Holy Name of Jesus - Historical Questions

My wife and I were recently talking about names, and how transliteration of many Hebrew names into English often results in sounds that are nothing like the name actually sounds if pronounced correctly (i.e., in the original language), even when the target language actually has letters that produce the same sound. The letter “J” seems to be especially problematic for some reason.

For example, the English name “Jacob” is actually pronounced “Ya’akov” in Hebrew, and the English name “Joshua” is pronounced “Yehoshua.” As Catholics, many of us have learned that our Lady would not have called her son “Jesus” but rather “Yeshua,” which I agree sounds a lot like Yehoshua, i.e., Joshua.

So my questions are these:

  1. We know that our Lord’s name was revealed by an angel. However, several sources I have read claim that His name (“Yeshua”) was not new, that is, it was not the first time the name was heard and used by the Jewish people. Rather, our Lord’s name was fairly common at the time. What do you all make of this? I had always assumed that our Lord’s name was unique. But in some Bible translations, you will see that the name “Jesus” is listed in our Lord’s genealogy as one of His ancestors.

  2. According to this source, the name “Yeshua” (or Jesus) is just an alternate for “Yehoshua” (or Joshua). True or False?

  3. Does anyone know if the early Jews or Christians ever gave their children the same Hebrew name as our Lord, especially after the crucifixion and resurrection? Again, the above source claims that our Lord’s name was still used by the Jews (e.g., Jesus ben Sirach), and asserts an anti-Catholic thesis regarding the empty tomb, that owing to the commonality of our Lord’s name, it could have easily been someone else.

  4. Why do you think the Catholic Church has not preserved our Lord’s name in it’s original pronunciation? It seems to me that our Lord’s most holy name should always and everywhere be pronounced as our Lady would have pronounced it.

  5. Does anyone know of any Catholic or other scholar who has written on this subject?

This transliteration stuff is obnoxious! :confused:

It’s not unusual in modern Hispanic cultures for people to be named Jesus, but it’s pronounced “hey-soos”

Right. But that custom appears to be anomalous, at least I think. On the other hand, we find variants on the word “Christ” in general usage: e.g., Christine, Christopher, Kristoff, etc.

Although I come from that culture, I would never name my kid Jesus. What an impossible name to live up to!

ICXC NIKA.

And, yet, girls are commonly named Mary. :wink: It’s my daughter’s middle name (well, Marie - same thing).

But the BVM wasn’t God Almighty :):slight_smile:

ICXC NIKA

I wish I had more to offer on the subject, but want to subscribe to the thread just to see if someone has more to say. I actually agree with the OP about the transliteration of the Name of the Lord. The Scriptures say that His is the “Name above every other name” and to pray “in the Name” of the Lord. So, for close to two thousand years, English speakers have be been using the “wrong” name. I understand how the transliteration occurred, but I would certainly prefer to call our Lord by the Name He was actually given.

I’ve read multiple sources that say that Our Lord’s name is Yeshua or Yehoshua. My understanding is that should translate to Joshua. As a person who studies typology, I think this totally makes sense since it was Joshua who led the people into the promised land.

According to the angel in Matthew, Jesus was named such because “He will save His people from their sins.” And what does Ye(ho)shua mean? “Yhwh saves.” Jesus was given a meaningful name, not an ‘original’ name no one else had. The gospels don’t pretend that Jesus was the only person with that name: I mean within the NT itself you have people like Elymas bar-Jesus (‘son of Jesus’ - most likely not Jesus Christ!) or Jesus bar-Abbas (Barabbas). (And if you read the works of the Jewish historian Josephus, you’ll certainly find more Jesuses living at that time.)

Here’s the thing. In those days, Jews living in Palestine at that time really no large pool of names to choose from. So you had a lot of people who shared the same name. On top of that, people tended to recycle the same names over and over again, especially within the family: a baby is often named after one of its grandparents or its parents or some ancestor. (This was especially true among the upper classes.) Plus, there’s also a trend to name children after the rulers of the past Hasmonean dynasty, the dynasty founded by the Maccabees (Mattathias and his sons Simon, John, Judah/Judas, Eliezer and Jonathan).


The Hasmonean Dynasty.

Going by different sources (the NT, Josephus, ossuary inscriptions, the documents from the Judaean desert), the top eleven most attested Jewish male names in that time are (in descending order):

Shim(e)on (Simon/Simeon)
Y(eh)osef (Joseph)
Yehudah (Judah/Judas)
Eleazar/Eliezer (cf. Lazarus)
Y(eh)ohanan (Johanan/John)
Ye(ho)shua (Joshua/Jesus)
Hananiah (Ananias, with the variant Hanina)
Y(eh)onathan (Jonathan)
Matityahu (Mattathias/Matthias/Matthew)
Menahem
Ya’aqov (Jacob/James)

(By comparison, Abraham, Isaac and pretty much most of the other OT names not found above are rare in the period.)

