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History of the Name "Jesus"


The history of the name “Jesus” begins in the Torah in the account in which Yahweh commanded Moses to choose one man from each of the twelve tribes to spy out the land of Canaan.

Of the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea[1] the son of Nun . . . These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Yehoshua.[2]

The root word of Hoshea is HOSHUA, which means "salvation." It is important to understand that "salvation" in the Hebrew Scriptures or the Jewish culture did not mean “go to Heaven after death.” It meant “being delivered from some danger or threat.” When Moses changed Hoshea to Yehoshua the meaning of the name changed to "Yahweh-is-Salvation." When the spies reported back to Moses ten of them delivered the following report:

“The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”[3]

But two of the spies, Yehoshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Yephunneh, delivered another message:

“The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If Yahweh delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against Yahweh, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and Yahweh is with us. Do not fear them.”[4]

By the 5th Century BCE the name Yehoshua was shortened to Yeshua:

Those who came with Zerubbabel were Yeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.[5] 

So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Yeshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness.[6]

By the 1st century CE, probably due to Hellenistic influence, Yeshua was shortened to Y'shua. In the Greek New Testament, the name Yeshua appears two times as Iesous:

Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Iesous into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David.[7]

For if Iesous had given them rest, then he would not afterward have spoken of another day.[8]

In 382 Jerome made a Latin translation of the Christian Scriptures called the “Vulgate,” or “common Bible.” Jerome translated the Greek word Iesous as Iesus. The Latin spelling and pronunciation of Iesus dominated the Western Christian world for almost 1,000 years.[9]

The Norman invasion of 1066 introduced the letter "j" to England but the sound of the letter did not exist in the Old English language until the early 1200's. In 1384, John Wycliffe made the first English translation of the New Testament from Latin. He preserved the Latin spelling and pronunciation of Iesus.[10]

The letter “Jwas first distinguished from “'I” by the Frenchman Pierre Ramus (1515 – August 26, 1572) in the 16th century. Ramus was an influential French humanist, logician, and educational reformer. He was a Protestant convert who was killed during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.[11] The “J” did not become common in Modern English until the 17th century. Early 17th century works, such as the first edition of the King James Version of the Bible (1611), continued to print the name Iesus.[12] Soon, the hard "J" sound started to replace male names that began with I or Y -- Iames became James, Iakob became Jacob, Yohan became John, and Iesus became Jesus.

It should be noted that in the Talmud (6th century CE) the name Yeshu is used instead of Yeshua. It is an acronym for yemach shmo u'zikro, which means "may his name be blotted out."[13] This clearly reflects the growing conflict between Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.

The word “Jesus” did not appear in an English Bible until after the King James Version was published. No one in the first 1,500 years of the Yeshua Movement or Christianity called him “Jesus.” When we return to the name he called himself – Yeshua – we begin the process of viewing him and his words in his Jewish culture.

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Shalom,
Jim Myers


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