John and Hannibal, respective favorites

There on the left you see John. He baptized people.

And on the right you see Hannibal. He vanquished Romans.

John is not in my book, whereas Hannibal is its main character, but that’s neither here nor there.

I just figured out a rather exciting linguistic connection between their names. (“Exciting”, that is, if you’re a language geek.)


John comes, via Indo-European Greek and Latin, from either the (Semitic) Hebrew Yochanan or the (equally Semitic) Aramaic Youhanna. That origin is clearer in some other European languages, such as German Johann/Johannes.

And Hannibal is our transliteration of HNB’L, a Punic word. Punic was a Roman mispronunciation of Phoenician. It was the language of Carthage and of Phoenicia, and thus also Semitic.

I’ve already posted about the close family connections between Punic, Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and other Semitic languages, by using Hannibal’s family name, Barca, as the example. The relationship is as close as that between, say, Dutch, German and Danish, or between Spanish, Italian and Rumanian.

Favor and the gods

Now to the meaning of the two names:

According to Luke 1, 13, the angel Gabriel visited Zechariah and told him that his old and infertile wife would bear him a son and that “you shall name him John” (ie, Youhanna).

The footnote in my bible says:

The name means “Yahweh has shown favor,” an indication of John’s role in salvation history.



YOU ≡ Yahweh


HANNA ≡ Favor

As in: Yahweh’s favor.

In Hannibal’s case,

HANN(I) ≡ Favor


BAL ≡ Baal

That’s Baal (or Ba’al) as in the god that Yahweh is so jealous of in the Old Testament, because he’s one of those Semitic deities so popular in Canaan, where both Phoenicians and Jews lived.

So John was favored by one, Hannibal by the other. Name is destiny. 😉

32 thoughts on “John and Hannibal, respective favorites

  1. Although not directly related to your post,
    >> [rest snipped] talking about the “(Semitic) Hebrew Yochanan or the (equally Semitic) Aramaic Youhanna”, in Malayalam language, the name is Yohanan, with many a Syrian Christians bearing this name.

    • Andreas,
      See my reply to aruna’s comment below.
      Yes Malayalam is one of the 4 souther dravidian languages and is spoken in the state of Kerala and has the oldest form of christianity where some of the earliest conversions occurred of the Jewish settlements there. They still use older biblical christian names like Yesu for Jesus.

    • Andreas you asked… >> Malayalam: a Dravidian language, right? Would only Christians have this name?
      Indeed Malayalam is one of the four languages of Southern India, technically calling it a Dravidian language may not be right since it has one of the purest and most extensive usage of Sanskrit. The honour of ancient and being Dravidian goes to Tamil, a rich and living language with extensive literature available.
      Yes, only Christians shall have the name Yohanan.

      Suresh, the earliest known conversions to Christianity in Kerala, brought about in the first century AD by St Thomas were of the Hindus, seven ‘brahmin’ (‘Namboodri’) families to be precise.

  2. Fascinating post as for the linguistics it contains. So many things can be analysed via words. One should have intellectual tools to dissect Semitic terms as well, given our heritage, but life is too short.

    Name is destiny. So both were respectively favoured by Yahweh and by Baal. But only to a certain extent. One was superseded by Christ, the other by Scipio 😉

  3. I was (mildly) struck by the picture of John the Baptist with a cross tipped staff. The painting appears to be from the Renaissance period so the addition of that symbol is obvious if not historically accurate. John, I believe, was beheaded before the crucifixion of Jesus.

    • Well caught, Douglas, on both counts.

      It’s a Titian, and thus late Renaissance. And the chronology might indeed be off. I’ve got to read up on whether John, as prophet, had a foreboding…

    • 🙂 he, he, he – clearly sean is the proper translation for YHWH!

      there is some overlap between hebrew with celtic – for instance “Ronen” means the same in both languages. ronen = happy, any chance they are the 13th tribe?

  4. Very interesting article Andreas.

    ‘John’ may also be via Vedic language connection which is in other words Indo Aryan. The other variations of the word ‘John’ in European languages are, Jan, Johann, Juan, Giovanni, etc., these are variations of the root word which has a Sanskrit origin. In Sanskrit, yavvan or Jivan or Javan or Jovan (Young) means life force. These words are later borrowed into Indo European languages.
    Notice the words Youhanna and yochanan are so similar to yavvana in Sanskrit.
    I have also read an article somewhere, Abraham or his ancestors originated in Ancient Bharat / Indian subcontinent. Some astonishing facts are the similarities between, Brahma and Abraham, Saraswathi and Sarai, Ur and Uru or Ur, Calanians and chaldeans. The name ghaggar is a tributary to the river Saraswathi. Haggar was a maid for Sarai and / or a second wife of Abraham. Saraswathi is Brahma’s wife in some literature and she is also referred as a sister of Brahma in other literature…same as Sarai and Abraham.
    I love reading about languages.
    Lately, I have been watching some Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese shows and I am picking up some words which are similar in pronunciation and same meaning as some of the Sanskrit words.

