The protagonist of Asimov's Caves of Steel, Elijah Baley, uses 'Jehoshaphat!' as an exclamation instead of 'Jesus!' throughout the book.

Why does he do this? From the book, it seems that the Bible is still relevant in the context in which the book takes place. The protagonist cites some passages from the Bible in the book, and at some point, he clearly says the Bible is still considered sacred to almost half of the population of the Earth.

However, it is not explicitly mentioned that Christianity, as we know it today, still exists. So it could be that people are believing in a new Judeo-Christian faith based on the Bible. Indeed, Jehoshaphat is real figure from the Bible, so maybe he is the main character of such a faith. However, this is purely my opinion, and the book seems silent on the matter.

All in all, why does the protagonist use the exclamation 'Jehoshaphat!' instead of 'Jesus!'?

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    csmonitor.com/The-Culture/In-a-Word/2020/0903/… - It's an example of a "minced oath", basically a way of swearing but without the guilt
    – Valorum
    Mar 18 at 23:11
  • 13
    – Valorum
    Mar 18 at 23:17
  • 8
    Remember Asimov was Jewish. "Jehosaphat" is a multipurpose euphemism, since it can also stand in for "Jehovah".
    – Spencer
    Mar 18 at 23:32
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    When I was growing up (1960s), hearing "JUMPING JEHOSAPHAT" often. Although I don't recall ever hearing just "JEHOSAPHAT" Googling I see that "Yosemite Sam" (one of Bugs Bunny's adversaries) said it occasionally. But I think it was a common expression in Westerns of the 40s, 50s, & 60s.
    – NJohnny
    Mar 19 at 3:26
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    It seems to me that there's a correct answer lurking here: (a) "Jehosaphat" was a euphemism still in use, (b) stronger language was still not accepted in print, especially not in SF, and (c) Asimov himself was not given to public profanity. This is the actual reason. An in-universe answer would be -- at best -- contrived.
    – Mark Olson
    Mar 19 at 11:07

Swearing (including most kinds of blasphemy) is almost completely absent in any of Asimov's works. This is an example of something called a minced oath, basically a way of swearing but without the guilt that goes along with it. 'Jehoshaphat' is, in most cases, almost certainly including this one, simply a stand-in for the word 'Jesus' and would have been understood as such by the reading audience of the time.

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! (and just plain Jehoshaphat!) originated in the United States during the 19th-century craze for “minced oaths,” pseudo-swearwords that replaced profane or blasphemous words with inoffensive ones. These not-quite oaths could be quite poetic: They rhymed (holy moly!), used alliteration (jumpin’ Jupiter!), and were fun to say (gee willikers!). Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat follows suit.

You might wish to note that this is a technique frequently used by Asimov. Specific examples include;

  • The Foundation Trilogy:- "Space!", "By Space!" "Great Space!", "Good Galaxy!", "By the Galaxy!", "He went space knows where" in place of "God"

  • End of Eternity: "Time!" or "By Time!" in place of "God"

  • Reason (Robot Short Story) - "“Oh, Jupiter, a robot Descartes." in place of "Jesus",


  • More generally, the 1950s, when Asimov wrote his early work, was noted for its public puritanism. Bad language was very heavily frowned on, and Asimov was not a Bad Boy of Literature. There were any number of euphemisms for Bad Words. In general, any such word beginning with a "j" stood in for "Jesus", "hard g" for God, "d" for damn, and "f" for fuck. Sexual bad language (obscenity) couldn't be used at all. This all changed in the 60s, as evidenced by the writing of Heinlein pre and post "Stranger in a Strange Land", whose success informed him that he could talk dirty and get away with it. Sep 14 at 1:09

Isaac Asimov was a non-observant Jew, who called himself also a humanist and atheist, though he'd simultaneously say it just describes what he doesn't believe. There is a wonderful book by David Lewis, titled Faith of Atheists vs Christians, where you can find more about what Asimov said on the topic.

His books often contain Christian motives, and Eliah Baley is not an exception. Of course nowhere it says he is one, but his excellent knowledge of scripture is an indicator that at least it may be his background in some form or other.

Asimov is not cursing in his works, and even if, then he's using the mentioned earlier "minced oaths", and this is not an exception in The Caves of Steel. I will also point out that IF Baley is a Christian, then - at least in the reality of 1950s in America Christian, which Asimov would have direct knowledge of - using name of Jesus as a curse is a serious no-no (it is today, too, but since most Christians have just vague picture of what being Christian actually means...).

Anyway, cursing in SF, as a genre, in the 1940-1960 period is in fact very noticeably absent besides very mild ones and minced oaths, of course. It's not an attempt at avoiding serious questions or topics, either. For example Heinlein is no stranger to topics like paid sex, polyamory and polygamy with it's variants, yet he's also very conservative when it comes to cursing. It seems it's just the way people were writing it back then.

  • As I mentioned above in comments, Corpus NN30 of American Regional English lists a variety of exclamations relating to Jesus, all starting with a "jee" sound - GEE WHIZ, JIMINY CRICKETS, GEE WHILLIKERS, JEEPERS, JUMPING JEHOSAPHAT, JIMINY CHRISTMAS, JEEZ, JEEMINY, JEHOSAPHAT, GEE, JIMINY, JEEPERS CREEPERS, etc
    – Valorum
    Sep 13 at 12:58
  • @Valorum And I understand that people, including in such august bodies as UWM, would like to draw that connection, but there is not much to be sure of it besides first letter. Also, full saying is "Jumping Jehoshaphat", and I believe there's nothing anywhere in any writings about Christ jumping... (there is, OTOH, a lot to say why full version works well as an exclamation of surprise, which unfortunately has nothing to do with J.C). It may be that minced oaths came to be Because of the curses they replaced were religiously offensive, but again: just a theory. But I'm not dying on that hill.
    – AcePL
    Sep 13 at 13:27
  • That's because you're not saying it right. All of the above are meant to be pronounced emphatically with a pronounced jee sound at the start. Jee-iminy, jee-hosaphat, etc.
    – Valorum
    Sep 13 at 15:06
  • @Valorum I know what you mean. And I agree, on principle. I shall then edit the answer accordingly.
    – AcePL
    Sep 13 at 15:49

It's an attempt to give Lije Baley some sort of characterization.

Asimov's stories are very strong in concept. Many of them set up a puzzle for the protagonist. Why is a robot running around in circles? We can enjoy the ingenuity of the puzzle and the solution. Or they might explore the consequences of a concept. Invent a time viewer, and what happens to society as a result? And these are all very entertaining.

The weak part of his stories was always the characters. He wrote about the puzzle, and not about the people. The people are one dimensional and to some extent interchangeable.

But sometimes Asimov gives a character an odd little quirk, to make that character slightly different from any of his other characters. Baley's quirk is that he says an odd word.

It is supposed to be an odd word within the context of the story. People react to him for using an odd word. They think he is little bit peculiar for saying that word. They wouldn't react that way if he said 'Jesus'. The author chose that word in order to justify people's reactions.

I don't think it works very well, YMMV. But they are still intriguing mystery stories.

  • 1
    Except that it wasn't a particularly unusual minced oath for a character to use in a story written in the early 1950s. Look at Poul Anderson's work from that time; it's almost certain that a character will use the expression "Judas Priest!" in exactly the same way.
    – user888379
    Sep 12 at 18:23

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