A knowledge of the Hebrew, Greek and Latin words used for english translation in the Old and New Testament. I've read conflicting information.

  • Phos-phoros and luci-fer both mean light-bearer, and have indeed been used by ancient Greeks and Romans to refer to the morning star, the planet Venus. Shahar means dawn, and ben is a Semitic patronymic.
    – user46876
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 22:54
  • The ending of Helel or Halel is a well-known Semitic theonym.
    – user46876
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 23:25
  • I'm not really sure what you're asking here... the original was Hebrew, so it didn't replace the Latin. Are you asking about the Septuagint and Vulgate translations?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 7:50
  • See hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/73972/…
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jan 28, 2022 at 1:36

1 Answer 1


The Hebrew word הֵילֵל (heilel) occurs in Zechariah 11:2 and Ezekiel 21:121 where it is translated into Greek as ὀλολυξάτω and ὀλόλυξον, respectively, imperative conjugations of the onomatopoetic ὀλολύζω, which is translated into English by the verb “howl” or “wail.”2

BDAG, p. 704, ὀλολύζω

Coincidentally, Aquila in his more literal Greek translation3 of the Hebrew scriptures translated the Hebrew הֵילֵל בֶּן־שָׁחַר (heilel ben-shachar) by ὀλολύζων υἱὸς ὄρθρου, which is translated into English as “[O’] howling/wailing son of dawn.”4 Apparently Aquila interpreted הֵילֵל as a participle derived from the root יָלַל (yalal), “howl/wail,” rather than הָלַל (halal), “shine.” It is also noteworthy that the verb יָלַל occurs approximately 31 times in the Masoretic text, and 11 of those 31 instances occur in the Book of Isaiah.5

Of course, we can delve into various later commentaries to understand how others interpreted it, but why not the source himself? And by “source,” I am referring to the very person responsible for writing lucifer in the Vulgate, which of course found its way into the King James Version. That person would be Jerome.

Jerome wrote a commentary on the Book of Isaiah where he discusses the verse in question.6

(Isa. 14:12-14) Quomodo cecidisti de cælo, lucifer, qui mane oriebaris: corruisti in terram qui vulnerabas gentes: qui dicebas in corde tuo: In cælum ascendam, super sidera Dei exaltabo solium meum, sedebo in monte testamenti in lateribus Aquilonis; ascendam super altitudinem nubium, ero similis Altissimo.

Pro eo quod nos interpretati sumus ob facilitatem intelligentiae: Quomodo cecidisti de cælo, lucifer, qui mane oriebaris, in Hebraico, ut verbum exprimamus ad verbum, legitur: Quomodo cecidisti de cælo, ulula fili diluculi.

My best translation of his Latin passage:

(Isa. 14:12-14) “How you have fallen from heaven, lucifer (Venus), you who used to appear early! How you have fallen upon the earth, you who wounded the nations! And you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend into heaven. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. I will sit in the mountain of the covenant, upon the sides of the north. I will ascend above the height of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.’”

For that which we had interpreted for ease of understanding, “How have you fallen from heaven, O’ Venus (lucifer), you who used to appear early,” in Hebrew, so that we may express it word-for-word, it reads, “How you have fallen from heaven! Wail [ulula], son of dawn!”

So, this tells me that Jerome, who translated the Hebrew הֵילֵל בֶּן־שָׁחַר by lucifer qui mane oriebaris (“O’ Venus, you who used to appear early”), admitted that the Hebrew literally (i.e., verbum ad verbum) translated into Latin as ulula fili diluculi—and thus English as “Howl, son of dawn!”

Why, then, did Jerome translate the Hebrew into Latin as lucifer qui mane oriebaris? If Jerome admits that the Hebrew literally means ulula fili diluculi (“Howl, son of dawn!”), but nevertheless translates it as lucifer qui mane oriebaris (“O’ Venus, you who used to rise early”), it seems the only plausible explanation is that Jerome preferred to translate the Greek Septuagint rather than the Hebrew.

The Greek Septuagint has ὁ ἑωσφόρος ὁ πρωὶ ἀνατέλλων, “O’ Venus, who appeared early.” (Quite obvious, is it not?)

Both the Greek ἑωσφόρος and the Latin lucifer were used in early Latin and Greek writings in reference to what we refer to in English as the planet Venus.

Circero wrote,7

Infima est quinque errantium terraeque proxima stella Veneris, quae Φωσφόρος Graece, Lucifer Latine dicitur, cum antegreditur solem, cum subsequitur, Hesperus.

Lowest of the five wandering [stars] and nearest to the earth is the star of Venus, called in Greek Φωσφόρος and in Latin Lucifer only when it precedes the sun, [but] Hesperos when it follows [the sun].

Accordingly, both the Greek verb ἀνατέλλω8 and the Latin verb orior9 (from which oriebaris is conjugated) are also used in the sense of a celestial body (e.g., Venus) appearing in the sky.

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Finally, both ἑωσφόρος and lucifer occur several times elsewhere in the Septuagint10 and Vulgate,11 respectively.

1 Eze. 21:17 Masoretic text
2 BDAG, p. 704
3 Silverstone, p. 156
4 Field, Vol. 2, p. 456, Isa. 14:12
5 Isa. 13:6, 14:12, 14:31, 15:2, 15:3, 16:7 (x2), 23:1, 23:6, 23:14, 52:5, 65:14
6 Migne, PLM, Vol. 24, p. 165–166, Vers. 12–14
7 Cicero, De Natura Deorum (“On the Nature of the Gods”), 2.20.53
8 LSJ, p. 123, ἀνατέλλω
9 Lewis & Short, p. 1279, ŏrĭor
10 ἑωσφόρος occurs in the LXX in 1 Sam. 30:17; Job 3:9, 11:17, 38:12, 41:18 (41:10 Masoretic); Psa. 110:3 (109:3 Masoretic)
11 lucifer occurs in the Vulgate in Job 11:17, 38:32; Psa. 110:3 (109:3 Masoretic); 2 Pet. 1:19
Arndt, William; Bauer, Walter; Danker, Frederick William. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000.

Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus. “Commentariorum in Isaiam Prophetam Libri Duodeviginti.” Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Latina. Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 24. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1865.

Field, Frederick. Origenis Hexaplorum Quæ Supersunt; sive Veterum Interpretum Graecorum in Totum Vetus Testamentum Fragmenta. Vol. 2. Oxonii: E Typographeo Clarendoniano, 1875.

Lewis, Charlton T.; Short, Charles. Harper’s Latin Dictionary: A New Latin Dictionary Founded on the Translation of Freund’s Latin-German Lexicon. New York: American Book, 1879.

Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; et al. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. with revised supplement. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

Silverstone, Alec Eli. Aquila and Onkelos. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1931.
  • 2
    Sheer excellence. A pleasure to see such succinct accuracy. (Up-voted +1).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 0:07
  • Do any pre-Vulgate Vetus Latina (Old Latin) manuscripts use the word "lucifer" at Isaiae 14:12? Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 16:37
  • 1
    Some of those points may, indeed, be 'self-evident', but perhaps only for those who know Latin? Your expertise here has educated me and I'm grateful.
    – Anne
    Commented May 18 at 16:57

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