Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Congress Paper

What’s in a name? Everything in this case. The question I want to explore

today a little bit is the use in Old English and in Old Saxon of the name

“Heliand” for Jesus Christ and suggest that it is not as straightforward a

choice as one is accustomed to consider it. The term is sometimes used as a

name for Jesus, sometimes as Jesus’ title; but most modern commentators are

accustomed to translating or glossing it as “the savior.” I am now uncertain

that we should, and that it actually means something else which effects the

image, the Christology presented by the Heliand poet.

The term occurs only in Old English and Old Saxon as a reference to

Jesus. We have no examples in Old Franconian or anything early enough from

that language to tell us how Jesus was conceived in the vernacular there. In

Gothic we have of course most of the New Testament, and no equivalent form of

“heliand” as a name or title exists there. Nor is such a term used in Old

Norse Christian texts. So we must ask why those two vernaculars, English and

Saxon, adopted that term and for what purposes.

We may at the outset here posit two things: that the Anglo-Saxons were

converted before the Saxons and that the Anglo-Saxons had a hand in the

eventual conversion of the Saxons. So to find our answers, we must first look

at the Anglo-Saxon material.

. The term is defined as “healer, savior” in the Bosworth Toller, an

issue to which we will return shortly. Often Hælend appears alone as a name,

often in conjunction with the definite article signifying a title. Most often

in a homily or biblical translation, this is the Old English term to use for

many words referring to Jesus: Jesus, Christ, Jesus Christ, salvator are the

chief examples. The name derives from the past participle of the halian which

means “to heal, to save (in the sense of healing, making hale)” and is

related to the adjective hale and the noun health. The –end ending is a

word-formation tool in Old English and added to make an agent, often used to

create agent nouns from past participles of active verbs. Thus, the word

means “a healer.” 1

Here the scholar encounters something of a difficulty. Bosworth Toller

is slowly being superseded by the Dictionary of Old English project at the

University of Toronto. These lexicographers have defined Hælend as

specifically referring for the most to Jesus Christ, a or the Savior. 2 The

difference between these two lexicographical tools in defining this term has

in large part to do with a shift in the methodology employed in delimiting

the semantic fields of morphemes between the late nineteenth and late

twentieth, early twenty-first centuries. This difference, however, also

illustrates an important issue in Old English with regard to Jesus, the


That issue is: when and why did the past participle of the verb “to

heal” become the name and title for Jesus glossing the Latin “salvator.” The

answer to this is not very simple. As is well known, the name “Jesus” is a

Latinization of IhsusIhsus) in Greek, itself a transliteration of the

Hebrew יֵשׁוּעַ (Yesua), a shortening of the earlier form יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (Yehoshua)

which our modern English Bibles render Joshua. It is the meaning of the name

“Jesus” though that captured the attention of the church fathers and our

early Anglo-Saxon writers. Yehoshua means “God saves,” a combination of the

Tetragrammatan (YHWH) with a verb “yasha” meaning to save or rescue. Thus,

“God saves.”

This information was widely available to late antique and medieval

readers: Moses changes Joshua’s name in Numbers 13 commemorating God’s

salvation of Israel; this name change is mentioned again along with a

reference to the meaning in Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus) 46:1-2. In a work

1 See Bosworth, Joseph. "An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online." Hǽlend. March 21, 2010. Accessed December 23,


2 Dictionary of Old English: A to H online, ed. Angus Cameron, Ashley Crandell Amos, Antonette diPaolo Healey et

al. (Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, 2016).

titled in Latin Interpretatio Hebraicorum Nomium and ascribed to Philo of

Alexandria, the Greek author specifically mentions the change of name and its

meaning. 3 Origen knew this work and added to it names of the New Testament.

Origen’s work influenced Eusebius of Caesaria. St. Jerome knew both Origen’s

work and Eusebius’; he edited and added to create his own influential Liber

Interpretationis Hebraicorum Nominum. 4 Eusebius’ work was translated into

Latin and with the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament, Pseudo-Philo’s work,

Eusbius’ work, and Jerome’s all available in Latin to the early medieval

interpreters of the Bible, the equation of “Jesus” with “God saves” was

firmly established.

The Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament contains a number of names

that the text explains their meaning, especially if there is a name change.

