Luciférne, Luciférase, and Lucifer

So today’s curiosity: Siouxsie Wiles’ research being called satanic because she researches bioluminescent things called luciferin & luciferase. This is a nice wee rabbit hole to fall down (read on…)

The terms luciferin and luciferase were coined by Raphaël Dubois, a curmudgeonly nineteenth-century scientist, who seems during his lifetime to have made as many enemies as admirers for his research. Michel Anctil, author of Luminous Creatures (2018), gives a pretty good account of what little is known of Dubois’ life, and about the naming of luciferin and luciferase:

Dubois says (presumably Anctil’s own translation?):

“One of these substances was obtained in a crystalline state: it exhibits very unique optical properties which confer to the photogenic tissues we examined a peculiar opalescent shimmer previously described in Pyrophorus and other luminous animals…We propose to designate it with the name luciférne

The second substance is an active albumin-like compound, like those known as soluble ferments (diastases, zymases, etc.), with which it shares all the general characteristics. We will call it luciférase.”(p.170)

Anctil continues:

“Thus were coined the generic names of the two classical reactants of the bioluminescent chemical reaction, and these names have stuck to this day. Dubois never explained how he decided on these names. The derivation from the Vulgate Latin word lucifer, meaning ‘bringer of light,’ seemed at once appropriate and self-explanatory to Dubois, but he never disclosed the mental process that led to their choice.”

This seems pretty straight-forward: Dubois choice these names, and we don’t know why, other than their etymological connection to words to do with ‘light’.

This is all kind of interesting, and I reckon Dubois was quite a guy, should anyone want to learn more about him. But, so far, this has nothing to do with Satan, the Devil, or Lucifer as yet. I was kind of hoping for some sort of background revelation of Dubois being a devout French catholic who might have been trying to make some connection between bioluminescence and the Devil, but it’s just not there. Maybe growing up in nineteenth  century France would have brought one into common knowledge of the Bible, but I can’t find anything of the sort for Dubois.

So, a different tack: Bibles. The Wikipedia article on Lucifer, which I think is where Wiles has got her information from, suggests:

Lucifer (/ˈluːsɪfər/ ‘light-bringer’, corresponding to the Greek name Ἑωσφόρος, ‘dawn-bringer’, for the same planet) is a Latin name for the planet Venus in its morning appearances and is often used for mythological and religious figures associated with the planet. Due to the unique movements and discontinuous appearances of Venus in the sky, mythology surrounding these figures often involved a fall from the heavens to earth or the underworld. Interpretations of a similar term in the Hebrew Bible, translated in the King James Version as “Lucifer” as a proper name, led to a Christian tradition of applying the name Lucifer, and its associated stories of a fall from heaven, to Satan, but modern scholarship generally translates the term in the relevant Bible passage, (Isaiah 14:12), as “morning star” or “shining one” rather than as a proper name, “Lucifer”.[1]

As a name for the Devil, the more common meaning in English, “Lucifer” is the rendering of the Hebrew word הֵילֵל‎ (transliteration: hêylêl; pronunciation: hay-lale)[2] in Isaiah (Isaiah 14:12) given in the King James Version of the Bible. The translators of this version took the word from the Latin Vulgate,[3] which translated הֵילֵל by the Latin word lucifer (uncapitalized),[4][5] meaning “the morning star, the planet Venus”, or, as an adjective, “light-bringing”.[6]

As a name for the planet in its morning aspect, “Lucifer” (Light-Bringer) is a proper name and is capitalized in English. In Greco-Roman civilization, it was often personified and considered a god[7] and in some versions considered a son of Aurora (the Dawn).[8] A similar name used by the Roman poet Catullus for the planet in its evening aspect is “Noctifer” (Night-Bringer).[9]

This is a bit lengthy, but kind of joins the dots a little for us. This is where Wiles gets a bunch of bits and pieces about Christian traditions and earlier traditions, and it’s mostly fine (though honestly, let’s call it a proper noun please!), but necessarily simplistic, because you can’t cover everything in Wikipedia. In fact, if you look at the talk page, this has been a bit of a contentious entry, because someone didn’t want any mention of Jesus being referred to as ‘morning star’, as he is in Revelations. Anyway, it got me thinking, because the KJV is a pretty modern bible, and I wanted to know where did this translation come from. Wikipedia says from the Hebrew bible, via the Latin Vulgate bible, where lucifer means ‘morning star’. Its connection with the planet Venus is a bit of a side issue, but kind of fun.

But, what about French bibles? Dubois is the guy who named these things, and, although he could read English, it seems far more likely that if he were to get these names from the bible, it would have been a French bible. So, I found a few early French bibles, looked up Isiah 14:12, and they say

Comment es-tu tombé du ciel,
astre brillant, fils de l’aurore ?
Toi qui terrassais d’autres peuples,
comment est-il possible |que tu aies été abattu à terre ?

The 1910 Louis Segond bible, one that might have been available to Dubois:

Te voilà tombé du ciel, Astre brillant, fils de l’aurore! Tu es abattu à terre, Toi, le vainqueur des nations!

Compare it with the KJV:

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

O Lucifer, son of the morning

Aster brilliant, fils de l’aurore

Note that the son of the morning/aurora gets a mention in Wikipedia. Note that lucifer, in Latin, is never translated as Lucifer in French. This seems to be a very English thing. So, my bet is that, although we don’t really know why Dubois named these guys luciferin & luciferase, I think it’s a pretty safe bet it’s got nothing to do with Lucifer. All of which should be kind of obvious without anything I’ve said.