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I originally posted this a while ago on my blog, but someone recently suggested that I pose it as a question here.

A brief Wikipedia search on the origin of the word ‘god’ reveals the following:

The earliest written form of the Germanic word god comes from the 6th century Christian Codex Argenteus. The English word itself is derived from the Proto-Germanic * ǥuđan. Most linguists agree that the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European form * ǵhu-tó-m was based on the root * ǵhau(ə)-, which meant either ‘to call’ or ‘to invoke’.

Google came up with this link which presents a survey of various sources that attempt to decipher the origin of the word. It begins with a short summary of its conclusion, which contains the following sentence:

The word God is a relatively new European invention, which was never used in any of the ancient Judaeo-Christian scripture manuscripts that were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin.

I am befuddled by the fact that they seem to have overlooked a very clear source.

In Genesis 30:11 - we read:

וַתֹּאמֶר לֵאָה בגד \ בָּא גָד

And Leah said, "gad has come."

Targum [Pseudo-]Jonathan interprets:

וַאֲמַרַת לֵאָה אָתָא מַזְלָא טָבָא

And Leah said, "the good 'mazal' (astrological sign / luck) has come."

I would assume that if ‘mazal’ = ‘gad’ then we could have a pretty good indication of where the word ‘god’ came from.

If this isn’t good enough, note the word גדא which is mentioned several times in the Talmud. See, for example, Hullin 40a:

אמר אביי לא קשיא הא דאמר להר הא דאמר לגדא דהר דיקא נמי דקתני דומיא דמיכאל שר הגדול

...Abbaye said, "it is not problematic, for this is when he said [he was slaughtering it] for the mountain and this is where he said it was for the gada (referring some heavenly minister that some would serve as a god) of the mountain...

It is quite clear from the context that גדא דהר means just that; god of the mountain!

Does anyone have any knowledge that would help in figuring out whether or not these words (גד and god) are actually related, as they seem to be?

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The answers below seem to conclude that this is a coincidence. I'll just add that the word is quite short and simple, and the significance you ascribe to the match would have been more likely had the word contained 7 or 8 syllables. –  Double AA Aug 3 '12 at 6:53
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Although the answers that preceded me seem to conclude that "God" is not related to גד, it's interesting to note that Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (in his commentary to Genesis 1:1, in the end of his discussion of the word "א-להים") does say that "God" is connected to "גד." –  b a Nov 1 '12 at 1:42
    
It's very rare to have 7 syllables; perhaps you meant 7 phonemes? I have always been interested in the Abraham/Brahman connection but it's very hard to find anything scholarly on the matter in the midst of the morass of ecstatics online jumping on it. –  Daniel Briggs Nov 2 '12 at 1:11
    
The uses of "gad" in this is all simply wrong; "gad" means goat. As for the Targum Jonathan here, the astrological sign Cancer is represented by a goat. "Gada d'har" would mean "mountain goat". –  Garan Apr 18 at 15:23
    
Whether gad also means goat does not change the point. The point is that the word refers to a power that was worshiped, as is clear from passages in the Talmud such as the one cited, as well as Isaiah 65:11 הַעֹרְכִים לַגַּד שֻׁלְחָן. Cancer being the sign of the goat only amplifies this point. –  Dov F May 4 at 2:45

3 Answers 3

Hebrew is an Afro-Asiatic language, whereas Proto-Germanic is an Indo-European language. We don't know of any relation between these two language families: if there is any, it is shrouded in the mists of remote prehistory. Barring very strong evidence to the contrary, any similarity between a Hebrew word and a Germanic word must therefore be ascribed to coincidence.

There are two theories about the origin of the Germanic word, which is still uncertain:

  1. It could be from Proto-Indo-European *ghau- "call, invoke", as the entity that is invoked;

  2. Or it could come from Proto-Indo-European *gheu- "pour", as the entity to which libations are offered.

Do you have any information about the origin of the Hebrew word?

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@DovF Historical linguistics works by establishing systematic sound correspondences. One word is just not enough for this and may very well be a coincidence. –  Otavio Macedo Jul 10 '12 at 17:59
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@DovF: You would be amazed at the many striking coincidences that exist in linguistics, especially etymology! So, yes, I strongly expect this to be coincidental. If you look up the etymology of the Hebrew words, I believe that will shed some light upon the coincidence (or connection...). Unfortunately, I can't read Hebrew. Could you look the word up for me and give me a translation of what this etymological dictionary has to say about the etymology of גד? hebrewetymology.com –  Cerberus Jul 10 '12 at 20:27
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@Cerberus I think I understand your point. Thank you. –  Dov F Jul 11 '12 at 10:18
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@Cerberus Just for your information, that dictionary you linked isn't an actual etymological dictionary. It's one of many different mystic attempts to place Hebrew at the root of all languages. That becomes more clear if you look at the (English) introduction, which claims Hebrew has no roots in any other language and each Hebrew letter represents one of seven primal concepts that are combined to create meaning. As Alex B remarked below, a real etymological dictionary will ultimately trace it back to Proto-Semitic *gadd-/*gād-. –  voikya Jul 15 '12 at 7:24
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@Cerberus I realize this is an old discussion, but you wanted it looked up in a Hebrew entomological dictionary, so: masculine noun, 1) good fortune, luck. 2) name of the god fortune (occurring often in Phoenician and Aramaic inscriptions and as an element in many Phoen. and Aram. private names), related to JAram/Syriac "gadda", Nabatean and Palmyrene "gada", Arabic "jadd" –  Mike Jun 29 at 21:13

