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Yeshua (ישוע, with vowel pointing יֵשׁוּעַ – yēšūă‘ in Hebrew) was a common alternative form of the name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ ("Yehoshuah" – Joshua) in later books of the Hebrew Bible and among Jews of the Second Temple period. The name corresponds to the Greek spelling Iesous, from which, through the Latin Iesus, comes the English spelling Jesus.
The Hebrew spelling Yeshua (ישוע) appears in some later books of the Hebrew Bible. Once for Joshua the son of Nun, and 28 times for Joshua the High Priest and (KJV "Jeshua") and other priests called Jeshua – although these same priests are also given the spelling Joshua in 11 further instances in the books of Haggai and Zechariah. It differs from the usual Hebrew Bible spelling of Joshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ y'hoshuaʿ), found 218 times in the Hebrew Bible, in the absence of the consonant he ה and placement of the semivowel vav ו after, not before, the consonant shin ש. It also differs from the Hebrew spelling Yeshu (ישו) which is found in Ben Yehuda's dictionary and used in most secular contexts in modern Hebrew to refer to Jesus of Nazareth, though the Hebrew spelling Yeshua (ישוע) is generally used in translations of the New Testament into Hebrew and used by Hebrew speaking Christians in Israel. The name Yeshua is also used in Israeli Hebrew historical texts to refer to other Joshuas recorded in Greek texts such as Jesus ben Ananias and Jesus ben Sira.
In English, the name Yeshua is extensively used by followers of Messianic Judaism, whereas East Syrian Christian denominations use the name Isho in order to preserve the Aramaic or Syriac name of Jesus.
Yeshua in Hebrew is verbal derivative from "to rescue", "to deliver". Its usage among the Jews of the Second Temple Period, the Biblical Aramaic/Hebrew name יֵשׁוּעַ Yeshua‘ was common: the Hebrew Bible mentions several individuals with this name – while also using their full name Joshua. This name is a feature of biblical books written in the post-Exilic period (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles) and was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, though Haggai and Zechariah prefer the spelling Joshua. Strong's Concordance connects the name יֵשׁוּעַ Yeshua`, in the English form Jeshua (as used in multiple instances in Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles), with the verb "to deliver" (or, "to rescue"). It is often translated as "He saves," to conform with Matthew 1:21: "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (NASB).
The name יֵשׁוּעַ "Yeshua" (transliterated in the English Old Testament as Jeshua) is a late form of the Biblical Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ Yehoshua (Joshua), and spelled with a waw in the second syllable. The Late Biblical Hebrew spellings for earlier names often contracted the theophoric element Yeho- to Yo-. Thus יהוחנן Yehochanan contracted to יוחנן Yochanan. However, there is no name (aside from Yehoshua`) in which Yeho- became Ye-.
The name ישוע occurs in the Hebrew of the Old Testament at verses Ezra 2:2, 2:6, 2:36, 2:40, 3:2, 3:8, 3:9, 3:10, 3:18, 4:3, 8:33; Nehemiah 3:19, 7:7, 7:11, 7:39, 7:43, 8:7, 8:17, 9:4, 9:5, 11:26, 12:1, 12:7, 12:8, 12:10, 12:24, 12:26; 1 Chronicles 24:11; and 2 Chronicles 31:15, and also in Aramaic at Ezra 5:2. In Nehemiah 8:17 this name refers to Joshua son of Nun, the successor of Moses, as leader of the Israelites. Note that in earlier English (where adaptations of names of Biblical figures were generally based on the Latin Vulgate forms), Yeshua was generally transcribed identically to "Jesus" in English. It was only when the Protestant Bible translators of ca. 1600 went back to the original languages that a distinction between Jesus and Jeshua appeared in English.
The name Yehoshua has the form of a compound of "Yeho-" and "shua": Yeho- יְהוֹ is another form of יָהו Yahu, a theophoric element standing for the name of God יהוה (the tetragrammaton YHWH, sometimes transcribed into English as Yahweh or Jehovah), and שׁוּעַ shua‘ is a noun meaning "a cry for help", "a saving cry", that is to say, a shout given when in need of rescue. Together, the name would then literally mean, "YHWH (Yahu) is a saving-cry," that is to say, shout to YHWH [God] when in need of help.
