🔼The name Zeus: Summary
- God, Light
- From an ancient Indo-European root to do with light.
🔼The name Zeus in the Bible
The name Zeus occurs only twice in one scene in the Bible, namely in Acts 14:12 and 14:13, where the townsfolk of Lystra mistake Paul for Hermes and Barnabas for Zeus and act accordingly, much to the consternation of the two apostles. They explain that they are men like any other, but that they preach the gospel in order to turn people away from futilities and towards the Living God.
The Lystrans, however, demonstrate that amazing human folly of appreciating religion much more than the deity, and can barely be stopped sacrificing to the two men. In other words: while their deities stand in front of them telling them not to do something, their religion says otherwise, and thus they do it.
Some commentaries state that the name of Zeus also occurs in Acts 28:11, but that's not really true because the name there is Dioscuri, which indeed contains the name Zeus, but there are other Biblical names that do (see below).
🔼Etymology of the name Zeus
The name Zeus (which curiously declines as Dio, Dia, Dii) is very old, and long ago it was possibly not even a name but rather an epithet of a concept that's probably utterly foreign to the modern mind. Both name and concept have obviously to do with the deity, but hard as it is to explain divinity to a modern audience, it's virtually impossible to estimate where the original idea of the divine came from. But our name is so old that we're probably looking at just that: the most original recognition of God.
Modern man's brain works the same as that of our distant ancestors, but their daily life wasn't filled with Facebook, MTV, movies and commercials, but rather with valuable information about the real world — and here at Abarim Publications we're always amazed at how opposers of theology claim that theology deals with unreal things, while in fact modern man's life is a tapestry of deception.
Back when information still mattered and truth was kept in the highest regard, people realized with great clarity, that behind the observable world, there were forces that kept everything together and made everything work together (this is, by the way, a completely Biblical idea: Romans 8:28, Colossians 1:17, see John 4:24 via 1 John 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 13:7). Not long after that, the erroneous idea emerged that the sun was moving everything and was in fact the king the universe, and since the sun was associated with the day, the divine was too.
The name Zeus comes from the same Indo-European root as the various languages' words for God: Deus, Dios, Dieu, while our word "day" comes from the Latin word diem, which possibly comes from an accusative form of the same root-word:
The name Ζευς (Zeus) and its genitive form Dios (Διος) correspond to an ancient root that expressed brightness of sky and clarity of vision. That same root gave us the words dio and deus, meaning god, divine, meaning godly, and diva, meaning deified (feminine). Some say this root even yielded the noun "day" and the verb "to do."
In other words: this word for the divinity, Zeus, either means something like "Sky Being" or the word for day means "Divine Part [of the 24 hour cycle]". In Hebrew the word for God is El or Elohim, which probably didn't derive from the word for day but is metaphorically still closely associated with light.
A pervasive error that was made at some point and in the west made popular by Zoroaster, was that light was the opposite of day, and that besides a good god or cosmic force there had to be an evil one. The effortless rebuttal of this idea comes with the observation that the light part of the day is light because of the presence of the sun, while the dark part is dark because of the absence of the sun and not because of the presence of an anti-sun. Most scholars will attest that the original divine idea came to humanity because of notions of power and elevation and all that, but here at Abarim Publications we're pretty sure that this is not true. We guess that the notion of divinity was an extrapolation of the discovery of deceit versus truthfulness, where truthfulness represents the presence of the (ways of the) divine and deceit the absence of it.
It's improbable that in Biblical times the name Zeus denoted anything else than the chief-deity of the Greek pantheon (and the Roman one: Jupiter is Dieu Pater, or Father Zeus). Most scholars appear to believe that the name Zeus should literally mean something like Sky Being, or possibly Light Bearer or something like that (one of Zeus' attributes was the lighting rod, while his son Apollo ran the sun through the skies), but here at Abarim Publications we guess that our name had more to do with concepts like purity, sincerity, trustworthiness and fidelity.
It should be noted that to the Hebrews "other gods" were no threat to YHWH because something that doesn't exist can pose no threat. But Zeus was not simply "another god". Greek thought and Hebrew thought enjoyed serious overlap, which is also one of the reasons why Christianity (which for the first few centuries was a Jewish sect and not a separate religion) spread like wildfire through the Hellenistic world. Zeus or Jupiter was not simply another god; it was the manifestation of a slanted theology that attempts to talk about the real God.
The consternation of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra is not that they were compared to the wrong gods, but rather that the elite core of Greek religiosity could be so fabulously daft to mistake one of them for the supreme being, figure that this supreme being delights in slaughtered bulls and garlands, and then stick to that even while their actions obviously greatly upset this perceived supreme being.
(Perhaps these priests knew very well that they were fooling everybody, and hoped that Paul and Barnabas would play along for the right price and help them maintain their livelihood.)