    It is comforting to know we all are somehow connected on this minute spec of dust called earth in this vast universe. 🙂

    Great article Andreas.


    • Wow. The similarities are indeed suggestive. But are you sure?

      Jivan/Java/Jovan relating to (re)juvenate/junior/jung/young etc I totally get.

      But to Semitic Youhanna?

      Admittedly, your list beginning with Brahma/Abraham is eerily persuasive. I must research this….

    • Hi Andreas,
      On your statement / Question….
      “Wow. The similarities are indeed suggestive. But are you sure?
      Jivan/Java/Jovan relating to (re)juvenate/junior/jung/young etc I totally get.But to Semitic Youhanna?

      Hmmm…those were good similariries too.
      If you notice, Jivan, Javan or Jovan sort of relates to Giovanni – Giovan – John too….It is mostly how one pronounces it…rather than the meaning itself. It could be that, the meaning got convoluted in the process for over thousands of years. But when we look deeply into it the root ‘meaning’ is still the same though… don’t you think?
      Jivan = Life
      Yavvan = Youth full of life
      Oh well… may be I am reading too much into it. 🙂

      On your other statement :)…”Admittedly, your list beginning with Brahma/Abraham is eerily persuasive. I must research this….”

      You can read articles and information on this, written by Matlock, Higgins, Pococke, Doreste… just to name a few.


    • Wow. As an Indian I maybe biased but this gives me more fodder to ponder over all mythological and etymological roads leads to some common Indo-european past.
      I think the similarities are indeed eerie to discard as coincidences.

      If I may tie in the malayalam connection mentioned in the earlier comment by Sanjiv it should be noted that the history of christianity in kerala (where malayalam the south indian dravidian language is spoken) is as old as christianity itself with the arrival of the apostle thomas on its shores via the Indo-Arabic trade routes.

      The syrian branch of christianity still uses the same old christian names and I always wondered about why you find names like “Yesudas” with Yesu being the aramaic pronounciation of Jesus. I did not realize that this is true of all John’s name too and was from Yohanna.
      Where did this switch from Y to J occur is it similar to the latin vs english transliteration that occurs with all things latin like San Jose or San Juan ?
      Is this some kind of western european malady that occurred during mass translation of ancient texts during the post guttenberg era and the enlightened europeans arrogance made them ignore roots and took to mass mispronounciation or did this occur much much earlier than that ?

      I am curious if John the baptist was called “John” when was alive or as “Yohaanna”.

      This similarity with Vedic names is just fascinating and I would love to explore this further since there is that theory out there too that the missing years in Jesus’s early life was spent in India and including the theory that he disappeared and later died in India after resurrection. I am hoping some language and name forensics can throw some light into the eerie commonality in the indo-semitic-european pasts.

    • “Wow. As an Indian I maybe biased but this gives me more fodder to ponder over all mythological and etymological roads leads to some common Indo-european past. I think the similarities are indeed eerie to discard as coincidences.”

      When I read about it I thought the same way too…and I still think there is a definite connection.
      For example if you take ‘Brahma’ and Abraham’:
      Isn’t it strange for Brahma, such a prominent fugure in Vedic literature to have just 2 or 3 main temples dedicated, in the entire India. And the story that explains the reason why Brahma was cast adrift could be due to his ego which demanded, every one should be praying only to him he was cast away from the trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) as God who does not have a temple dedicated to him.
      According to one of the many stories from a literature dedicated to Shiva: At the beginning of time Vishnu and Brahmā approached a huge Shiva linga ( Never ending creation of Universe ) and asked who is better God amongst the two. Shiva set up a test for them by asking them to find This vast Universe’s beginning and end. He said who ever comes first with the right answer will be the superior of the two. Vishnu was appointed to seek the end and Brahma the beginning. Taking the form of a boar, Vishnu began digging downwards into the earth, while Brahma took the form of a swan and began flying upwards. However, neither could find their destination. Vishnu, satisfied, came up to Shivalinga and bowed down to him as the supreme force.Brahmā did not give up so easily. His ego forced him to lie and ask some others on his journey to bear false witness about Brahmā’s discovery of Shiva’s beginning. When Brahmā told his tale, Shiva, the all-knowing, was angered by the former’s ego and cursed him by casting him away.This story at that time, might have some thing to do with someone who questioned polytheistic beliefs as Abraham did and probably was not welcomed or chose to transmigrate from his land of origin.

      “Where did this switch from Y to J occur is it similar to the latin vs english transliteration that occurs with all things latin like San Jose or San Juan ?”

      As a matter of fact the initial sound between Y and J would be logically speaking…’Y’. Because… for ‘Y’ the actual articulation occurs with the middle or back part of the tongue raised against the top palate without touching it. When babies cry that is what they do. But once they learn to speak they can form the same ‘Y’ sound to be a palatal consonant as ‘J’. In other words Y can become J but chances of having it, the other way around seem to be difficult.

