Although the idea of idolatry has been present for a long time, I believe St. Paul is the first to use the term εἰδωλολατρία, e.g. Gal 5:20. (Corrections welcome!)

Two surprises come when we look at the Vulgate:

  1. εἰδωλολατρία is translated as "idolorum servitus" (Gal 5:20) or "idolorum cultura" (1 Cor 10:14)
  2. But: "idolatria" is used at least twice, to translate the Greek "κατείδωλον" (Acts 17:16) and "θεραφιν" (1 Sam 15:23, LXX) (which, I found out after some digging, is just a transliteration of Hebrew וּתְרָפִ֖ים (uterafim) = "household idol").

Although there are a lot of good questions that this cursory look bring up (many of which would probably find a better home at Biblical Hermeneutics), I will only ask one: Why was εἰδωλολατρία transcribed as idolatria rather than idololatria?


The uncontracted "idololatria" is used by Tertullian, and by Jerome in his commentary on Isaiah (if we can trust the copyists and editors).


"Idolatria" is common in Christian Latin (though it does not have an entry in L/S) and is continued by English “idolatry” and similar words in other modern languages. It is an example of haplology (as opposed to mere haplography).

  • 4
    I wonder if "haplogy" would be a more descriptive word than "haplology"... (+1 and apologies for the pun)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jan 19 '17 at 0:27
  • 3
    @JoonasIlmavirta You might have to issue a hapology for that. You are approaching the hapogee of inconsiderateness!
    – ktm5124
    Jan 19 '17 at 1:48
  • @fdb Great--"haplology" was the phenomenon I was looking for. Do you know how common this was for Greek->Latin words?
    – brianpck
    Jan 21 '17 at 20:23
  • 2
    @brianpck. It is actually very rare. But see (Homer etc.) ἀμφιφορεύς > later ἀμφορεύς.
    – fdb
    Jan 21 '17 at 21:53
  • 2
    @brianpck. Another (Latin/Romance) example is late Latin carnelevare > Old Italian carnelevale (assimilation) > Tuscan carnevale (haplology) > English etc. carnival. All the stages are really attested.
    – fdb
    Jan 30 '17 at 23:06

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