Re: Fwd: Language of the Messiah?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Mar 05 1997 - 14:31:50 EST

At 10:50 AM -0500 3/5/97, wrote:
>Forwarded message:
>Subj: Re: Language of the Messiah?
>Date: 97-03-04 18:47:55 EST
>From: Codesix4
>In the last digest I received I read this comment.
>My paraphrase (I know no Y'shua as the Name in Greek is IHSOUS). This may be
>so, but what about the fact that English translations of the same word in the
>LXX translate it as Joshua. Isn't there some discrepancy here and should we
>not be consistent in translating? One Greek word that is A Name, so why do we
>give the word TWO names? If we were consistent in translating or
>transliterating, etc. we would use Joshua, Yahshua or the correct variant
>would we not? The reason being, this was the older meaning of IHSOUS, and
>besides, is not Jesus a form of Latin.

The questionable assumptions, each based upon something in itself
reasonable, come thick and fast here. Let me perhaps take them in reverse

(1) Yes, "Jesus" is a Latin form, a transliteration of Greek IHSOUS, and
originally pronounced as nearly identical to the pronunciation of the GNT's
IHSOUS as Roman lips could form it. One implication of this
transliteration, by the way, is that it proves the Eta was still being
pronounced like a Latin long E (which is to say, like an English long
A).The Latin form "Jesus" takes on Latin case forms modeled on the Greek,
which shows special endings only in the nominative (-S) and accusative
(-N), and otherwise. as IHSOU, which seems to come as close as Greek can
get to the Aramaic form of the name, which some want to transliterate
directly as English "Yeshua," others as "Y'shua."

(2) I don't know why, just because the LXX transliterates the Hebrew
Y'HOSHUAH into a form which ENGLISH editors reproduced as "Joshua," there's
any reason to assume that this is a more appropriate term to use for the
historical Jesus whose name in his native tongue was, scarcely in doubt, in
Aramaic form. Comparable variants could be indicated from the Roman proper
name Caesar, which became the Greek KAISAR (an exact transliteration),
which in turn gave rise ultimately to Russian "Czar"/"Tsar" and German
"Kaiser," French "Ce'sar" and the English hybrid form which is spelled like
the Latin "Caesar" but pronounced as if it were "Seize 'er." Which name
should we use? Probably the form of the name that is naturalized in our own
language, the form everyone is already familiar with. The fad of "reformed
transliterations" in my own field of Classics has already wrought havoc, so
that educated lay people> will speak of Achilles, Ajax, and Oedipus and
understand each other perfectly clearly, while Classicists (of a generation
younger than my own) will start talking about Akhilleus, Aias, and
Oidipous, pronouncing those names in the manner in which they are proudly
confident they were pronounced in early antiquity, and thereby make
themselves understood only to each other. This is part of the process of
"sociologization" of the Classics, intended to render the field more
inaccessible to the general public than it was before (my tongue is firmly
in cheek as I pay due homage to political correctness).

>I think the context of the land and
>nation He lived in would cause us to be true to the names used in that land
>and nation. They were not Greeks, Latins, Germans, etc, they were, for lack
>of a better term, Israelis, no?

No, decidedly no. I doubt that there were any Germans living in "the land
and nation He lived in," although Acts 2:5-6 makes one wonder whether Luke
didn't place them right on the spot there on the day of Pentecost, but
there were Greeks, Romans, Jews, Samaritans, Egyptians, and several other
nationalities present. "Israelis" is a term properly applicable only to
citizens of the modern state of Israel. Historians speak of "Israelites" as
the people living in Palestine prior to the exile, and of "Jews" as the
people of the Second Temple era and all who are ethnically descended from
them. But Palestine, that blood-soaked little piece of real estate whose
name was given it by Greeks because of the once-dominant coastal cities of
the Philistines, was a land of side-by-side-dwelling multiple ethnic stocks
>from practically the earliest era of its settlement. It was fought over by
the current dominant national empire-builders at opposite ends of the
Fertile Crescent in the middle of which it stood from as far back at least
as the second millennium B.C.E. Israelite invaders came into it
sporadically throughout the second millennium B.C.E. and settled alongside
natives who lived in the valleys while they themselves settled primarily in
the hills. So complex is the story of ethnic cohabitation of Palestine that
the history of Palestine is almost impossible for anyone who is not a
specialist in the subject to assimilate in any way that makes sense.
Suffice it to say that in the era of Jesus, there were numerous
nationalities living in separate and not-so-separate communities throughout
Palestine, speaking their own languages (and probably many of them each
others' also) and practicing their own religions, living in the midst of
each other in an always precarious mixture of suspicion, degrees of
tolerance, and degrees of mutual contempt. Some people in some cultures
assimilated with people of others, but far from being a harmonious
melting-pot, it was in general a volatile, even explosive mixture of
peoples. This is precisely why the discussion/debate/shouting match has
continued hotly on this list for at least two weeks now and has a way of
dying down and being roused once again every two or three months, according
as new partisans of one of the preferred answers to the question "Which
language(s) did Jesus speak?" join the list and engage anew in the
never-ending exchange.

>What is the basic meaning of the word IHSOUS
>anyway. Joshua is supposed to be Yah is Salvation, or close to that. What
>does IHSOUS mean if not the same. Thus, if it does, then would we not use the
>LXX translation Joshua even in the New Testament? Just a thought.
>And, I would like to know still, what implications are there to Him speaking
>Greek, or Aramaic or Hebrew? There must be some better point to what language
>He spoke than just arguing over what we do not have complete information on

And if those questions could readily be answered, it is possible that there
would be only one gospel in the NT, that Christendom would be one body
rather than numerous ones each claiming some sort of distinct authenticity
or even sole legitimacy. But fortunately or not, as you may choose to
evaluate the situation, those questions do not yield to ready, universally
satisfying answers. Wherefore it appears that we are obliged to find a camp
to pitch our individual tents in or else some fence to straddle as securely
as we may.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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