Essay by Paul Masters
The legend of Europa is among the most famous of Greek myths, largely because it is understood that from it we derive the modern continental name of “Europe”. Many have debated whether Europe is a nod to Europa at all, but such is the common understanding. Through this essay I will attempt to add more evidence, using both history and Scripture, to support the accepted understanding, evidence which I do not believe has been previously offered.
The story of Europa begins with the Greek god Zeus, who espied the beautiful Phoenician princess Europa bathing with her friends. Infatuated with her beauty, Zeus determined to take Europa for himself. In order to hide his plan from his jealous wife Hera, and to avoid intimidating the maiden, Zeus transformed himself into a beautiful white bull (some versions say he sent a bull in his stead). Europa and her friends found the bull so lovely and sweet-tempered that they petted it and played with it, until Europa decided to climb onto its back. At that moment the bull fled with Europa on its back, carrying her west across the Mediterranean Sea to the island of Crete. There Zeus revealed himself and wooed her, fathering three sons.
Because Europa was taken from Asia to Europe, scholars presume that it is for this reason that the western continent took on its current name.
To further build the foundation for this essay, we will now cover the history of Israel’s captivity.
After the death of Solomon, the children of Israel divided into two kingdoms – Judah and Benjamin to the south, and the remaining ten tribes in the kingdom of Israel to the north. After repeatedly sinning against Yahweh God, the kingdom of Israel found itself divorced from her God and sold into captivity. The Assyrian empire carried Israel away to their own lands (modern day Syria), where they remained until migrating west – “beyond the Euphrates”, in the words of Josephus.
The kidnapping of Europa and the captivity of Israel bear a few interesting coincidences.
God describes Israel and Judah as women, sisters whom He betrothed to Himself (Jeremiah 3, Ezekiel 23). Ephraim, the royal and thus representative tribe of Israel, was symbolized by a bull. Israel was carried away into captivity in much the same way that Europa is described as being carried away by Zeus. Also interesting is that Assyria liked to portray lamassu, bizarre creatures with a bull’s body and a man’s head (sometimes a lion’s body and a man’s head). Phoenicia was a Semitic kingdom directly next door, so to speak, to the kingdom of Israel, and the two could very well have been equated with the region and each other by the time the myth of Europa was told.
Further, an examination of the name “Europa” becomes even more revealing.
Though largely rejected by scholars, it has been previously proposed that Europe comes from ereb, the Assyrian word for “west”. I consider this particularly interesting because the Assyrian word for “east” is asu. Ereb – Europe, Asu – Asia. When the Israelites later migrated across the Caucasus Moutains, they traveled ereb – west, to Europe. Understanding the post-captivity history of Israel lends a great deal of credence to this linguistic clue. A further possible link is ma’arabh (“ma-ha-RAHV”), a Hebrew word for the western regions and its loose similarity to “Europe” in its pronunciation.
The migration through Europe reached as far as Britain, which today is represented by a bull, the name “England” being related to egel, the Hebrew word for “young bull” or “bull calf”. Egel is the word used in Exodus 32 for the calf idol Aaron made for the Israelites to worship. As Zeus in bull form carried Europa away in myth, idolatry is what carried the Israelites away: Ye know that ye were Gentiles [ethne, nations], carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led [into captivity]. (1 Corinthians 12:2)
After considering this myth in light of the captivity and migrations of Israel, I believe the myth of Europa is a retelling of the falling and captivity of the northern ten tribes.