Iahō (God of Abraham)

1 The Name ‘Iahō’

The Jewish tradition was extremely influential on the Greco-Roman world, and not just through conversion to Judaism (or Samaritanism), to “God-Fearers” and Hypsistarians [off-site links], or through Christianity. Many pagans, for various reasons, also prayed to and worshipped “the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, and often held the loftiest opinions of him, without being in any way attracted to monotheism. This is abundantly clear to any reader of the Greek Magical Papyri and similar texts, where he is constantly invoked under the name Ἱαώ or Iahṓ (IPA: /ja(ː)’hoː/] or Ἰάω Iáhō [/’ja(ː).hoː/]—which is a transliteration either of the Tetragrammaton or of a shortened form of the name, YHW—alongside other gods, such as Helios.

Note that the name is Iahō, not Iaō, although spelled ιαω: in Greek, intervocalic h was not written, but texts composed in Egyptian scripts (which include a letter for h) and variant spellings like ιαχω (Orphica Lithica Kerygmata 39) show that it was nevertheless pronounced.

2 Who is Iahō?

The identity of Iahō, this obscure yet important god, of course interested those pagans who encountered him, even if some were content to refer to him simply as “the god who is called Iahō” (Diodorus Siculus 1.94.2). One person, according to Cornelius Labeo (as cited in Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.18.19–21, sought out an answer from the oracle of Clarian Apollon, asking “as which of the gods the one who is called Ἱαώ is to be regarded”. The response, in five hexameter verses, was as follows:

“Those who have learned the mysteries ought to hide the unsearchable secrets;
But by treachery, understanding is little and intelligence feeble.
So, consider Iahō to be the highest (hypatos) god of all,
Hades in winter, Zeus when spring is beginning,
Helios of the summer, and delicate Iacchus of autumn.”

As I understand it, then, this oracle would have us consider the Sun as the greatest god, called Hades, Zeus, Helios and Dionysus (or Iacchus) in different respects, but Iahō overall. But while this view has the sanction of an oracular god, it was far from the only one current. John Lydus, a 6th-century intellectual who was nominally Christian but still entirely absorbed in the intellectual horizons of Greco-Roman paganism, wrote the following mini-essay in his great compendium On the Months:

“There was and continues to be great diversity of opinions regarding the god honored by the Hebrews. The Egyptians, and first of all Hermes, theologize him as being Osiris, the One-Who-Is (ho ōn), about whom Plato says in the Timaeus: ‘What is that which always is, and never has an origin, and what is the originated, which never is? (Timaeus 27d)’¹

“The Greeks hold that he is the Dionysus of Orpheus, because, as (the Jews?) themselves say, before the inner sanctum of the temple in Jerusalem, on either side, there were vines made from gold that held up the curtains, which were variegated with crimson and scarlet. From these things, they deduce that it is the temple of Dionysus.²

“But Livy, in his general Roman History, says that the god honored there is unknown; and Lucan, following him, says that the temple in Jerusalem is that of an uncertain god.³

“But Numenius says that he is incommunicable, and that he is the father of all gods, who does not consider any (god) to be worthy of having common honors with him.⁴

“And the emperor Julian, when he was marching against the Persians, wrote to the Jews with the following words: ‘For I am raising the temple of the God Most High with my whole desire.’ For this reason [that he is called ‘most high’], and also because of the (custom of) circumcision, some of the unlearned believe him to be Kronos; for they say that Kronos is the highest of the planets.⁵

“They do not see that the circumcision is a symbol of the purification of the intellective soul, as it seems to the mystical (authorities) of the Hebrews, and that the circumcision is not a Kronian ritual: the so-called Scenitae among the Arabs also circumcise their sons in the thirteenth year (of their life), as Origen says, although they honor Astarte, not Kronos. And the Ethiopians mark the kneecaps of the young with a burning iron for Apollon.⁶