As for female names, the majority of women used only eleven Hebrew names; the other half used names adopted from other languages like Greek, Aramaic, Persian or Nabataean. The top twelve names (by attestation) are:

Maram/Mariamme/Mariah (Miriam/Mary)
Shalom (Salome)
Shelamzion
Marta (Martha)
Y(eh)ohana (Joanna)
Shiphra/Shapira (Sapphira)
Berenice (Greek name)
Sarah
Imma
Mara (Short form of Martha)
Cyprus
Sarah
Alexandra

You would notice the Hasmonean factor here as well: Joanna is of course just the female version of ‘John’, Salome Alexandra was a Hasmonean queen (141-67 BC), while Mariam(me) was the name of two Hasmonean princesses who became the second and third wives of Herod the Great.

Partly due to the accidents of history. As Christianity became more and more gentile-dominated (and Greek-speaking), Jewish Christians who actually spoke Aramaic became less and less prominent. The Jewish-Roman Wars of AD 66-70 and AD 132-135 didn’t help: Jerusalem (the original mother church) and the temple was destroyed, and after 135, Jews were banned from entering the city except for two days a year. Jewish Christian communities in Palestine became fragmented. Ever since then, Christianity would be centered in places like Rome or Ephesus or Antioch.

Jewish Christians were generally ignored by gentile Christians or even treated with contempt by some, mainly because many of them still followed Jewish customs. (This was a time when Christianity had split off with Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations are not exactly the best.) That’s why we don’t hear much about them even in the writings of the Church Fathers, except for the occasional Jewish Christian sect.

Hebrew or Aramaic were ultimately just provincial languages: the common language in the eastern half of the Roman Empire at least was Greek. And in Greek, the name Yeshua was commonly rendered as Iēsous: it was already an established scheme at the time. And that’s essentially why Yeshua became Iēsous (Greek) - Iesus (Latin) - Jesus: many early Christians used Greek, and the New Testament is in Greek.

I’ve seen a nice explanation of the custom in a book called Jesus in the Hispanic Community: Images of Christ from Theology to Popular Religion (p. 122). The book suggests that people Hispanic cultures name kids Jesus due to an emphasis on Jesus the man and Jesus the suffering, in other words Jesus as someone we can all relate to.

"Instead of a superstitious practice, this naming custom reflects a familiarity with the earthly Jesus, a desire to gift a son to One they love, a sense that the name itself provides protection and brings good fortune to the one who bears it (daughters are often named Maria for similar reasons). In short, naming one’s son Jesus offers power to the individual and suggests the permanent availability of Jesus, rather than a distant or transcendent Christ. The naming practices found in Latino/a communities suggest that an emphasis on the humanity of Jesus makes this title important for Latinos/as.

In Latino/a communities, the name “Jesus” given to a son also is a reminder of the cross. The cross of Christ is a stark symbol of many who have nowhere else to run for succor and no one else who truly understands their desperation. The crucified Lord knows the pain of crucified people. …]

You get extra credit my friend! Thanks for taking the time to reply. I found the information very helpful. God bless you.

You’re welcome!

Just to answer your third question: “Does anyone know if the early Jews or Christians ever gave their children the same Hebrew name as our Lord, especially after the crucifixion and resurrection,” I’ve been able to trace one: a 13th-century Syriac Orthodox patriarch of Antioch, John XI, had the birth name Yeshu’ (Isho). In fact, quite a number of the medieval patriarchs of Antioch were named Yeshu / Isho!

In fact, it seems that ‘Jesus names’ are common among Syriac Christians: names like Yeshu’-sabran (Isho’sabran) or Sabaryeshu’ (Sabrisho’ / Sawrisho’) ‘Jesus is Hope’, Yeshuyab (Isho’yahb) ‘Given by Jesus’, Yeshudad (Isho’dad) ‘Jesus has Loved/Jesus’ Friend’ or ‘Jesus’ Gift’, Berikhisho’ ‘Blessed is Jesus’, Hananyeshu (Hnanisho’) ‘Mercy / Grace of Jesus,’ Isho’dnakh ‘Jesus Rises’ or Ebedyeshu (Abdisho’ / Odisho’) ‘Jesus’ Servant’.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.