Theological issues aside, I can see several wrong assumptions in your question.

"The word God is a relatively new European invention, which was never used in any of the ancient Judaeo-Christian scripture manuscripts that were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin."

It's not entirely clear what you meant there. If you are talking about the English word "god", then why would you expect to come across an English word in a Latin or Greek text? If you are talking about the concept of "god(s)", then your assumption is inaccurate. It is a well-known fact that various Indo-European peoples had gods, attested by names of deities (Jupiter, Zeus, Perkunas etc.) and the word 'god', e.g. Latin 'deus', Vedic 'devas' etc. As a matter of fact, Father Sky is a very common deity in many IE cultures. A common motif is the main god fighting/killing some chthonic creature (a snake or a dragon).

Now about "Gad" and English "god". The wrong assumption here is what Yuri Otkupschikov called "chronological scissors" (chronological disparity). You are comparing words that don't belong to the same time period. Yes, in OE the word was "god" but looking at other Germanic languages you can't help but notice that originally the root vowel was not "o" but rather "u", e.g. have a look at this.

I'm not a Hebraist (nor a Semitologist) but here's what I've been able to find about the origin of the Hebrew proper noun "Gad". I strongly recommend looking it up at least in Klein 1987:

enter image description here

A general remark on etymology:

"A generally accepted principle (advocated by Meillet) permits only comparisons which involve both sound and meaning together. Similarities in sound alone (for example, the presence of tonal systems in compared languages) or in meaning alone (for example, grammatical gender in the languages compared) are not reliable, since they often develop independently of genetic relationship, due to diffusion, accident and typological tendencies" (Campbell 2004: 356, emphasis mine - Alex B.)

Executive summary: I am very skeptical of your hypothesis/evidence and my answer is no.

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The sentence you quote is not mine, it is a quote that I expressed confusion over. All I am dealing with is the word, not the concept. As for pronunciation - it isn't clear to me that the [only] correct pronunciation of the Hebrew word is gad. In fact current Ashkenazi pronunciation of the word is guhd. –  Dov F Jul 10 '12 at 18:32
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Chronological disparity: Hebrew "Gad", OE "god", and current Ashkenazi Hebrew "guhd". –  Alex B. Jul 10 '12 at 18:55
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Isaiah 65:11 "But as for you who forsake the Lord and forget my holy mountain, who spread a table for Fortune (גד) and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny" - NIV. Fortune is capitalized as it refers to 'the god of fortune.' This is the Talmud's translation of the verse as well. Once you get to Aramaic it already means any kind of God - I showed that in my question. But yes, that passage is much more recent (300 or so AD). –  Dov F Jul 11 '12 at 10:11
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@DovF, ok, now we have "gd" in Hebrew meaning "Fortune" (like Latin Fortuna). Ignoring relatively unimportant things here, a real challenge to you is to explain when, how, and why the ancient Germans might have borrowed this word from who by the way? –  Alex B. Jul 11 '12 at 15:28
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The only possibility that I could see was that perhaps this is an exceptional case of where a combination of sound + meaning survived from the common ancestors of the Afro-Asiatic and Indo-European proto-languages: some linguists hypothesise a common proto-language called "Nostratic". That would still be extreme speculation. But then one would expect the meanings and sounds to converge as one goes back in time to known proto-roots, which is not the case. Further, since the proposed Urheimats of PAA and PIE are far apart, and PAA is perhaps 10,000 years older, a link seems all but impossible. –  Cerberus Jul 11 '12 at 16:58

Sanskrit Gau or Go related to English word cow. India has a tradition of the sacred cow, Babylonian sun worship was associated with the slaughtering of cattle, and Christianity overlaps with the Mithra mysteries.

Hebrew words for 'god' are associated with different attributes/characteristics (when 'god' is merciful 'god' has a particular name and when 'god' is wrathful 'god' has a particular name).

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I don't see that either part of this answer has any bearing on the question. –  Colin Fine Nov 22 '12 at 16:45

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