Word of the Day / Noga: How Venus Got Its Name - by Way of Lucifer

The Hebrew word for the planet that's second from the sun went from ancient Bible editions to popular girl's name.

Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad
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Nowadays, the Hebrew name of the planet that is second from the sun, known in English as Venus, is noga (NO-ga), though the word Venus is also used occasionally. But that hasn’t always been the case.

The Bible contains two phrases that are believed to have been ancient Hebrew names for this planet. Hillel ben shachar (literally, “praised son of dawn”), which ancient Bible editions (Greek, Latin and Aramaic) translated as "Venus," appears in the Book of Isaiah.

Later, the Christian tradition, influenced by Roman mythology, interpreted that phrase as alluding to the fallen angel Lucifer. Thus, the King James Bible reads: “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!” (14:12)

Another phrase that might have connoted Venus is ayelet hashachar (literally, “doe of dawn”), as in Psalm 22. Like hillel ben shachar, this term incorporates the Hebrew word for dawn (shachar), which might refer to Venus’ appearance as the morning star.

During the time of the Talmud, the word for Venus was kochav – the generic Hebrew word for "star." Later – in post-Talmudic midrashic writings of the second half of the first millennium, as well as in astronomical and astrological sources dating to the Middle Ages – the word noga came into use. This was possibly a translation that was "borrowed" from the Arabic, where the word zohara, just like its Hebrew counterpart, means "brightness."

Today, people don’t speak about the planets very often, but noga is used quite frequently: It became a popular girl’s name in Israel, beginning in the latter half of the last century.

Venus crossing the sun is photographed through a telescope at Planetarium Urania in Hove, Belgium.Credit: AP