instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, October 04, 2014

The name of "Jesus"

At last week's RCIA class, the question was asked, why do we call Jesus "Jesus" instead of the Hebrew name "Yehoshua" or "Yeshua" or the English transliteration "Joshua"?
The short answer is we call Him "Jesus" because we speak English. The English name "Jesus" comes from the Latin "Iesus," which comes from the Greek "Iesous" that was used when the New Testament was first written in Greek in the First Century by Jesus' disciples or people who knew them. When people spoke to Jesus in Greek -- as some almost certainly did, since Greek was the common language in that part of the Roman Empire -- they would have called him "Iesous."
What would His fellow Jews have called Him? Hebrew was mostly reserved for prayer and religious services, although (based on my reading of a Wikipedia page) the Aramaic spoken at home and in the streets seems to have still used the Hebrew forms of the name. The older form is "Yehoshua," the later form is "Yeshua." Ancient Hebrew Scriptures use both forms, sometimes for the same man. (The Greek Septuagint, which as we said last week was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures we call the Old Testament, used "Iesous" throughout.) "Yehoshua" was (again, per Wikipedia) more common in Galilee while Jesus lives there, while "Yeshua" was more common in Jerusalem.
Between His birth and His death, then, Jesus would have been called a number of things, even by people who were just calling Him by name.
Here's another thought: When Jesus was condemned to death, Pontius Pilate ordered that the charge against Him be written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and posted over His head on the cross. This was a common custom, so people would know what sort of crimes were dealt with in the most brutal manner the Romans had devised. In Jesus' case, Pilate had it written, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," in part as a message to the Jewish religious leaders. In classical Latin, this is, "Iesus Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm," which is why so many crucifixes have the sign "INRI" at the top of the cross. The Greek would have read something like "Iesous o Nazoraios o Basileus ton Ioudaios" (though, of course, in Greek letters; see below). The Hebrew was probably [Hebrew letters that would be pronounced] "Yeshua."
So "Iesus"/"Iesous"/"Yeshua" is literally the Name under which we are saved.