Another explanation for the name Yehoshua is that it comes from the root ישע yod-shin-‘ayin, meaning "to deliver, save, or rescue". According to the Book of Numbers verse 13:16, the name of Joshua son of Nun was originally Hoshea` הוֹשֵעַ, and the name "Yehoshua`" יְהוֹשֻׁעַ is usually spelled the same but with a yod added at the beginning. "Hoshea`" certainly comes from the root ישע, "yasha", yod-shin-`ayin (in the Hif'il form the yod becomes a waw), and not from the word שוע shua` (Jewish Encyclopedia) although ultimately both roots appear to be related.
In the 1st century, Philo of Alexandria, in a Greek exposition, offered this understanding of Moses’s reason for the name change of the biblical hero Jehoshua/Joshua son of Nun from Hoshea [similar to hoshia` meaning "He rescued"] to Yehoshua in commemoration of his salvation: "And Ιησους refers to salvation of the Lord" [Ιησους or Iesous being the Greek form of the name] (Ἰησοῦ δὲ σωτηρία κυρίου) (On the Change of Names 21.121).
Similarly, the Septuagint renders Ben Sira as saying (in the Greek form of the name): "Ιησους the son of Naue [Yehoshua Ben Nun] who according to his name became great unto [the] salvation/deliverance of his chosen ones" (Ἰησοῦς Ναυῆ .. ὃς ἐγένετο κατὰ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ μέγας ἐπὶ σωτηρίᾳ ἐκλεκτῶν αὐτοῦ) (Ben Sira 46:1–2). However, Ben Sira originally wrote in Hebrew in the 2nd century BC, and the only extant Hebrew manuscript for this passage has "in his days" (בימיו), not "according to his name" (which would be כשמו in Hebrew), and thus does not comment on the name Yehoshua as connoting יְּשׁוּעָה "deliverance": "Yehoshua Ben Nun, who was formed to be in his days a great deliverer for his chosen ones" (יהושע בן נון... אשר נוצר להיות בימיו תשועה גדלה לבחיריו). Possibly, the translators understood the phrase "was formed in his days" to refer to being transformed by his name change, and thus has "according to his name" as a paraphrastic translation, or else they were working from a different text.
The distinction between the longer Yehoshua and shorter Yeshua forms does not exist in Greek.
Tal Ilan's lexicon of Second Temple period names on inscriptions in Palestine (2002) includes for "Joshua" 85 examples of Hebrew Yeshua, 15 of Yehoshua, and 48 examples of Iesous in Greek inscriptions," with only one Greek variant as Iesoua. One ossuary of the around twenty known with the name Yeshua, Rahmani No.9, discovered by Ezra Sukenik in 1931, has "Yeshu... Yeshua ben Yosef." The "Yeshu..." may have been scratched out. Two Jewish magical incantation bowls have been discovered both bearing variant spellings of Yeshua.
Apart from the "Yesh.. Yeshua ben Yosef" ossuary, the only other known evidence for the existence of a Yeshu form prior to the material related to Jesus in the Talmud, is a graffito which Joachim Jeremias identified in Bethesda in 1966, but which is now filled in.
Yeshua יֵשוּעַ [jeˈʃuăʕ]. The Hebrew letter Yod י /j/ is vocalized with the Hebrew vowel tsere /e/ (a 'long' e like the first syllable of "neighbor" but not diphthongized) rather than with a shva /ə/ (as Y'shua) or segol /ɛ/ (Yesh-shua). The final letter Ayin ע is /ʕ/ (a rough, guttural sound not found in Greek or English), sometimes transcribed " ` " (Yeshua`). The final [ăʕ] represents the "patach genuvah" ("furtive" patach), indicating that the consonant `ayin is pronounced after the a vowel, and the word's stress is moved to the middle syllable (the characteristics of the furtive patach can be seen in other words, such as רוח [ˈruăħ] 'spirit'). Thus it is pronounced [jeˈʃu.aʕ] in Modern Hebrew, approximately ye-SHEW-ə.