“Porphyry, in his Commentary on the (Chaldaic) Oracles, opines that the one honored by the Jews is the Twofold Transcendent (dis epekeina), that is, the demiurge of wholes, whom the Chaldaean theologizes as being the second after the Onefold transcendent, that is, The Good.⁷

“But those around Iamblichus, Syrianus and Proclus believe that he is the demiurge of the perceptible cosmos, calling him the tetrastoikhos god.⁸

“And the Roman Varro, when he takes him up, says that he is called Iahō by the Chaldaeans in their mystical (rites?)—meaning the intelligible light in the language of the Phoenicians, as Herennius says.⁹

„He is also often called Sabaōth, ‘the one above the seven spheres’, as it were, that is, the demiurge.¹⁰

“Now, while there so many opinions about him, those who theologize him as being unknown and uncertain are in the majority.

“That those who believe that he is Dionysus, because of the aforementioned vines, which held up the curtains, and further, because they are also persuaded, I do not know from where, that the profane among the Hebrews do not drink wine, they are mistaken, as one can derive from the laws among them. For they lay down that, not the profane, but the sanctified should do this, saying: ‘Do not drink wine and strong liquor when you enter into the tent’ (Leviticus 10:9).”¹¹

1: The reference to Hermes is obscure, probably to some lost text, but the basic idea is derived from the Bible: “I am who I am” or “I am the One-Who-Is” (Exodus 3:14). Philo of Alexandria, among others, connected this to the Platonic notion of true and eternal Being as opposed to the realm of origination and destruction.
2: Mostly because vines are related to wine, but the red curtains too may be seen as loosely Dionysiac.
3: Lucan 2.252f; the passage from Livy is quoted in the commentaries on Lucan: “They do not name which of the gods the temple at Jerusalem belongs”. As Mischa Hooker ad loc. observes, Lydus may have found this information in a commentary on Lucan by a certain Polemo.
4: This seems to be a polytheistic reflection of the import of monotheism. Numenius certainly did not reject the worship of other gods.
5: The name is Hypsistos, commonly used in antiquity as a proper name for the god honored by the Jews; here interpreted astrologically.
6: The point of these parallels is that circumcision and similar acts are not peculiar to one deity; the opposite view, that circumcision relates to Kronos, is based on the myth of the god’s castration.
7: The demiurge of wholes is the creator of the universal, whereas lower demiurgic gods are responsible for more particular and divided beings. In Greek terms, this god is usually called Zeus.
8: This is a pun, tetrastoikhos meaning both ‘of four letters, Tetragrammaton’ and ‘of four elements’.
9: It is unclear what Phoenician word Herennius, also known as Philo of Byblos, is relying on; the word ‘intelligible’ may be Lydus’ spin on what the earlier grammarian wrote.
10: Iahō Sabaōth is often invoked in the Greek Magical Papyri, deriving from Biblical Hebrew YHHH Tsəbaot, often translated into English as “Lord of Hosts”.
11: If the profane did not drink wine, then wine-drinking would be sacred and connected to the god. But the opposite is the case.

3 Iahō in “magical” texts

We can also look to the Greek Magical Papyri, ancient curse tablets and and other such “magical” texts for an idea of how ancient polytheists treated the god Iahō. Firstly, it should be noted that the god sometimes all but disappears in long strings of names or vocalic sounds. Take this ritual:

“Love-charm (agōgimon) through touch.

“Take a solar scarab, boil it in good ointment, then take the scarab, grind it up with the compulsory plant [=vetch], and cast them into a glass cup, and say the following logos twice:

“‘Thōbarrabau Michaēl Michaēl; Ousiri Phor; Phorba Abriēl; Sesengen Barpharangēs; Iahō Sabaōth Adōnaie Lailam; do you (pl.) compel so-and-so daughter of so-and-so to follow me if I touch her!’”

Here, the God and angels of Judaism, Osiris, and a couple of magical formulas are mixed together haphzardly, and we can easily imagine the same spell using only Egyptian theonyms, or Greek ones.

