Thursday, January 12, 2017

Daddies to Dollars

Here’s a question for you trivia buffs:  What’s the connection between the Virgin Mary and the American dollar?

Here’s a hint.

But you have to read Hebrew.


Give up?

יְהוֹיָקִים is the man’s name “Yehoyakim.”  And Yehoyakim has evolved into various modern names, chiefly Joaquín in Spanish and Joachim in German.  Unlike James and John and Thomas and Mary, which have equivalents in all of the modern languages of people of Judeo-Christian heritage, Joaquín/Joachim never made it into English.  Except as a city on Highway 84 in Texas with a population of 824 in 2010, down 101 people from ten years before.

In Spain, boys named Joaquín sometimes go by Quino or Ximo (pronounced “keeno” or “seemo” respectively) and in Germany Joachim often gets shortened to Achim.  (And Achim becomes a name in its own right.)  And sometimes to just Jo (pronounced Yo).  Russians, too have both Yakim and Akim.  Swedish has Joakim and Kim.  Finnish has the full range: Jaakkima, Joakim, Aki, Kim and Kimi.  Italian has Gioacchino/Gioachino with either one c or two. Dutch, Serbian and Czech have Jochem, Joakim and Jáchym, respectively.

And speaking of Czech, there is a town in the Czech Republic called Jáchymov. It fell on hard times after the second world war when it was taken from German control and handed back to Czech control.  The communist government used the place as a prison and forced prisoners to work in the uranium mines located there, radically shortening their lives in the process. In its heyday it was the largest town in Bohemia after Prague.  That was when it bustled as a world center of silver mining.  It was then called by its German name, Joachimsthal – Joachim’s Valley.

The Theotokos takes her first steps
So who was Joachim and what does his valley have to do with the Virgin Mary?

Well, first you have to know that Joachim was Mary’s father.  Here on the right you see him, with his wife, Anna, and their daughter, the “theotokos” taking her first steps.

For those of you staying with us as we take this brief pledge break, we take a moment to acknowledge our brothers and sisters of the Greek persuasion.

Synago is a Greek verb meaning “to gather together for religious purposes.”  Synaxis (Σύναξις) is the corresponding noun, “the religious gathering.”  And the place, of course, where a synaxis takes place is a synagogue.

September 8 is a Greek Orthodox holiday set aside to celebrate the Nativity of the Theotokos (Θεοτόκος).  Syrian Christians celebrate the same event on the same day.  Theotokos, in English, is “Mother of God.”  It’s Mary’s birthday, in other words.

And just so Joachim, son of Barpathir, and his wife Anne don’t get forgotten, the church made the very next day the “Synaxis of Joachim and Anne.”  Everybody gets their day.

OK. We’re back.

One of the books that never made it into the bible was the Gospel according to James.  Like the gospels that did, James, most biblical scholars think, wasn't actually written by the guy with his name on the book, James, the brother of Jesus. But that's neither here nor there. Sometimes known as the Infancy Gospel of James, it fills in some of the blanks in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, that did make it into the Bible.  There is widespread belief that those identified as the “brothers” of Jesus were, in fact, his half-brothers, and not related by blood, that they were sons of his father Joseph by his first wife, before he took up with Mary.  Biblical scholars dispute this claim, some insisting that it was only a way of portraying Mary as a virgin her whole life, and not merely up to the time she gave birth to Jesus.  You can check this out by reading Origen of Alexandria, the third century writer.  He’s apparently the first to make that claim.  Origen is known as the greatest critic of the texts being produced by the early church and one of the greatest scholars on the books of the bible.  He is credited with assembling the books which eventually were collected into what is now called the New Testament.  A prolific author and teacher, he is credited with 6000 works (rolls or chapters), the most important of which is a comparative study of the translations of the books of the Old Testament. 

The reason this matters is that it is in the Gospel of James that Mary’s father is identified as Joachim. 
The first Joachimsthaler
יְהוֹיָקִים (Yehoyakim) to be precise.  Who was to be honored in the Middle Ages by having a valley in Bohemia named after him: Joachimsthal.  (Thal = German for valley).  And somebody or something from Joachimsthal is, of course, a Joachimsthaler.  Like the silver from the silver mines, for example.  Out of which a coin was stamped which remained in currency in Europe for about four hundred years, starting in 1518.

the other side of the coin
These coins were called “thalers” in English, tolars in Czech, daalders in Dutch.  The original thalers/daalders had an image of a lion on them.  “Lion thalers” in Dutch is “leeuwendaalders” and that led to the “lev” becoming the name of the currency in Bulgaria, and the “leu” in Romania and Moldova.  And the “dollar,” from the second half of the word, in English.  And sometimes, rather than a lion on the coin, Mary's father, Joachim, was portrayed instead.

In Prussia, the thaler became the standard currency, and from Prussia it was extended until all the German states were using it.  Scandinavian countries all used the name daler for their currency in the 17th century, and the Dutch leeuwendaalder made its way to the Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam, and we’ve been rolling in dollars ever since.

And that’s how Mary is related to the dollar.

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