The Gospel of Mark gives an account of when Jesus recruits His disciples. It states, “He appointed twelve that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve He appointed: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘Sons of Thunder’)…” (Mark 3: 14-17 NIV).

The common method of interpretation of ‘Boanarges’ is to compare the forceful actions and utterances of James and John with ‘thunder’. There is no debate that Mark tells us to equate the transliterated Semitic word ‘Boanarges’ with ‘Sons of Thunder ‘. Most scholars find the appellation ‘Boanarges’ peculiar and have been unable to decode the word.

In his book ‘Boanerges’, Rendel Harris explores Hebrew and Arabic as possible sources of the word ‘Boanerges’. Thunder in Hebrew is re’em, so Harris deducts that re’em should explain the second part of the word ‘boanerges’. 

Another possibility Harris says is that the second part of the word ‘Boanarges may have a link to the Arabic ‘ragasa’ which means ‘to roar aloud’. That has a link to the Sanskrit ‘raga’ (राग) which has the same meaning.

An attempt to trace the word ‘boan’ in any known language as the equivalent of ‘son’ does not give any satisfactory results. So that still leaves the question as to how Boanarges came to mean ‘sons of thunder’ unanswered.

Can we find ‘sons of thunder’ mentioned as ‘Boanarges’ or as its cognate in any other text? Can we find the concept of ‘sons of the sky,’ or ‘ sons of lightning,’ as parallels to the Boanerges  in any scripture?

Here is a look at the Sanskrit word ‘vajra’ which is relevant in this context and means ‘thunderbolt’. It is relevant because one of the most common occurrences of sound shift in languages derived from Sanskrit is the shift from the sound ‘v’ to ‘b’. Hence ‘vajra’ (
वज्र) changes to ‘bajra’ in Sanskrit derived languages. In fact in India ‘v’ & ‘b’ are used inter-changeably especially where names are concerned.

‘Vajra’ is a versatile word and has many meanings such as ‘invincible’, ‘mighty’, ‘hard’ or ‘diamond’. It is also the name of Lord Indra’s weapon ‘the thunderbolt’ and Sri Krishna’s weapon ‘the discuss’. 

Vajra also appears as the first syllable in words such as ‘vajrangi’ 
(वज्राङ्गी) or ‘thunderbolt-bodied; ‘vajrabRht’ (वज्रभृत्) which means ‘wielding the thunderbolt’, ‘vajravega’ (वज्रवेग) or ‘swift like the thunderbolt’. A shift from the sound ‘v’ to ‘b’ in any of these names can generate a name such as ‘Boanarges’.

‘Vajra’ is a versatile word and has many meanings such as ‘invincible’, ‘mighty’, ‘hard’ or ‘diamond’. It is also the name of Lord Indra’s weapon ‘the thunderbolt’ and Sri Krishna’s weapon ‘the discuss’. ‘Vajrangi or ‘thunderbolt-bodied’, is a name that was not unknown in Central Asia. A Silk-route ancient city by the name Nishapur (निशापुर) which is located in present day Iran was established in 3rd century AD by the Sassian King Shapur, who was the son of King Ardashir. (In Sanskrit ‘Ardasi’ (अर्धासि) means a ‘dagger’). Probably his name derived from a given name like ‘the sworded one’. Shapur’s father’s name was Sassan who was married to a lady by the name ‘Ram Behest’ (राम विहस्त) meaning ‘completely absorbed in the thought of Ram’. She was the daughter of the chief of a tribe named ‘Bazrangi’, an obvious distortion of the Sanskrit word ‘Vajrangi’ (वज्रङ्गी)! 

To answer ‘Rendel Harris question as to whether we can find either ‘sons of the sky,’ or ‘ sons of lightning,’ as parallels to the Boanerges, indeed we can. The names listed above are from Vedic stories.

In Buddhist lore the name  ‘Vajraputra’ appears fleetingly. Vajraputra was a lion hunter who after he attained enlightenment was befriended by a little lion who was grateful to him for giving up the life of killing lions, thus sparing its parents and brothers. The lion, with its earth-shaking roar, symbolizes the invincible might of Buddhism. Though in this case the name ‘Vajraputra’ (वज्रपुत्र) is translated as ‘man of lions’, its true meaning from Sanskrit still remains ‘son of the invincible’ or ‘son of thunderbolt’. The thunderbolt occupies an important place in Buddhist symbolism. It also gives it’s name to one the three great phases of the development of Buddhism in India- the Vajrayana.

‘Vajraputra’ of the Buddhist Tradition

Many have linked the lore of Sri Krishna with that of Jesus Christ – what with the likenesses in their stories. To begin with the two names are pretty close cognates, second Krishna was born to a cowherd, Christ to a shepherd, Krishna spent his early life in Mathura, Christ is believed to have spent his childhood in the city of Maturea in Egypt and so on as put forth by Godfrey Higgins in his book ‘Anacalypsis’.

According to the Mahabharata and the Puranas, one of the great-grandson’s of Sri Krishna was ‘Vajranabh’ (वज्रनाभ्). Vajranabh succeeded his father King Aniruddha to the throne of Mathur. Vajranabh was the great grandson of Shri Krishna and the grandson of Pradyumna. Vajranabh is the equivalent of ‘born of Vajra’ or ‘born of the thunderbolt’. ‘Boanarges’ may then well be a distortion of ‘Vajranabh’.

Sri Krishna’s great grandson Vajranabh is said to have
 built the original Dwarkadish Temple.
‘Vajranabh’ translates as ‘born of thunderbolt’ and
hence may reveal the meaning of ‘Boanerges’.

As an aside, Pradyumna is believed to have laid the foundation of a city by the name of Vajrapur – which is identified as the Por Bajin of Siberia. For more on Por Bajin and the Sri Krishna connection to Por Bajin click here and here.

Suggested Reading:

1. ‘Boanerges’ by Rendel Harris


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