But this observation must be balanced against the fact that rituals mentioning Iahō, even when they betray limited knowledge of Judaism, are often full of Jewish signifiers, such as references to the temple at Jerusalem or figures like Moses. It was also well known even to people who had not studied magical practices that one could drive out demons by “adjuring the rays of the Sun and the Hebrew god” (Damascius, Philosophical History, fr. 56 Zintzen). (Note that in fr. 141, when talking about the Samaritans, Damascius refers to the god of Abraham as Zeus Hypsistos/Most High.)

In other words, while sometimes decontextualized pieces of Jewish (or Samaritan, or Christian) lore or practice were present in rituals that could have appeared like ordinary pagan ones to their users, in other cases, it was precisely perception as Jewish which was aimed at. It was known that rituals taught by Moses or invoking Iahō had great power and authority, but practitioners and their clients had no interest in Judaism for its own sake.

Most of the time we are somewhere inbetween. That is to say, there are really and recognizably Jewish elements, but they stand in something of their own tradition, probably not just because pagan practitioners got their Jewish lore very indirectly, but also because Hellenized Jews and Christians who practiced “magic” themselves were part of the Greco-Egyptian magical tradition and not uninfluenced by pagan ideas and rites. This makes it something of a fool’s game to measure the extent of Jewishness by the “authenticity” of Jewish elements and Hebrew words (not least because Hellenized Jews west of Palestine rarely spoke Hebrew or Aramaic).

Nevertheless, it is possible to identify some texts where there is a definite, but definitely non-Jewish, understanding of Iahō’s nature at work. I will give a few examples here, but they are by no means exhaustive.

SB 1:4947

“I adjure you, ghost (nekydaimon), and I rouse your daemon, assist me with Aplōnous, whom Arsinoe bore, and let her soul be driven wild, to change her soul and make it inclined to my soul, so that she love me and give ear to me, whatever I ask of her, I, Ptolemy, whom Thaseis bore.

“Because I adjure the lord god who encompasses all things, Iahō Iamelou Iai Barai Ianbelachi Bell Bal Iōēl Teilouteilou; you are the great god Iatabaōth Torgiatēs!

“Make Aplōnous, whom Arsinoe bore, love me, me, Ptolemy, whom Thaseis bore, for all time, so that she love me and give me whatever I ask of her, and let her not hold back a single hour before she come to me, Ptolemy, whom Thaseis bore, for all time.”

Lucian Alexander 13; Origen 6.32 etc. Also 3.6?

angels and gods PGM III.148
Angel of Zeus: I.300, III.211
Horus(?): II.71 and thereabout, IV.981 – 1049
?: IV.1203
‚languages‘: XIII.73 / 147 / 453 / 595 etc.
Sun: III.100, V.329

Iaho in VIII Moses!

The strange lore of binding tablet 242 (ed. Audollent)

1 ἐξορκίζω σε ὅστ[ι]ς ποτ’ εἶ, νεκυδαίμ<ω>ν, τὸν θεὸν τὸν κτίσαντα γῆν κ[α]ὶ οὐρανὸν Ιωνα·

ξορκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἔχοντα τὴν ἐξουσίαν τῶν χθονίων τόπων Νειχαροπληξ·

ἐξορκίζω σε τὸν θε[ὸν — — —]ο[—]ω̣α̣ε̣[—]ο πνευμάτων α[— — — —]β·

“I adjure you, the god of Necessity, the great Arourobaarzagran!

“I adjure you, the god, the firstborn of the Earth, Ephonkeisaiblableisphtheibal!

“I adjure you, the god of winds and breezes (pneumata), Lailam!