The authors of the New Testament picked up on this. And so did the Anglo-

Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons enjoyed word games. The Old English Riddles

demonstrate this clearly; naming conventions and the importance of names is

also evident. 5 While so far as is known there were no known Hebrew readers in

3 Philo, and Charles Duke Yonge. 1993. The works of Philo: complete and unabridged. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson

Pub. And Philo. On Flight and Finding. On the Change of Names. On Dreams. Tnslated by F. H.

Colson, G. H. Whitaker. Loeb Classical Library 275. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934.In

addition to the train of tradition outlined subsequent to this note, this text was also translated into Latin in the Late

Antique period, and was available in Anglo-Saxon England.

4 Jerome. n.d. Liber interpretationis hebraicorum nominum. Library of Latin Texts. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers.

5 On the importance of word-play in Old English see also: Frederick Robinson, “The Significance of Names of Old

English Literature,” Anglia 86 (1968): 14–58. See also Frederick Robinson, “Some Uses of Name Meanings in Old

English Poetry,” Neuphilologishe Mitteleiungen 69 (1968): 161–71. 1. Kintgen, Eugene R. "Wordplay in The

Wanderer." Neophilologus 59 (1975): 119-27. Hall, J. R. "Perspective and Wordplay in the Old English Rune

Poem." Neophilologus 61 (1977): 453-60. Bately, Janet. "Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle." Saints, Scholars

and Heroes: Studies in Medieval Culture in Honour of Charles W. Jones. Ed. Margot H. King and Wesley M.

Stevens. Collegeville, MN: HMML, Saint John's Abbey and University, 1979. 1: 233-54.Stewart, Ann Harleman.

"Inference in Socio-Historical Linguistics: the Example of Old English Word-Play." Folia Linguistica Historica 6

(1985): 63-85. Martin, Lawrence T. "Bede' s Structural Use of Wordplay as a Way to Truth." From Cloister to

Classroom. Ed. E. Rozanne Elder. Cistercian Studies 90. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, Western

Michigan University, 1986. 27-46.Wollmann, A. "Early Christian Loan-Words in Old English." Pagans and

Christians: the Interplay between Christian Latin and Traditional Germanic Cultures in Early Medieval

Europe. Ed. T. Hofstra, L. A. J. R. Houwen, and A. A. MacDonald. Mediaevalia Groningana 16. Groningen: Egbert

Forsten, 1995. 175-210.Damon, John Edward. "Disecto capite perfido: Bodily Fragmentation and Reciprocal

Violence in Anglo-Saxon England." Exemplaria 13 (2001): 399-432. Stanley, Eric Gerald. "Playing upon Words,

I." NM 102 (2001): 339-56. Stanley, Eric Gerald. "Playing upon Words, II." NM 102 (2001): 451-68.

Anglo-Saxon England, the explanation of Jesus’ name’s meaning was not lost on

Old English authors.

The locus classicus for this is Matthew 1:21. In that verse, the angel

of the Lord is appearing to Joseph in a dream and telling him that he is

about to be a father miraculously. Furthermore, the boy’s name is to be

Jesus. The Latin Vulgate reads: Páriet autem fílium : et vocábis nomen ejus

Jesum : ipse enim salvum fáciet pópulum suum a peccátis eórum. 6 To a person

reading Hebrew or Aramaic, as some posit the original readers of Matthew may

have been able to do at least on a limited basis, 7 this understanding is

somewhat obvious. The wordplay of “God saves” and “Yeshua” though is

completely lost once the text is in Greek. In fact, the Greek text does not

even attempt a linguistic connection between the name and the reason the text

gives for that name. The Greek text simply gives the verb “to save” in the

explanatory phrase and transliterates the name into “Iesous.” 8

The Latin text of the Vulgate follows the Greek text for the most part.

As in Greek, the linguistic connection between Jesus’ name and its meaning is

a connection that does not work in Latin. So once again his name is

transliterated. There is a slight difference in most Latin texts. Rather than

as in the Greek text where the name Jesus is explained with the verb “swzw”,

to save, the Latin text reads as given above contains a variation seldom

noticed, though likely not of

does show a potentially different understanding of the Christ event. 9

6 The Vulgate text is taken from: Weber, Robert, Roger Gryson, Bonifatius Fischer, Hedley Frederick Davis Sparks,

and Jean Gribomont. 2007. Biblia sacra iuxta Vulgatam versionem. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.

