Tuesday 13 February 2024

Jesus: The Name

Why was the Bethlehem baby named .......s? Was it a family name? Where do we get the word "Jesus"?

According to Blue Letter Bible, re Ezra 5:2, this is an Aramaic form of the name.* 

When Pilate put up Jesus' name it might have looked like one of the above. (The top [Greek] is less likely than the cursive handwriting form [Latin; Greek].


All four of our testimonies include that the “crime” was published on the execution cross. Matthew added more info: Above his head they put a sign that told why he was nailed there. It read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37, CEV).

John gives even more detail. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews’” (John 19:19-21, ESV). The text reads as if Pilate himself was the scribe. It is often rendered to say he caused it to be so. I can not imagine Pilate writing the Aramaic. ("inscription": John alone uses a word from Latin; the formal Roman placard giving the accusation.)

Here, as elsewhere, the people at the top of the priestly tree appear ungodly, and just plain wrong. Likely they retained their influence until the Romans put an end to their nation (135 AD) - if not sooner, at the end of the Temple (70 AD). 

There is a tragic irony in that Jesus is indeed king - king of all! Not only a king - a Saviour (Jesus). He had been rejected - by the powerful, and an orchestrated mob. They, then, are the “Jews” who turned away. Other Jews were faithful followers who carried his message to their wide world, even at the cost of their own suffering. All, or almost all, of the early disciples were Jews.

[Who are the “Christ-killers”? That is easy - I am; you are. Our transgressions put him on the cross. It is absurd, ridiculous, mindless and wicked to use the crucifixion facts as excuses for crimes against people who claim Jewish descent, or who are adherents of Judaism. It is tragic and repugnant. People like us were the tools used by evil to carry out what was actually God’s salvation plan! Their disbelief and rebellion was their own, as ours is our own.]

As above, John tells us Pilate had posted the name of the troublemaker on the cross, and had also put his composition in Hebrew (Aramaic)* and Latin and Greek. Might be curious that Pilate (Procurator) would put the charge up in the three languages. Curious also that John reports that fact. Perhaps the use of the three languages reflects the presence of visitors to Jerusalem from many parts of the Empire, or just the mix in the population of the Roman Province of Iudaea. No one who read the sign could be in doubt what the critical issue had been purported to be - even if for the Romans it did not signify much more than a cruel joke…

I think that putting the "Aramaic" version of the charge at the top indicates Pilate's deliberate target audience. Being in Jerusalem and in contact with its powerful Jews must have been an unwelcome part of duty in their Province of Iudaea. (The usual residence of the Governor was away on the coast.) I can imagine Pilate (Governor) deciding to snipe at the Jewish hierarchy by taking up the taunts of the soldiers and turning it into his sign. What do you think - was that them taking his bait?

However, it may be that the soldiers already knew what Pilate was putting up, and they echoed their Procurator's mocking. 

In Greek and Latin the Saviour’s name could have looked something like the above. The word known best to us as the name of the Christ, the carpenter from Nazareth, crucified by the Roman authority - that word, “Jesus”, does not belong solely to him in the Greek Bible.

The other individuals with the same name are:
Joshua - leader in the post-Moses story of ancient Israelite occupation of the “Promised” land. His name in English Bibles is consistently translated Joshua, rather than Jesus, as in this example: Later it was given to our ancestors, and they took it with them when they went with Joshua. They carried the tent along as they took over the land from those people that God had chased out for them. Our ancestors used this tent until the time of King David (Acts 7:45, CEV). The name is the same but clearly it is not about Jesus.
In Luke’s genealogy of Jesus there is a Jesus (“Joshua”) whose father was Eliezerthe son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, (Luke 3:29, ESV).
Paul had a Jesus with him:  Jesus (the one we call Justus) also sends his greetings. These are the only Jewish believers among my co-workers; they are working with me here for the Kingdom of God. And what a comfort they have been! (Colossians 4:11, NLT).
More confrontingly, a notorious Jesus Barabbas spared from crucifixion by the choice of the mob: At that time they had a notorious prisoner called Jesus Barabbas (Matthew 27:16, NRSVUE). Some ancient texts,  and thus some English Bibles, give the name of the criminal as simply, Barabbas. The correct text is debated; there is strong evidence to include “Jesus” in the name of the notorious man.** So then, Pilate in effect said, which Jesus do you want to see released?

It seems Joshua (Jesus) was a common name? I do not know how popular names were when Jesus was a child. I would not be surprised if in Nazareth then Mary’s call to Jesus to come in for dinner could have seen more than one response!

“Jesus” (in the Greek New Testament) is a Grecized form of the Hebrew name, “Joshua”. But that is a Greek word - did they know Greek? I have seen strong rejection of the possibility of anything other than Aramaic in the language of the Nazareth home. But, what of the hundreds of years of domination of the area by the very Greek Selucids? And then the many decades of Rome, with its Latin? Nazareth was located close to the capital, Sepphoris, and lay between Ptolemais and Tiberias - all large cosmopolitan centres, not visited in the Gospels. (Certainly, there is direct evidence that important Roman officers did not expect anything much more of Jews than Aramaic; see Acts 21:37-40).

