cur in connection with other figures, and are simply to be reckoned among the many “names of power” that are engraved upon amulets of the Graeco-Roman period.
As to the meaning of Iao there can be no doubt, especially since the subject was thoroughly investigated by Graf von Baudissin;36
and, in fact, the combination Ιαω Σαβαωθ Αδωναι, “JHVH of hosts, Lord,” which is common on both amulets and papyri, is convincing in itself. Greeks of the Hellenistic period evidently believed that the name of the Hebrews' God was to be pronounced Iao. This belief must have been based upon a tradition going back to a time before the Name was carefully avoided; the question of its phonetic correctness belongs to the field of Semitic philology.
To us it may seem surprising, if not almost incredible, that an orthodox Jew, or even an indifferent one who retained a decent respect for the customs of his people, should carve this name, in letters that any Greek could read and pronounce, upon amulets bearing the forms of pagan gods and demons. But this is to forget the strange mental attitude of those who are attracted by magic. Such people may follow the religious tradition of their group and yet be led by their superstitions to relax all the inhibitions of their religion. Anything that is of the heathen, whether an image or a name or a formula, may be regarded as Judaized for magical purposes, particularly where Jews had been exposed to strong alien influences. How far Hellenization led to compromises with Jewish belief and practice is well illustrated by a phrase in one of the Zenon papyri, a letter of a Jew Toubias (Tobias) to Apollonios (257 B.C.); the words are πολλὴ χάρις τοῖς θεοῖς,37
“many thanks to the gods.” There is little doubt, then, that while a strict follower of the Law would have eschewed the use of amulets bearing the word Iao, others would have made and used such objects.
But the users of such amulets might also be Gentiles, who borrowed the name because of its supposed magical power, just as they borrowed from Babylonian religion the name of the goddess Ereshkigal and, perhaps, a magical word that seems to be built upon the name Nebo (Neboutosoualeth). They might be members of some Gnostic sect, for there is evidence that the name Iao occurred in the mythology of the Ophites and the Valentinians.38
But this last possibility seems to me to be the least probable of all, because the Gnostics did not assign to their Iao such paramount importance in their system as would account for the very wide use of the name on amulets. On the whole, it is most likely that wherever it occurs on amulets, Iao has magical, not religious, significance; and it is curious that even in the Valentinian system Iao is once used as a name of power that blocks the return of Sophia to the light.39
The syncretism of the times brought together the most incongruous elements, in magic even more than in religion. In one
36 W. W. Graf von Baudissin, Studien zur semitischen Religionsgeschichte, I, 181–254.
37 P. Cairo Zen. 59076, 2.
38 Iren. Adv. haer. 1, 1, 7; 1, 28, 3; Tert. Adv. omnes haer. 4 (p. 220, 13, ed. Kroymann).
39 Iren. Adv. haer. 1, 1, 7; Tert. Adv. Valent. 14.