Friday, June 22, 2007

Jesus H. Christ

Is it Jesus H. Christ or Jesus J. Christ, I wonder? Iyov has blogged about a case of litigation in which Jesus is mentioned as Jesus J. Christ. I am puzzled. Earlier this year I blogged about the anagram JHS or IHS. This has possibly lead to the name Jesus H. Christ, but I don't know where the J. could have come from.

    The IHS monogram is an abbreviation or shortening of Jesus' name in Greek to the first three letters. Thus ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, ιησυς (iēsus, "Jesus"), is shortened to ΙΗΣ (iota-eta-sigma), sometimes transliterated into Latin or English characters as IHS or ΙΗC.

    The symbol is said to appear rarely in the catacombs, only in the catacomb of Priscilla and the atrium of the Capella Græca (Greek Chapel).1 It was popularized in the fifteenth century, however, by Franciscan disciple Bernadine of Sienna as a symbol of peace. In 1541 St. Ignatius Loyola adopted the symbol with three nails below and surrounded by the sun as the seal of the Jesuit order.

    Contrary to some authors, the monogram originally stood for either for Iesus Hominum Salvator ("Jesus Savior of Men") nor for "In His Service." Some attribute its origin to Constantine's vision, where he saw a cross with the inscription "In hoc signo vinces" ("in this sign you shall conquer,"2 which is abbreviated, according to them, as IHS. However, this seems to require a stretch, as do claims that it is really a pagan symbol.3 The simplest explanation, as an abbreviation of Jesus' name, is best.
Now for the fun stuff. This symbol is the centre of much discussion in Silas Marner by George Eliot, chapter 10,

    Dolly sighed gently as she held out the cakes to Silas, who thanked her kindly and looked very close at them, absently, being accustomed to look so at everything he took into his hand -- eyed all the while by the wondering bright orbs of the small Aaron, who had made an outwork of his mother's chair, and was peeping round from behind it.

    "There's letters pricked on 'em," said Dolly. "I can't read 'em myself, and there's nobody, not Mr. Macey himself, rightly knows what they mean; but they've a good meaning, for they're the same as is on the pulpit-cloth at church. What are they, Aaron, my dear?"

    Aaron retreated completely behind his outwork.

    "Oh, go, that's naughty," said his mother, mildly. "Well, whativer the letters are, they've a good meaning; and it's a stamp as has been in our house, Ben says, ever since he was a little un, and his mother used to put it on the cakes, and I've allays put it on too; for if there's any good, we've need of it i' this world."

    "It's I. H. S.," said Silas, at which proof of learning Aaron peeped round the chair again.

    "Well, to be sure, you can read 'em off," said Dolly. "Ben's read 'em to me many and many a time, but they slip out o' my mind again; the more's the pity, for they're good letters, else they wouldn't be in the church; and so I prick 'em on all the loaves and all the cakes, though sometimes they won't hold, because o' the rising -- for, as I said, if there's any good to be got we've need of it i' this world -- that we have; and I hope they'll bring good to you, Master Marner, for it's wi' that will I brought you the cakes; and you see the letters have held better nor common."

    Silas was as unable to interpret the letters as Dolly, but there was no possibility of misunderstanding the desire to give comfort that made itself heard in her quiet tones. He said, with more feeling than before -- "Thank you -- thank you kindly." But he laid down the cakes and seated himself absently -- drearily unconscious of any distinct benefit towards which the cakes and the letters, or even Dolly's kindness, could tend for him.
Dear Dolly, I assume from this that she couldn't read but maybe she understood well the meaning of the gospel, to love your neighbour.


DavidR said...

Brilliant post, Suzanne! Thanks for it!

(I reckon the "either ... nor" in the third paragraph of the IHS discussion should be "neither ... nor", don't you?)

David Reimer

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi David,

Yes I noticed that mistake too in the excerpt I copied. I haven't had time to fix it yet.

By coincidence, I was reading a novel today called The Glass Castle and one of the characters said "Jesus H. Christ". This was supposed to have happened about 30 years ago. INteresting.