערוד ('arod) describes a kind of wild donkey:
The verb ערד ('arad) doesn't exist in extant Biblical texts but in cognate languages it means to flee or be free. A derived noun, ערוד ('arod), refers to the wild ass, and does occur in the Bible.
Verb רוד (rud) means to wander or roam restlessly. Noun מרוד (marod) means restlessness or homelessness.
However, in post-Biblical Aramaic, this root produced a large, multi-syllabic word that denoted a kind of lizard, but apparently one that was known to snap at the heels of donkeys, as it was formed from the word for donkey (and thus literally meant: that-which-jumps-from-its-burrow-and-snaps-at-donkey-heels). This reflects the proverbial idea expressed most clearly in Genesis 49:17: "Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a horned snake in the path, that bites the horse's heels, so that his rider falls backward".
But despite its possible Semitic origin, the name Rhodes was probably preserved into modernity due to its proximity to the familiar Greek noun ροδη (rhode), meaning rose-tree or rose-bush. The word for a single rose is ροδον (rhodon), and in the Greek classics the rose personified all things sweet and beautiful. Homer famously spoke of Dawn as the Rosy Fingered (ροδοδακτυλος, rhododaktulos), which suggests kinship between Rosy-Fingered Dawn and Rhoda, the consort of Helios. It ties Rhodos to πυρρος (purros), or fire-colored (i.e. red-haired). And it relates Rhodes to Anatolia, whose name comes from ανατολη (anatole), meaning sun-rise.
The name Rhodes is possibly of Semitic origin and may mean Wild/Free in reference to its post-Minoan independence. It probably does not literally mean Snake, as has been proposed, or else the Phoenicians would have named it after any of their many much more common Semitic words for snake or serpent. However, in Semitic reality, snakes generally embody technology or technological wisdom (see below), and the purpose of great bronze statue of Helios was of course precisely that: to boast about the technological sophistication of the island's wisdom class (which may also be how the pyramids got their Greek name: as a nod to πυρ, fire, and μεσος, mesos, amidst).
The name Rhodes was most likely preserved, however, because in Greek it means Place Of The Rose or Place Of The Rose Bush.
Since rosy-red is the color of sunrise (which is where enlightenment starts), the rose-bush may refer to the many wisdom schools that Rhodos was home to. In the words of Isaiah: If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn (Isaiah 8:20). But the Lukan author of Acts makes Rhoda a servant girl, who wouldn't know what true wisdom looked like if it came banging on the door — see our article on the adjective μωρος (moros), foolish or dimwitted.
In the words of Paul: "Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Corinthians 1:20-21).
Words for snake in Hebrew:
- נחש (nahash) is the most common word for snake, and also means bronze. This is why snakes tend to denote technological sophistication (see Nehushtan). Especially when technological sophistication reached the level of metallurgy, accidents with fire and molten metal may have given technology its serpentine reputation. From the Greek equivalent of this word, namely δρακων (drakon) comes our word dragon.
- שרף (sarap), usually translated as viper, from the verb שרף (sarap), meaning to burn. The serpents the Israelites had to face in the desert were of this kind. The famous Seraphim are also known by this word. Isaiah's famous encounter with these creatures involved an altar with burning coals (Isaiah 6:6), which obviously describes some technological thing.
- אפעה ('ep'a) another word for viper (Isaiah 30:6, 59:5, Job 20:16), which is highly similar to the adjective אפע ('epa'), meaning false [rumor] or worthless (Isaiah 41:24).
- צפע (sepa'), which may be onomatopoeic and thus may mean "hisser".
- שפיפן (shepipon), describes anything buried and suddenly emerging. This is the word used in Genesis 49:17.
- תנין (tanin), probably a loan-word and one that was used across the Semitic language spectrum to indicate mythological sea- or chaos monsters. The whole chaos-conquering mythology obviously tells the same story of discovering how to world works in order to master it.