The Hebrew name of the historical Jesus is probably pronounced 'Yeshua', although this is uncertain and depends on the reconstruction of several ancient Hebrew dialects. Talshir suggests, even though Galileans tended to keep the traditional spelling for 'Yehoshua' יהושוע with the letter Vav for /o/, they still pronounced the name similarly to the Judeans, as 'Yeshua' [jeˈʃuaʕ], who tended to spell the name phonetically as ישוע, perhaps reducing the name thus: [jəhoˈʃuaʕ] > [joˈʃuaʕ] > [jeˈʃuaʕ], with the /o/ palatizing (via 'dissimilation') before the /ʃ/.
Qimron describes the general linguistic environment of Hebrew dialects by the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The articulation of the /h/ (along with other guttural phonemes /ʔ/, /ħ/, and /ʕ/, as well as approximants /j/ and /w/) weakened significantly. Thus Hebrew pronunciations became less stable when two successive vowels were no longer separated by a consonant /h/. The speakers optionally either reduced the two vowels to a single vowel or oppositely expanded them to emphasize each vowel separately, sometimes forming a furtive glide in between, [w] or [j]. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls spell the Hebrew word ראוי /rɔˈʔui̯/ ('seen') variously, recording both pronunciations: reduced ראו [ro] and expanded ראואי [rɔˈuwi].
The Hebrew name 'Yehoshua' generally reduced to 'Yeshua', but an expanded 'Yehoshua' is possible, especially in Galilee whose traditional orthography possibly reflects this.
In the Septuagint and other Greek-language Jewish texts, such as the writings of Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, Ἰησοῦς Iēsoûs is the standard Koine Greek form used to translate both of the Hebrew names: Yehoshua and Yeshua. Greek Ἰησοῦς or Iēsoûs is also used to represent the name of Joshua son of Nun in the New Testament passages Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8. (It was even used in the Septuagint to translate the name Hoshea in one of the three verses where this referred to Joshua the son of Nun—Deut. 32:44.)
During the second Temple period (beginning 538 BC – 70 AD), Yeshua first became a known form of the name Yehoshua. All occurrences of Yeshua in the Hebrew Bible are in I Chron. 24:11, II Chron. 31:15, Ezra, and Nehemiah where it is transliterated into English as Jeshua. Two of these men (Joshua the son of Nun and Joshua the High Priest) are mentioned in other books of the Hebrew Bible where they are instead called Yehoshua  (transliterated into English as Joshua).
The earlier form Yehoshua did not disappear, however, and remained in use as well. In the post-exilic books, Joshua the son of Nun is called both Yeshua bin-Nun (Nehemiah 8:17) and Yehoshua (I Chronicles 7:27). The short form Yeshua was used for Jesus ben Sirach in Hebrew fragments of the Wisdom of Sirach. (Some concern remains over whether these fragments faithfully represent the original Hebrew text or are instead a later translation back into Hebrew.) The earlier form Yehoshua saw revived usage from the Hasmonean period onwards, although the name Yeshua is still found in letters from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 AD).
In the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, archeologist Amos Kloner stated that the name Yeshua was then a popular form of the name Yehoshua and was "one of the common names in the time of the Second Temple." In discussing whether it was remarkable to find a tomb with the name of Jesus (the particular ossuary in question bears the inscription "Yehuda bar Yeshua"), he pointed out that the name had been found 71 times in burial caves from that time period.
Thus, both the full form Yehoshua and the abbreviated form Yeshua, were in use during the Gospel period – and in relation to the same person, as in the Hebrew Bible references to Yehoshua/Yeshua son of Nun, and Yehoshua/Yeshua the high priest in the days of Ezra. An argument in favor of the Hebrew reduced form ישוע Yeshua, as opposed to Yehoshua, is the West Syriac dialect in which the pronunciation is Yeshu /jeʃuʕ/.