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἐπὶ τῶν τειμωριῶν παντὸς ἐνψύχ[ου —]ραπω̣κμη̣φ·

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν τῶν οὐρανίων στερεωμάτων δεσπότην Αχραμαχαμαρει·

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν χθόνιον τὸν δεσπόζοντα παντὸς ἐνψύχου Σαλβαλαχαωβρη·

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν νεκυαγωγὸν τὸν ἅγιον Ἑρμῆν, τὸν οὐράνιον Αω̣ν κρειφ τὸν ἐπίγειον ἀ̣λ̣έ̣ον [— —]βνιν, τὸν χ[θό]νιον Αρχφ̣η̣σ̣ον·

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἐπὶ τῆς ψυχοδοσίας παντὸς ἀνθρώπου γεγεγεγεν κί- μενον {²⁶κείμενον}²⁶ Ιαω·

“I adjure you, the god who illuminates and darkens the cosmos, Semeseilam!

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν πάσης μαγείας τὴν ἔω̣γ̣σιν ἀνθρωπίνην σειυπν̣[— — —] Σαβαωθ·

“I adjure you, the god of Solomon, Souarmimōouth!

“I adjure you, the god of the second firmament, who has the power within himself, Marmaraōth!

“I adjure you, the god of rebirth, Thōbarrabau!

“I adjure you, the god of the whole wine-troughs(?), […]ieu!

“I adjure you, the god of this day, …

ὁρ[κί]ζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν τῆς ἡμέρας ταύτης ἧσσε ὁρκίζω Αωαβαωθ· ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἔχοντα τὴν ἐξουσίαν τῆς ὥρας ταύτης ἧσσε, ὁρκίζω Ἰσοῦ·

“I adjure you, the god who rules over the celestial firmaments, Iahō Iboēa!

“I adjure you, the celestial god, Ithyahō!

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν [τ]ὴν δι[ά]νοιαν παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ χαρισάμενον Νεγεμψενπ̣υενιπη·

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν πλάσαντα πᾶν γένος ἀνθρώπ[ων] Χωο̣ι̣χαρε̣αμων·

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν τὴν ὅρασιν παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ χαρισάμενον Η̣χεταρωψιευ·

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν χαρισάμενον τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τὴν διὰ τῶν ἄρθρων κ{ε}ίνησιν {²⁶κίνησιν}²⁶ Θεσθενοθριλ[—]χεαυνξιν·

“I adjure you, the god, grandfather Phnouphoboēn!

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν τὴν κοίμησίν σοι δεδωρημένον καὶ ἀπολύσαντά σε ἀπὸ δ[εσμῶ]ν τοῦ βίου Νεθμομαω·

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν παντὸς μ̣ύ̣θου κυριεύοντα Ναχαρ·

ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν τοῦ ὕπνου δεσπόζοντα Σθομβλοην· ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἀέριον τὸν πελάγιον τὸν ὑπόγειον τὸν οὐρ[ά]νιον τῶν πελάγων τὴν ἀρχὴν συνβεβλημένον τὸν μονογενῆ τὸν ἐξ αὐτοῦ ἀναφανέντα τὸν πυρὸς καὶ ὕδατος καὶ γῆς καὶ ἀέρος τὴν ἐξουσίαν ἔχοντα Ωηιαωεεηαφετι·

“I further adjure you (sg.) below the Earth, names of Hekate the triple-shaped (trimorphos), the scourge-bearer (mastigophoros), torch-bearer (daidoukhos), lamp-bearer (lampadoukhos); the gold-sandalled-blood-drinking-chthonic one (khryso-sandali-haimo-poti-khthonia), the horse-[??] (hippeitr[o]ak[ti…]), […]phi Erescheigal Neboutosouant.

I also speak to you the true name which shakes Tartarus, the Earth, the Abyss and Heaven: Phorbaborphorbaborph[…]oror Basyneteirō Molti[ēa]iō, protection (phylakē), [Na]pypheraiō, Necessity (Anankē), Maskelli Maskellō Phnoukentabaōth Oreobarzargra Ēsthanchouchēnchoucheōch.