7 At least since the second century Church doctrine taught that Matthew was the first gospel written and that it was

originally written in Hebrew. This derives directly from the subapostolic writer Papias, whose writings are no

extant. Several early writers, however, cite Papias’ statement, including Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, and later

Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome. Papias was a disciple of the apostle John, or so Irenaeus informs his readers, and

if true his testimony goes back to the first century. Papias states: περὶ δὲ τοῦ Ματθαῖου ταῦτ’ εἴρηται· Ματθαῖος μὲν

οὖν Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο, ἡρμήνευσεν δ’ αὐτὰ ὡς ἧν δυνατὸς ἕκαστος. Concerning Matthew,

he writes: Matthew wrote the oracles of the Lord in Hebrew and each interpreted (or translated) as best

he was able.

8 τεξεται δε υιον και καλεσεις το ονομα αυτου ιησουν αυτος γαρ σωσει τον λαον αυτου απο των αμαρτιων αυτων

The grammatical structure of the Latin sentence in Matthew 1:21

encourages the Old English translator. Combine that structure with meaning

discussed above and the love of word play, and the name Hælend becomes an

obvious choice. Though late in the period when the name for Jesus, Hælend, is

already traditional, Aldred’s gloss to the Lindisfarne Gospels at Matthew

1:21 translates: “…genemne đu nama is hælend đa ilca ec forđon hal doeđ he

gegewerccas folc his.” The connection between the name Hælend and “hal” in

the next clause reflects the meaning of the name, at least as Anglo-Saxons

understood it, as well utilizes a word play between the adjective and the

past participle. Unlike the Latin and previous translations, however, the

literal meaning of the Old English is: “You will call his name Healer because

he will make his folk whole/hale/healed.” The linguistic connection between

hal and Hælend is made obvious. 10

The gospel glosses are not the only texts that make these

identifications. Ælfric of Eynsham repeats this identification often.

Catholic Homilies I.6 is one example: þæt is iesus: & on urum

gereorde hælend: for þan þe he gehælde his folc fram heora synnum. 11 The Old

English Martyrology likewise remarks on this connection. 12

These examples, however, are rather late in the history of the

Christianization of England. The change from “God saves” as the understood

name to Haelend, Healer, as the vernacular name of Jesus in Old English must

9 In addition to the Vulgate, most Vetus Latina manuscripts containing this verse also have this reading. Three

exceptions are Codex Bezae d, Codex Sangallensis δ, and Codex Bobbiensis k. These three follow the Greek text

with a verb “to save” explaining the meaning of the name.

10 London, British Library, Cotton ms. Nero D.IV fol 29v. The gloss to the Rushforth Gospels

reads: þu nemnest his noma hælend he selfe soþlice he gehæleþ folc his from hiora synnum following the secondary

reading in the Vetus Latina mentioned previously. the West Saxon Gospels at Matthew 1:21translates the Vulgate as

follows: Witodlice heo cenđ sunu ond þu nemst his name Halend. 10 The text leaves the subordinate clause out of the

equation. The West Saxon Gospel text transcribed from London, British Library, Royal ms. 1.A.XIV fol. 34r.

11 Aelfric, and Peter Clemoes. 1997. Æelfric's Catholic homilies: the first series : text. Oxford: Oxford University

Press for the Early English Text Society.


have come before it becomes so frequent in tenth and eleventh century texts.

Even the late ninth century martyrology is late for these purposes. The first

reference to Jesus as Hælend comes from the poem Dream of the Rood, line 25

where Hælendes treow, the Healer’s tree is used to describe the cross. If

then Jesus is already known by Hælend that early, the identification and use

of hal, halian, and Hælend for “saved, to save, and Savior” must have already

occurred. It is difficult to trace how early this understanding of the person

of Jesus entered into Anglo-Saxon thought since most of the early Anglo-Saxon

texts that speak of Christianity were written in Latin. Nonetheless, they may

give us some idea of how this developed.

The Venerable Bede would be a likely place to find the equation of

Latin “salvator” with Old English Hælend. Regrettably the equation is not in

Bede. Bede does discuss the meaning of Jesus’ name regularly. In his sermon

on the Naming of Jesus (Homilia I.6) Bede cites Isidore of Seville in saying:

“Iesus hebraice latine salutaris siue salvator dicitur.” 13

It is this phrase from Isidore that may have given the Anglo-Saxon

church the idea to translate “Jesus” as Hælend. Salvator is defined as a

savior, a preserver and is used by the Latin fathers, the Vulgate, and

medieval writers to translate the Greek “soter”, savior. Salutaris on the

other hand indicates health, well-being, wholeness. It is this slight

difference in semantic fields that may have suggested to the Anglo-Saxons a

somewhat different approach and understanding of Jesus.

