Re: Language of the Messias?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Mar 09 1997 - 18:02:43 EST

Without further ado, and also without reproducing the previous
correspondence of Rob Petry and Isidoros, which, since it was not
reproduced in conventional marking of previously cited correspondence, was
pretty difficult to separate out into who was arguing which point (other
than that Isidoros was insinuating, without ever saying forthrightly, that
Jesus' original name, as well as his native tongue, was Greek), I'd like
very briefly to come back to this question and ask WHY it should be
important to introduce for Jesus an old-Testament form or a form consistent
with previous English transliterations of old-Testament Hebrew names. I'm
satisfied that Jack Kilmon is right in asserting that Jesus' native
language was Aramaic and that his original name had an Aramaic form. IF we
were going to insist on using in English (or other modern languages) a
transliteration of his given name, then I'd be all for using a
transliteration of the Aramaic name. BUT, while I think it is useful, even
important to know that the name is equivalent to the OT Hebrew word
Y'HOSHUAH, "salvation," and to the given name of the leader of the
Israelite conquest (or occupation--perhaps the more accurate word) of the
promised land, I can't understand why we should undertake this effort at
revisionism. Are we to refer henceforth to Peter as Kephas or to Paul as
Shaul? Is it to be argued that the quality of pious veneration of Jesus
would be enhanced by referring to him as "Joshua"? I think that even asking
this question ventures out into the area of theology, i.e. beyond the
proper range of B-Greek; but the same question could be asked regarding the
title for God, "The Lord"--inasmuch as that represents a periphrasis
adopted in Second Temple Judaism to avoid pronouncing "Yahweh" when reading
scripture aloud--ought we really to drop that and start using the name
"Yahweh" where YHWH appears in the Hebrew text, but continue using "God"
for EL, or for ELOHIM or for hO QEOS? This has been attempted in some
versions, but it hasn't gone over very well, any more than the hybrid name
"Jehovah" produced by inserting the vowels of ADONAY into the consonants
YHWH really ever went over very well. I will make one further comment here,
and then suggest that further pursuit of this topic might better be
conducted off-list: whenever I've reflected on efforts in history to reform
a tradition deemed to have been tainted and degenerated from its pristine
purity, it has seemed to me that the reformers have succeeded, not in
recovering the original unalloyed institutions, but in producing something
almost radically new (by which statement I do not at all mean to disparage
reform, belonging as I do to a denomination which has claimed as its motto
the strange and wonderful phrase, ECCLESIA SEMPER REFORMATA, SEMPER
REFORMANDA--which at least implies that "reform" is not a process that can
be done once and allowed to stay done). My apologies and respects to those
who believe otherwise.


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

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