There was clear strong Jewish resistance to the adoption of foreign culture (see the account of the Maccabees). I dare say the same applied to possible Roman influence. Nonetheless, Pilate had all three languages over the dying man. Why? What of the order: Aramaic, Latin, Greek. Does that indicate the contemporary mix of language proficiency and familiarity? Or Pilate's priority audience?

How did Pilate converse with Jesus? Converse with the priests? Address the mob and hear them? Could he have learned Aramaic , or perhaps he had an interpreter to speak for him.

So I imagine Jesus being called by his name, which have sounded like whatever was the real pronunciation of the Aramaic word for Joshua!

Looking at it from the other direction, we could ask how, and why in the first place, the name of “Joshua” was to be given to the future carpenter from Nazareth.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[a] because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, NIV).
You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus (Luke 1:31, NLT).
So we see the name given to the baby was equally supported by both the man and the woman.
She will give birth to a son. You are to give him the name Jesus. “Because” - the conjunction introduces the reason for that name. Jesus was the new deliverer; a true saviour - from sin.

People need to be saved from their sins. Jesus saves people from their sins. At the announcement of his birth, the messenger said: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11, ESV). Years after that, Peter could say to the Jerusalem elite: Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone (Acts 4:12, CEV). The hearers then threatened punishment if Peter and company continued with this.  Later again, Paul explained in a synagogue in Antioch: “From this man’s descendants, as he promised, God brought to Israel the Savior, Jesus[a] (Acts 13:23, CSB). The Saviour!

Our tragic rebellion and disobedience (sin) earns us wrath. Paul puts it very succinctly: But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. How much more then, since we have now been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life (Romans 5:8-10, CSB). The wrath is the portal to death: Sin pays off with death. But God's gift is eternal life given by Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23, CEV). So though we all must die, or be transformed, there is a death that can be escaped. That is like Jesus talking about ways that lead to life and ways that lead to destruction.

Jesus, or Joshua? Our fathers in turn brought it (the Temple-Tent) in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David (Acts 7:45, ESV). Stephen was speaking about the ancient Tent in the control of J-----, the leader. Though the word is the same, context requires that this man’s name is rendered as Joshua. (Also found in the Greek Bible about the time [Septuagint-LXX].)

The name Joshua in Hebrew is apparently a combination of the special name of the Lord and the word “salvation”. The book of Numbers tells us that the man’s name originally was Hoshea (“Salvation”). These are the names of the men Moses sent to explore the land. (Moses gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Joshua) (Numbers 13:16, NIV). Moses added the Lord to make the name Joshua (possibly - The Lord is Salvation; there are differing views on this.)  
After Moses, Joshua was the leader of the Hebrew “nation”. His job was to take the people out of the “wilderness” and into the “Promised Land”. That involved destruction of the existing occupants. (The account is complex and confronting.) Perhaps we are to imagine the Hebrews on the brink of disintegration and being rescued - delivered. Joshua was their saviour. That understanding fits with the reason for the naming of the Bethlehem baby.

Hmm - saviour. The label of “Saviour” was claimed by rulers of the time. By having the particular individual as their king they were to know they were secure, delivered from enemies. 

I wonder, did Mary or Joseph ever call out, “Jesus”, when it was dinner time? That he was called is very likely. That his name sounded like the way I would say it is very unlikely.

The word we use, “Jesus”, came to us via Aramaic and Greek and Latin and underwent change with the English language. In the 1611 print King James Bible the name was written as IESUS. No doubt use of the new letter “J”, equivalent of consonantal "i", subsequently became common, and, without really changing the sound, the name was written as our familiar, JESUS.

As the old song says, Jesus Saves ("We have heard the joyful sound"). 

Pilate’s charge is represented today like this:
Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (Latin Vulgate; Public Domain)
Ἰησοῦς Ὁ Ναζωραῖος Ὁ Βασιλεὺς Τῶν Ἰουδαίων (SBL GNT)
(The writing would have been ancient cursive, not these modern fonts.)

*Hebrew/Aramaic. The Greek word says Hebrew but many translators render as "Aramaic". This is logical because the old Biblical Hebrew had become less well known whilst the closely related Aramaic had long been the lingua franca of the region. It came first in Pilate’s list.

** Jesus Barabbas. Metzger (1994) has a lengthy discussion of the available evidence. The THGNT (2017) relegates the name to the margin. The SBLGNT (2010) does not. (I do not know if any extra evidence has been found - I doubt it.)

The 1611 edition King James Bible Bible (can be viewed online by searching), was like this, showing the old typeface and language in this scan from the University of Pennsylvania:

In modernised typeface:
And she shall bring forth a sonne, *and thou shalt call his Name Iesus : for hee shall saue his people from their sinnes (Matthew 1:21, AKJV).

In current English:
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21, ESV).

He will save his people - those who receive him - from their sins.

May God bless you .
Allen Hampton

* FROM CHATGPT: In written form, the name Jesus in 1st Century Palestine Aramaic may have been represented as "ܝܫܘܥ" (Yeshua).

Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.
Scripture quotations marked (CSB) are from the Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NRSVUE) are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission.

Note: I retain the reference marking to footnotes [eg, a], but not the content. The footnotes may be found in the text, eg via Bible Gateway.

Scripture quotations courtesy BibleGateway.com and
BlueLetterBible.org (especially LXX)

Image: from full scan of 1611 print. Note the English language, alphabet and the font of 400 years ago..

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