English Viewed as Modern Day Latin

Depending upon which linguist one talks to, English, supposedly Germanic root language, derives 30% or more of its words from Latin.  In some specialized areas of study, such as medicine, it is estimated that 90% of the vocabulary is derived from Latin.  It is for that reason that I assert that those of us who speak English today are still speaking Latin, although we normally take no note of it.

In my blog last week, I took us on a stroll through a city, which was a day in the life of ancient Rome.  That story is sprinkled with Latin words. For example, if you re-read the story you will see our modern equivalent of at least the following Latin words: suburbium, villa, ambulatio, senatus, admissio, corporatus, turista, Aegyptus, arcuatura.  The fact that a word such as villa, or tourist, or corporation has nearly the same meaning today some 1500 years after the demise of Rome merely underscores how deeply imbedded the thoughts and concepts  of ancient Romans are in the psyche of modern Americans.  This goes beyond our deliberate attempts to emulate Rome: our founding fathers clearly made our government sound and feel like the ancient Roman government by creating a senate where members had to be at least 35 years of age, swearing an oath of office on January 3,  and were responsible for governing a republic.  Our national capitol was deliberately designed with many buildings which wold have pleased the ancient Roman eye.  This influence of language is subtle, but pervasive.   In what words we express our ideas, and the context in which we formulate our ideas, our ideas are shaped.

Here is a list of common Latin words which every English speaker will recognize are really English or clearly are the root of an English word!

List of Common English Words Derived from Latin

  1. aqua water, aquamarine
  2. arbor tree, arbor day
  3. arma arm, armature
  4. articulus articulate
  5. axis axel, axis, axial
  6. bene good, benefit, benediction, benefactor
  7. bulbus bulbous, blub
  8. camera camera
  9. centum cent
  10. circus circle, circus
  11. codex code, codex
  12. crux cross, crux, crucifixion
  13. damnum damn, condemn
  14. dexter dexter, ambidextrous
  15. digitus, digit, toe, finger
  16. duo two, doubt, duplex, duo
  17. fēmina female, feminine
  18. femur thigh, femur bone
  19. fīnis end, limit finite
  20. formula formula, form, formulate
  21. frequens often, frequently
  22. gluten glue, gluten
  23. gratus free, gratis, congratulate
  24. herba grass herbivore, herbs
  25. homō man, homage, homicide
  26. honor honor, honorable
  27. imbecillus weak, imbecile
  28. labor toil , labor, laborious
  29. lapis stone, lapis lazuli, dilapidate
  30. leo, lion, leonine
  31. liber book, libriran, library , libretto
  32. lingua tongue, lingua franca, bilinguial
  33. locus place, location, local, locate, location
  34. lūna moon, lunar, lunatic, lunate
  35. magister master, magistrate
  36. Mars Mars, maritian
  37. nervus nerve, nervous
  38. numerus number, numerator, enumerate, numeral
  39. octō eight,octuplet, octopus
  40. omen omen, ominous,
  41. opus work, magnus opus, operator, opera
  42. pauper poor, pauper, poverty
  43. persona person, impersonate, person, personality
  44. plebs common people, pleb, plebian, plebiscite
  45. quartus fourth, quart, quarter, quarto,
  46. radius spoke, radius radial, radio
  47. rosa rose, rosary
  48. rostrum bow, rostrum
  49. similis like, similar, dissimilar, simile, similitude
  50. sincerus truth sincere, insincere
  51. sol sun, solar, solstice
  52. stella star, stellar, constellation
  53. tardus late, tardy, retardation
  54. templum temple, template, Templar
  55. tempus time, temporary, tempest, contemporary
  56. terminus boundary, terminal, determine
  57. umbella shadow, umbrella
  58. varius varying, various, variety,
  59. via way, viaduct, convey
  60. vīlla country house, villa, village

My point is simple: The fact, that we still use a large number of Latin words in our everyday lives, means we are still influenced by the thinking of our ‘Roman ancestors’.  How many of our values, our mottos, and our heroes are Roman in origin?  Almost every state in the United States  has a state motto which is a Latin word or expression. For example, New York’s motto is Excelsior! Each of these mottos expresses something about the people or the ambitions of the people of that state.  We have not come to this world whole, complete, and new; we have come to this world with a built-in history, with a built-in way of thinking, and with a built-in form of government.  Rome is still, in many ways, our ideal towards which we strive.


Is the United States a Modern Day Rome?

As an author, I am interested I painting scenes with words. I would, therefore, like to take you on a stroll through a city.

As with many cities, there are suburban areas just outside of the city. Here, people like to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and from their homes, some of which are called villas (villa), they can look upon the lights of the city at night and enjoy the fresh breeze. Here in the suburbs, people can live without hearing the noise of the city at night, for this city, like many others, has limited traffic such that most deliveries of goods and food are made at night.

