Felinophobes beware! This is a story about a cat. No, not Rufus, the resident felix who reigns supreme at our household - and thanks to all those who wish him well. He who should be obeyed (those who disobey do so at their peril) wishes to inform all that the rumors about his waning powers are grossly exaggerated and premature. There's no opening for a cat here yet.
This story is about a minuscule kitten found on the street by my son, Adam, who brought it home to be nursed into some measure of maturity, which would then enable us to release him back to the streets to fend for himself. But when I saw his black fur, I thought to myself that better one black cat in-house than two to cross my path outside. I decided we should adopt him and was charged with naming him. He was all black, and I wasted no second thoughts on naming him: Lucifer.
Agreed, Christmas Day is not the best day to speak of the devil, but cats do go their own way. In no time Lucifer matured into a charming, albeit rather unbearable cat. He became energetic, cunning, aggressive, moody, unexpected (well, what else could be expected of a cat?). But worst of all, he was pestering Rufus, who became deeply depressed. Where did you get that cat, I was asked again and again. The members of my family glared at me accusingly, and claimed that by naming him I made him into what he was. What else can a self-respecting cat do, with such a devilish name?
Many cats have run under many bridges since then and Lucifer, when last heard of, was living in Palmonit Alley in Tel Aviv and, from what I know, reigning over the catulation (cat population) there. His name tag, bearing my mobile phone number, hangs from my key ring to this very day.
Recently, following my own erring ways I stumbled again on the name Lucifer, and decided to find out what it is all about.
It all started with the Greek version of the Bible, the Septuagint, when the prophet Isaiah berates the Babylonian king Tiglat Pilesser III. The king, who was only an instrument in God's hands, became too vain for his own good (or God) and had to be cut down to size.
In the original Hebrew Isaiah addresses the king as as Heylel ben Shachar. That was rendered into Greek as "Phosphorus" - literally "carrier of the light"; subsequently one of the chemical elements. St. Jerome, who translated the Bible into the Latin rendered "Phosphorus" as "Lucifer." At the time of his writing, there was a bishop in Sardinia named Lucifer, who spearheaded a heated and violent dispute with the Aryans, who agreed that Jesus was a supernatural creature yet denied him divine status. Lucifer founded a sect of his own, the Luciferans, but they had nothing to do with Satanism in any shape or form.
St. Jerome's translation of Isaiah, especially the part about the king being brought to hell, was the cornerstone of the myth about angels who rebelled against God being hurled from heaven to hell. Lucifer became synonymous with Satan, the arch-devil, king of the netherworld.
"Satan" in Hebrew, when mentioned in the Bible, merely means an enemy or adversary. Only in the Book of Job does he assume a personality of his own and figure in the prophecies of Zacharias, where Heylel ben Shachar is also mentioned.
King James' translators of the Bible in the beginng of the 17th century were well aware of Lucifer's devilish reputation and yet translated Isaiah (14:12-15) as follows: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit."
The Greek, Latin and English translators of the Bible did not err, and did not create a demon by a slip of the pen. On the contrary: They were as faithful (to the original text) as could be. The Jewish commentators of the Bible identified the metaphor used by Isaiah, Heylel ben Shachar - Heylel, son of the morning - as the bright morning star, Venus in Latin, or according to its Greek name, Phosphorus. The star's other Latin name was Lucifer, lux being "light" and ferre meaning "to carry."
So how did a carrier of light become the prince of darkness? It turns out that Shachar, an Ugaritic deity, had a brother named Shalem; their father El (meaning God) had had relations with two women. And Venus, or Lucifer, the morning star, shines brightly in the evening hours during part of the year. Jerusalem is "the city of Shalem," and according to Jeremiah (44:17), the cult that worships pagan deities in heaven was observed in Jerusalem. This is what the Jerusalemites told the prophet: "But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil."
In no way was Jerusalem ever a bastion of Satan. And the Christians were no less confused by the fact that Jesus is referred to (in Revelations) as "the bright morning star" - which is, yes, "Lucifer."
So I hereby renounce all responsibility for auguring the cat's temperament by naming him Lucifer in his kittenhood. As other, circumstantial evidence I can cite the fact that in Dutch, lucifer is merely a match, which indeed carries light. A Satan who looks like a thin stick of wood, lights up when his small red head is rubbed against the side of a box and then, unlike a burning bush, is totally consumed by its own fire? It's not worth "Apage Satan." At most a "feig" (it is Yiddish, for the heathens among you who did not get it)- a fig, not even a fig leaf, for him to hide behind.
And tfu, tfu, tfu, to be on the safe side.
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