ἵνα διακονήσῃς μοι ἐν τῷ κίρκῳ τῇ πρὸς ιϛʹ ἰδῶν [ν]οεμβρίων καὶ καταδήσῃς πᾶν μέλος, πᾶν νεῦρον, τοὺς ὥμους, τοὺς καρπούς, τοὺς ἀνκῶνας τῶν ἡνιόχων τοῦ ῥουσσέου Ὀλύμπου καὶ Ὀλυμπιάνου καὶ Σκορτίου καὶ Ἰουυένκου· βασάνισον αὐτῶν τὴν διανοίαν, τὰς φρένας, τὴν αἴσθησιν ἵνα μὴ νοῶσιν τί π[ο]ιῶσιν, ἀπόκνισον αὐτῶν τὰ ὄμματα ἵνα μὴ βλέπωσιν μήτε αὐτοὶ μήτε οἱ ἵπποι οὓς μέλλουσιν ἐλαύνειν, Αἴγυπτον, Καλλίδρομον καὶ εἴ τις σὺν αὐτοῖς ἄλλος ζευχθήσεται, Οὐαλε[ν]- τεῖνον καὶ Λαμπαδ[— — —]ν̣ον καὶ Μαῦρον Λαμπαδίου καὶ Χρύσασπιν, Ἴουβαν καὶ Ἰνδόν, Παλμάτον καὶ Σούπερβον καὶ [—]ηιον, Βούβαλον Κηνσοράπου, Ἔρεινα καὶ εἴ τινα ἄλλον ἵππον ἔξ αὐτῶν μέλλει ἐλαύνε[ι]ν, καὶ εἴ τις ἄλλος ἵππος τούτοις μέλλει συνζεύγνυσθαι προλαβέτωσαν, ἐπὶ νείκην μὴ ἔλθωσιν.

… Amathous

I. Kourion 134 (https://inscriptions.packhum.org/text/208541?hs=3032-3036%2C3069-3075) also see 127-142

“Daemons below the Earth (kata gēn) and whatever daemons there are, both fathers of fathers and mothers

“I adjure you (pl.) by the great goddesses Masōmasimablaboiō Mamaxō Eumazō Endenekoptoura Melophthēmarar Akou Rasrōeekamadōr Machthoudouras Kēphozōn goddess Akhthamodoiralar Akou Raent Akou Ralar, hear, Alar Ouekhearmalar Karamephthē Sisochōr Adōnia Chthōn Chouchmatherphes Thermōmasmar Asmachouchimanou Philaesōsi!

“Chthonic gods, […]

παραλάβε[τε τοῦ] 10 Σοζομένου τὸν θυμὸν κὲ τὴν ὀργὴν τὴν ἐς ἐμὲ ἔχι τὸν Εὐτύχην [κὲ πα]- ράδοτε τῷ κατ’ Ἅδη θυρουρῷ Μαθυρευφραμενος κὲ τὸν ἐπὶ τοῦ πυλῶνος τοῦ Ἅδ[ους] κὲ τῶν κλῄθρω {²sic}² τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τεταγμένον Στερξερξ ειρηξα ῥησίχθων αρδαμαρχθ[ουρ] πριστευ λαμπαδευ στενακτὰ θάψατε τὸν προγεγραμμένον ἐπὶ τοῦδε τοῦ φιμω- τικοῦ καταθέματος.

“I adjure (against) you (pl.) the […]

ἐνορκίσζω ὑμῖν τὸν βασιλέοντα τῶν κωφῶν δεμόνων ἀκούσα- 15 τε τοῦ μεγάλου ὀνόματος, ἐπιτάσσι γὰρ ὁ μέγας Σισοχωρ ὁ ἐξάγων τοῦ Ἅδους τὰς πύλας, κὲ καταδήσατε τοῦ ἀντιδίκου μου τοῦ Σοζομένου κὲ κατακοιμίσετε τὴν γλῶσσαν τὸν θυμὸν τὴν ὀργὴν τὴν εἰς ἐμὲ ἔχι τὸν Εὐτύχην ὁ Σοζόμενος ἵνα μὴ δύνητε μηδενὶ πράγματι ἐναντιωθῆνε περὶ τὰ θρέμματα, ἀλλὰ δὸς αὐτῷ α̣η̣ρκη {²sic}² αὐτοῦ.