When we commute into the city, we are first confronted by numerous apartment buildings. We see some women hanging out of their windows, chatting with their neighbors, perhaps sharing tips on raising children or recipes. The tall apartment buildings are built closely together such that only a little light reaches the streets below. On the first floor of these building, shops abound with merchandise . Little butcher shops, taverns, clothing stores, bakeries, and fast food places, complete with placards in front with pictures of the foods they serve and prices clearly displayed are among the shops along this street. We are greeted by the sizzling smell of meats cooking and bread baking.

On these streets, people are ambulating through alternating patches of bright-dazzling sunlight light and dark shadow. Their conversations range from heated political discussions about that governor who tried to sell that senate  seat to that new comedy (with all those men dressed as women) that is playing to standing room only audiences, and, don’t you know they raised the admission  price yet again! Others are gossiping about the actors in the play. Oh to be a celebrity! Two women are discussing that racy new novel but only in hushed voices.

A group of men are discussing sports-they know all the statistics concerning their favorite athletes. One asks another whether he would go in on a bet on their favorite team. Another asks the others aren’t they going to the stadium to watch the game? One of the men says that he still thinks it is unfair that all the teams are owned by corporations . “Why can’t I buy stock?” he asks. He is also jealous that the athletes are some of the richest people in the city. Still, he and everyone else marvel that the stadium can be emptied of 70,000 spectators in about 15 minutes. Finally, some people are discussing their next vacation. “I want to be a tourist  visiting Egypt  and seeing the pyramids and the sphinx. “I want to cruise the Nile,” says another, “but you have to get a visa (visa) to do that.” “You know, you can go to this company and, for a 3% fee, they will issue documents which you can use to get money at any of their offices in our country or in almost all other foreign countries.”

As we near the center of the city, which is teeming with over a million inhabitants , we have nice views of the river and the many bridges which span it. River barges bring goods from all over to the city. In the commercial district, brokers buy and sell commodities. Cattle, wheat, corn, and oil are traded regularly. The streets in this area are some of the oldest of the city. Large shopping malls, some of them arcades, frame the central green space and broad plazas where the government buildings stand. Here, too, are some of the largest fountains and statutes that grace the city. Some of the largest houses of worship are here too and they are built with grand columns raising their vaults to enclose heaven. Here freedom to worship is taken very seriously. Many religions from foreign nations, new and different from that of the natives of the city, have come to the city and some sweep the city like fads. “Are you going to vote in the election for our new leader?” a well-dressed man asks another. “I don’t know,” answers the other. “I don’t really like either candidate.”

What city is this? Is it Chicago in modern America or is it Rome in ancient times?  A modern American would have found ancient Rome to be startingly like living in a modern US city, and yet at the same time startingly different.  Because we are so much different and yet so much the same, we can learn a great deal about ourselves by studying ancient Rome.  Modern life is squarely rooted in ancient Rome.

Conclusions on the Historicity of Jesus

I began this article with the question: Did Jesus exist? In accordance with the definition of   historicity which deals with the issue of analyzing historical record to determine whether Jesus, as a person, existed, we looked at a number of historical records, but apart from the Gospels and other writings of the New Testament. The question of whether Jesus existed is crucial to the foundation of Christianity. If Jesus did not exist, then what of Christianity?

The survey which I have provided, first examined Josephus, a Jewish General who fought against the Romans, and who after his capture was befriended by Titus. His testimony, in Chapter 3, Book XVIII of his Antiquities of the Jews, is especially weighty in my mind, because as a Jew of this era, he is antagonist to Christianity and as a Roman he is antagonist to Christianity. There is no reason for him to invent his testimony, and a great many reasons for him to not have recorded his testimony. For example, as a Flavian family member, his testimony is not particularly flattering to the Roman Empire or to the Roman Emperor.

Next, we reviewed the writings of Tacitus. In his Annals, Tacitus writes of the great six-day fire that consumed a large portion of Rome and squarely puts the blame upon Nero for using the Christians as a scape-goat. His report of Christianity is clearly hostile; he views Christianity as being a great evil, a dangerous cult: “…a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.” For Tacitus to speak of the crucifixion of Jesus under Pontius Pilate is clearly at odds with his view of Christianity. Why would he do this, if it were not true?

The next Roman historian was Suetonius. Again, his testimony must be given great weight. As the Imperial Librarian and Archivist, and personal secretary to the Emperor, all of which we know from an inscription on a stone discovered in 1952, he was certainly one person who would be in a position to know and to have a duty to record the true facts.

Pliny the Younger’s testimony is actually different from the others: his is correspondence with the Emperor asking for guidance upon the subject of dealing with the Christians: how to try them for crimes. This is an “official document”. It must be given great weight. But having said that, this document does not mention the personage of Jesus, and thus, while extremely important in its documentation of the practices of the early Christians, it has only tangential weight in proving the historicity of Jesus. Although while would there be early Christians with a well-defined moral code and a faith in a man-God, if he did not exist? This question is though more speculative than dispositive.

