Since my breathtaking daughter, Leah, played violin last weekend in the Kodiak Arts Council’s presentation of Handel’s Messiah, I thought I would take a look at two words: MESSIAH, and HALLELUJAH. (We are fortunate to have so very many excellent musicians on this tiny island—thanks, everyone!)
The Greeks took the Hebrew mashiah “anointed” and turned it into messias. The Latins, as usual, just copied the word messias. Then the Geneva translators in 1560, translated it as MESSIAH. Definition? I don’t even have to look it up. Jesus. Pure and simple. Check out how many, many prophecies in Isaiah alone that Jesus fulfilled. But, really and truly, “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.” And that’s what makes Jesus the Messiah.
The word HALLELUJAH took a similar path. Hallelu is Hebrew for “praise,” or a loud shout. and yah is the Hebrew for Jehovah. The Greeks turned it into hallelouia, and the Latins took that and turned it into alleluja. It is an interjection meaning, quite literally, “Praise God.”
(Funny enough, Noah Webster’s 1829 spells the word halleluiah. Some day I’m going to get to the bottom of the whole letter-i vs. letter j thing. And in case you’re wondering, HALLOWED doesn’t come from the same root at all. Check out my Halloween Word Nerd blog.)
But the upshot of it all is this:
Three major Western cultures. Two special words. One true God.
WORD NERD CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: Research why it is tradition to stand up for the Hallelujah Chorus in performances of Handel’s Messiah. Nothing to do with words, I know.