“I adjure you daemons […]

ὁρκίσζω ὑμᾶς δέμονες πολυανδρίου {²sic}² κὲ βιοθάνατοι κὲ ἄωροι κὲ ἄπο- 20 ροι ταφῆς κατὰ τῆς ῥησιχθόνης τῆς κατενενκάσης Μελιούχου τὰ μέλη κὲ αὐτὸν Μελιοῦχον. ἐνορκίσζω ὑμᾶς κατὰ τοῦ Αχελομορφωθ ὅστις ἐστὶν μόνος ἐπίγιος θεὸς Οσους οισωρνοφρις ουσραπιω ποιήσατε τὰ ἐνγεγραμμένα·

τύνβε πανδάκρυτ[ε] κὲ χθόνιοι θεοὶ κὲ Ἑκάτη χθονία κὲ Ἑρμῆ χθόνιε κὲ Πλούτων κὲ Ἐρινύες ὑποχθόνιοι κὲ ὑμῖς οἱ ὧδε κάτω κίμενοι ἄωροι κὲ ἀ{α}νώνυμοι {²⁶ἀνώνυμοι}²⁶ Ευμαζων, παραλάβετε τὰς φωνὰ[ς] 25 [τ]οῦ Σοζομένου τοῦ πρὸς ἐμὲ τὸν Εὐτύχην Μασωμαχω·

τὴν παραθήκην ὑμῖν παρατί- θομε φιμωτικὴν τοῦ Σοζομένου κὲ ἀνάδοτε αὐτοῦ τὸ ὄνομα τοῖς χθονίοις θεοῖς Αλλα αλκη κὲ αλκεω κὲ λαλαθανάτῳ τῷ τριωνύμῳ Κούρᾳ·

οἷτοί {²⁶οὗτοί}²⁶ μοι πάντοτε τελιώσουσιν κὲ φιμώσουσιν τὸν ἀντίδικον ἐμοῦ τοῦ Εὐτύχη τὸν Σοζόμεν- [ο]ν· ἔγιρον δέ μοι κὲ σὺ ὁ ἔχων τὸ ὑπόγιον βασίλιόν σε πασῶν τῶν Ἐρινύων.

[ὁρ]κίσζω ὑμᾶς κατὰ τῶν ἐν Ἅδι θεῶ[ν Ου]χιτου τὴν τάβων δότιρα<ν> Αωθιωμος ι- ωιωεγοωεοιφρι ὁ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ἔχων τὸ ἐθέριον βασίλιον Μειωθιλαμψ ἐν [οὐρα]νῷ Ιαω κὲ τὸν ὑπὸ γῆν Σαβληνια Ιαω Σαβληφλαυβην θανατοπουτωηρ. [ὁρκί]σζω σε Βαθυμια χθιορωσκορβρα αδιανακω κακιαβανη θεννακρα.

[ἐξορκ]- [ίσζω ὑ]μᾶς τοὺς ἀπὸ Κρόνου ἐκτεθέντας θεοὺς Αβλαναθαναλ[βα] σισοπ[ετρον παρα]- 35 [λάβετ]ε τὸν ἀντίδικον ἐμοῦ τοῦ Εὐτύχη [τὸν] Σοζόμενον Ωη[αντιχερεχερ βεβα]- [λλοσαλ]ακαμηθη κὲ σὺ ἡ τὰς κλῖδας τοῦ Ἅ[δους κ]ατέχ[ουσα ῥησίχθων] […]


Excursus: The Peratae’s System