There are other sources which were not reviewed in any depth in this article. The Jewish Babylonian Talmud, for example, which was written in the first century, mentions Jesus, but does so in a highly hostile manner. For example, it refers to his miracles as being “magic” and records that he claimed to be God.  But it further mentions his execution on the eve of the Passover, all of which supports the historical existence of Jesus. Also, Justin Martyr, who was a philosopher who later converted to Christianity, wrote around 130 AD, when there was wide-spread opposition to Christianity and the threat of martyrdom was great:

“There is a village in Judea, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ was born, as you can see from the tax registers under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judea…”  First Apology 34




This reference to official Roman records, which apparently he reviewed and which he invites others to review, are exactly the type of record one would expect to find, but only if Jesus was a person who existed and was listed in census-type rolls for the purpose of taxation.

Throughout, I have avoided the use of the Gospels and other writings in the New Testament to prove the historicity of Jesus, because presumably these sources would have a vested interest in taking the position that Jesus existed. I have focused on other records, some of which are “official Romans records”, as well as writing of Jews and Romans, because these are presumably free of this tainted of bias. It is because of these sources, some of which are very hostile to Jesus and Christianity, that I conclude that Jesus did exist as a person. But the fact that Jesus existed as a person does not in any way then prove that he was God. Nonetheless, if he was not remarkable, then why did so many sources write of him, his crucifixion, and of his followers? I leave this to the reader to ponder.

A Brief Review of the Historicity of Jesus: Part IV

Pliny the Younger was born GaiusCaecilius Cilo in 61 AD in Novum Comum (Como). His mother, Plinia Marcella, was the sister of Pliny the Elder. He was a lawyer, author, and magistrate. Pliny’s uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate him. He revered his uncle, who at this time was extremely famous, and provides sketches of how his uncle worked on the Naturalis Historia. Both were witnesses to the eruption of Vesuvius on August 24, 79 AD, during which the former died. Pliny the Elder made Pliny his adopted son and heir under his will and that is when GaiusCaecilius Cilo changed his name to Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus.

After being first tutored at home, Pliny went to Rome for further education. There he was taught rhetoric by Quintilian, a great teacher and author, and Nicetes Sacerdos of Smyrna. Although born an equestrian, he achieved entry into the upper class by being elected Quaestor in his late twenties. Pliny was active in the Roman legal system. He was a well-known prosecutor and defender at the trials of a series of provincial governors, including two governors of Bithynia-Pontus. He was a friend of the historian Tacitus and employed the biographer Suetonius on his staff.

Why is Pliny important? He wrote hundreds of letters, many of which still survive, that are of great historical value for the time period. Pliny served as a governor of Bithynia-Pontus under Emperor Trajan and his letters to Trajan provide a record of the relationship between the imperial office and provincial governors.

As governor of Bithynia-Pontus, Pliny wrote Trajan around 112 AD asking how to deal with Christians. In that letter, which is the earliest official Roman document dealing with Christians, Pliny detailed an account of how he conducted trials of suspected Christians, who appeared before him as a result of anonymous accusations. He sought guidance on how they should be treated. Neither Pliny nor Trajan mention any crime that Christians had committed; Trajan’s response makes it clear that being a “Christian” was sufficient for judicial action.

Pliny wrote in Epistulae X.96:

The method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. For whatever the nature of their creed might be, I could at least feel no doubt that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Pliny then details the practices of Christians:

They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of a meal—but ordinary and innocent food.

If the accused denied that they had ever been a Christian, then they had to pray, offer incense, and wine to images of Trajan and the gods, and curse Christ, which Pliny says true Christians are unable to do. They were then discharged. Accused who were at one point Christians but had quit the religion also followed the aforementioned procedure and were let go.

What crime(s) Christians had committed? Some scholars have argued that there may have been “secret crimes”, such as atheism, cannibalistic feasts, and incest. The cannibalistic feasts and incest charges were based on misunderstanding of the Eucharistic act and Christians being “brothers and sisters”, even after marriage. However, the charge of atheism may have been the failure to worship the state gods. Pliny may also have viewed their obstinacy (contumacia) of Christians as a threat to Roman rule and order and considered Christian gatherings as a potential starting point for sedition.

This letter, again the earliest Roman government document on the subject of Christ and Christianity, demonstrates that Christianity was pervasive enough in Bithynia-Pontus in 112 AD to cause the governor to act. Pliny’s actions show that there was not active persecution, but that Christians were subject to judicial action only when denounced. Finally, this letter serves to document early Christian practices.

In the last part of this article, I will draw over-all conclusions concerning the historicity of Jesus.