However, the New Testament describes Jesus as being a part of a Jewish milieu, reading the Hebrew Bible and debating with Pharisees over interpretations of the Jewish legal tradition. The Gospels record several Hebrew and Aramaic words or expressions spoken by him.
Aramaic (Classical Syriac) and East Syriac, which are ancestral to West Syriac, render the pronunciation of the same letters as ܝܫܘܥ isho (išo) /iʃoʔ/. The Aramaic Bible (c. 200 AD) or the Peshitta preserve this same spelling. These texts were translated from the Greek, but the name is not a simple transliteration of the Greek form because Greek did not have an "sh" [ʃ] sound, and substituted [s]; and likewise lacked and therefore omitted the final ‘ayin sound [ʕ]. Moreover, Eusebius reports that Jesus's student Matthew wrote a gospel "in the Hebrew language". (Note, scholars typically argue the word "Hebrew" in the New Testament refers to Aramaic.) The Aramaic of the Peshitta does not distinguish between Joshua and Jesus, and the Lexicon of William Jennings gives the same form ܝܫܘܥ isho (išo) for both names. The Hebrew final letter ayin ע is equivalent to final ܥ in Classical Syriac and East Syriac. It can be argued that the Aramaic speakers who used this name had a continual connection to the Aramaic-speakers in communities founded by the apostles and other students of Jesus, thus independently preserved his historical name Isho. Those churches following the East Syrian Rite still preserve the name Isho.
In the Talmud, only one reference is made to the spelling Yeshua, in verbatim quotation from the Hebrew Bible regarding Jeshua son of Jozadak (elsewhere called Joshua son of Josedech). The Talmud does refer to several people named Yehoshua from before (e.g. Joshua ben Perachyah) and after Jesus (e.g. Joshua ben Hananiah). However in references to Jesus in the Talmud, where the name occurs, it is rendered Yeshu, which is a name reserved in Aramaic and Hebrew literature from the early medieval period until today, solely for Jesus of Nazareth, not for other Joshuas. However some scholars, such as Maier (1978) regard the two named "Yeshu" texts in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a and 107b) to be later amendments, and not original.
Yeshua was used as the name for Jesus in late additions to the Yosippon; however, its usage here is a translation back into the Hebrew Yeshua from the Greek.
In general rabbinical sources use Yeshu, and this is the form to which some named references to Jesus in the Talmud as Yeshu occur in some manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud, though some scholars, such as Maier (1978) have argued that the presence of the name Yeshu in these texts is a late interpolation. Other Hebrew sources referencing Yeshu include the Toledot Yeshu, Sefer Nestor ha-Komer, Jacob ben Reuben's Milhamoth ha-Shem, Sefer Nizzahon Yashan, Sefer Joseph Hamekane, the works of Ibn Shaprut, Moses ha-Kohen de Tordesillas, and Hasdai Crescas, etc.
The name Yeshu is unknown in archeological sources and inscriptions, except for one ossuary found in Palestine which has an inscription where someone has started to write first Yeshu.. (incorrectly?) and then written Yeshua bar Yehosef beneath it. There are 24 other ossuaries to various Yeshuas and Yehoshuas. None of the others have Yeshu. All other "Joshuas" in the Talmud, rabbinical writings, modern Hebrew, are always Yeshua or Yehoshua. There are no undisputed examples of any Aramaic or Hebrew text where Yeshu refers to anyone else than Jesus.
Some of rabbinical sources comment on the reasons for the missing ayin from Yeshu, as opposed to the Hebrew Bible Yeshua and Yehoshuah. Leon Modena argues that it was Jesus himself who made his disciples remove the ayin, and that therefore they cannot now restore it. A tradition states that the shortening to Yeshu relates to the Y-SH-U of the yimach shemo "may his name be obliterated." Against this David Flusser suggested that the name Yeshu itself was "in no way abusive," but "almost certainly" a Galilean dialect form of Yeshua.