Bede does not mention the Old English wordplay, not in his sermons on

the birth of Jesus nor on his naming. In the Commentaria in Lucam, Bede

discusses the meaning of Jesus’ name with numerology. Even though Bede is in

fact quite interested in Hebrew meanings of names and words, including Jesus

13 Bede’s homilies. “In Hebrew Jesus is called “salutaris” or “salvator” in Latin.” Isidore book 6.

and Christ in his theology, very much reading the New Testament into the Old,

he eschews delving into his native tongue. 14

Given Bede’s, and other Anglo-Saxon writers working in Latin, choice of

language, then, as well as audience, the choice of Hælend for the name of

Jesus emphasizing a healing aspect did not come from the monastic or Latin

Christological concerns. It is more probable that the choice was made for

evangelical reasons, even if suggested by Isidore’s phrase. As Bede

illustrates in his lives of Cuthbert, while the nobility received some

catechetical instruction, especially those taught Latin, the people received

little. Bede’s ideal bishop traveled his diocese teaching the lay people in

their own language as much as ministering to monks, priests, and nobility. 15

Turning to the Heliand then, the text knows the names/terms “Jesus”,

“Christ”, and the like but the poet chooses to give Jesus’ name as “Heliand”

at least at the Annunciation where Gabriel instructs Mary on the name to give

Jesus. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly is the fact that the poet calls

Jesus/Heliand the “heleandero bezt”, the best of healing men, four times

throughout the text. The only other epithet used more often is “barno bezt”,

best of children. The poet also uses the term “neriando Crist” four times as

well; nerian in Old Saxon is a word defined as “to heal.” This emphasis on

the healing power, and deeds of Jesus, illustrates the importance that

healing had for the Germanic populace during this conversion period.

In addition, the Heliand poet emphasizes the healing miracles of Jesus,

Heliand. Perry Harrison told us a year ago that the poet excises many of the

miracles recorded in the Diatesseron and chooses instead to focus on certain

miracles. Of the thirty-one miracles in Tatian’s harmony, the Heliand poet

chooses thirteen. Of that thirteen, seven deal with healing the sick or

raising the dead. Further, two of the healing miracles are sections of the

14 Damian

15 Bede’s lives; abbots of…, letter…..

epic that the poet uses to demonstrate key elements of Christology. In fitt

28, the healing of the lame man, the poet emphasizes Christ’s divinity in

terms that the ninth century would understand. In the healing of the men born

blind, the poet expands on the nature of sin and salvation. In fact, it is in

that scene too that the poet at last engages in epic address, addressing the

audience of the poem for the first and only time, as well as other epic

goodness. 16

The Heliand is important in this study in that it provides a window on

Anglo-Saxon missions not otherwise afforded to us. The Carolingians in

converting the Saxons relied heavily on Anglo-Saxon monastic foundations,

particularly that of Fulda, where the Heliand was likely written. One may

speculate that Old English biblical poems such as Genesis A and Exodus

influenced and inspired biblical literature of the Saxons, Genesis B and The

Heliand. The source text for the latter, Codex Fuldensis, spent time in

Anglo-Saxon England in the late seventh and early eighth centuries before

coming to Fulda where that version of Tatian’s Diatesseron had an influence

on readings in the Lindisfarne Gospels among other texts. 17 Certainly the term

“hælend” as the name of Jesus and which the Anglo-Saxons seem to have

invented, would have been exported to Saxony as it is not the most obvious

term to translate Latin salvator or the semantically unknown Jesus.

Briefly the Christological implications of Jesus as healer extend

beyond the healing of the body that the miracles preserved in the Heliand

would indicate. In Augustine of Hippo’s notion of sin, sin and evil are

twisted good that Christian salvation puts to rights, a hurt that needs

healing. Jesus, Healer, in these terms then makes explicable to a Saxon

audience the need for the incarnation and passion. All this without giving up

the notions of the warrior Christ, whose vicar is the king himself.

Suggesting that the king, while a warrior, is also a healer of his people,

leading very quickly to notions of the Healing touch of the King and other

Christianized sacral rolles of that king. These Christologies, the healing

warrior king, are in the forefront of The Heliand and were aids to converting

the Saxon people.