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Where Does the Word “Amen” Come From?

Where Does the Word “Amen” Come From?
Fragment of Deuteronomy 27 including Amen. Dating 1406 BC. Fragment found around a Mummy Mask

Amen is a one of the oldest words still in use today. Its primary use is as a way of adding individual agreement to a prayer or other solemn religious ceremony and commonly used in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. You don’t have to be religious to say “amen,” however! Many people often emphasize their agreement with someone’s statement by uttering and emphatic “amen!” But what are its origin? Who used it first and how? How was it adopted by everyone else?

Origin of The Word

Amen is a biblical word found first in the book of Numbers and Deuteronomy and repeated 30 times in the Old Testament. One theory is that the word was born as an abbreviation form of “El melech ne’eman”, meaning “God Faithful Ruler”. Possibly even from the word ‘āmán which means to support, to be faithful and to trust and stand firm. Lastly, there is a also connection to the word ’emet, which means truth.

Vatican Archives, X century Deuteronomy. Both sentences in Latin ending in Amen.

Adoption of The Word

It came to us through a series of linguistic adoptions. Hebrew to Aramaic, to Greek, to Latin, to modern languages like English. Amen was not translated but only transliterated into Greek. This means that the sound remained the same but it was written differently to accommodate the new language. Most of the new testament gospels were written in Greek. Amen came to Latin late during the period where Christianity became the state religion of Rome. The adoption of “Amen” in late Latin can be found in many ancient scripts like the one from the 10th Century found in the Vatican Archives (See picture, note full and abbreviated form am).

Alternate Pagan Theory

Amen in Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin

There is a theory that does not find validation in the academic word. This theory explains that the origin of the word Amen, could come from the Egyptian god Amun or as sometimes mentioned Amen. This god was a minor god until 1700 BC, the same time that the Jewish people lived in slavery in Egypt. It is a possibility that the two names somehow tangled and influenced each other.

Today’s Meaning

In this secular world the meaning has at times lost its religious reverence. It is not uncommon to hear people underline their full agreement on any topic saying “Amen to that”.

Full Page of Deuteronomy 27. Non profit concession of the Vatican Archives