      “This similarity with Vedic names is just fascinating and I would love to explore this further since there is that theory out there too that the missing years in Jesus’s early life was spent in India and including the theory that he disappeared and later died in India after resurrection”

      Yes. There are way too many stories about Jesus’ body being buried in Kashmir and they have a tomb which is soooo old with his name on it.
      There are people always gaurding the tomb too. This is what I read anyway. Who knows what the truth is!!
      Isn’t it interesting!!! I think it is fascinating too!!! 🙂
      Sorry for a lengthy post 😦

  5. Interesting observation especially in light of Man of Roma’s recent entry on Saturnalia. I think there are also some similarities between the religion of Baal and the Old Testament.

  6. love this post, i’m a complete language geek. but are you sure about the origins of the words? without their correct hebrew or aramaic or greek spellings (which as you know first two langueages excluded written vowels)… well i don’t see the root consonants for YHWH in yohannan – yonatan (johnathan) is closer in separt because “natan” means given.

    it’s possible that the pre-fix “yo” in hebrew does mean god. “Yosef” means to add… i’ve also seen it translated as “god will add”.

    also not to be nit-picky but i don’t recall any reference in “the old testament” i.e. the torah to Ba’al who predates YHWH? of course many references in anger/force towards ANY generic gods besides YHWH.

    Ba’al literal translation is “master” and in modern times “husband”, although i am aware Ba’ al was used as a proper noun to refer to one of the many Canaanite gods.

    not fully understanding the destiny part with Hannibal – since Ba’al was a god worshiped for fertility?

    • Well, I’m sure about the meanings of the names, because eminent scholars and sources have told me what they are. (I myself know none of these languages.)

      Here is how I’ve explained it to myself: YHWH might become phonetic Yoh in a process of simplification. Compare English “brought”, where the “gh” shows you that it used to be pronounced similar to German (ge)bracht, but that the sound was dropped over time. (Ditto for most “gh” words, such as might, fright, etc)

      Or take the French “chateau” (and English castle), which is the garbled or simplified Latin “castra”.

      Especially when words are combined, as in Hanni + Ba’al, some syllables would get phonetically lost.

      (Aren’t => Ain’t might be another example)

      Then, of course, the Greek writers of the period transliterated what they heard, not what they read. And hence you get these possibilities.

      Regarding Ba’al:

      Check out this passage from Kings:

      It’s about Jehu, king of Israel, inviting all the Ba’al worshippers in Israel into a temple, then, having trapped them, killing them all, and being praise by the LORD (YHWH) for it.

      Ba’al, btw, was like all those composite gods: not only a god of fertility but also (perhaps primarily) a god of lightning. He may have been the Phoenician equivalent of Zeus. That would fit Hannibal’s clan name, Barca, which means lightning. Barca, of course, = Barak, buraq, as I said in that old post I linked to.

    • feeling silly, should have already know this by seeing the double Yud in place of the word Adonai in the torah. (yud being originally a pictograph of a hand, then metaphorically The Hand of god)

      mystery of the Yud solved for the language geeks amongst us.

      the passage you quote is from what the jews call the Tanakh, which explains why i was not familiar with it or the Ba’al reference. stories and readings from the torah are familiar to even the most loos y goos y jews like myself. study of the tanakh in reformed judiasm… not so much.

      when i first saw your link, i went “huh? what hebrew bible?” speaking from a lower rung of judaism, “the jewish bible” as your link calls the tanakh is not used in the same way as the king james bible.

      regardless, there are two contradictory stories in the torah about killing both from exodus.

      1) at the parting of the red sea, the followers of moses cheered the drowning of the egyptians and where admonished for this by god/lord/YHWH
      2) later when moses comes down and finds idols, god/lord/YHWH commands that the idolators be murdered, they are made to drink the melted gold they worshipped

      hope this is not too far off topic. cheers, dafna

    • Knowing about the “mystery of the double Yud” distinguishes you as more expert than the rest of us here, I would guess. 🙂

      And I see I need to refresh my nomenclature re “Bible”, Tanakh, etc. I’m a bit confused now about what is in which books….

    • That reminds me. The expression ‘my way or the highway’ is derived from the ancient ‘Yahweh or the highway,’ recorded in one of the lesser Dead Sea scrolls. The expression was used in lessons of formal logic taught to children. It is believed to have been common in Judean households with teenagers then as now.

  7. All those questions of languages filiation are most complex and when you insert religious texts they become utterly complex. Laurence Gardner in his books and among them Genesis of the Grail Kings advances intriguing hypotheses. They left me a bit gaga and doubtfull…but they are interesting and the links he makes somehow make sense or at least they give the impression they do.

  8. @ suresh,

    i am no linguistic expert but perhaps i don’t need to be, to answer your Y to J question.

    plucked off the internet “The four letters or consonants from right to left are Yod, Shin, Vav, Ayin (Y, SH, OO, A). Jesus is the Greek name for the Hebrew name Joshua or Y’shua which means “The LORD or Yahweh is Salvation”

    so “john” would be “Yochanan” in hebrew at the time he was alive. here are the many other derivations of the name John .

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