Yeshua (ישוע, with vowel pointing יֵשׁוּעַ – yēšūă‘ in Hebrew) was a common alternative form of the name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ ("Yehoshua" – Joshua) in later books of the Hebrew Bible and among Jews of the Second Temple period. The name corresponds to the Greek spelling Iesous (Ἰησοῦς), 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 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, although 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 Israelite 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 Syriac Christian denominations use the name Isho in order to preserve the Aramaic name of Jesus. The 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, which was made in Aramaic, used Yeshua as the name of Jesus and is the most well known western Christian work to have done so.
Yeshua in Hebrew is a verbal derivative from "to rescue", "to deliver". 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.
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.
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), 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.
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, the 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 Shúaʻ (Jewish Encyclopedia.)
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).
The name Yeshua is a shortened version of the name Yehoshua or Joshua and is the literal Hebrew word for Salvation.
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.
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.a(ʕ)] in Modern Hebrew.
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.
Original name for Jesus
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/.
East Syriac Ishoʕ
Aramaic and Classical Syriac render the pronunciation of the same letters as ܝܫܘܥ yeshuuʕ (yešuʕ) /yeʃuʕ/ and ܝܫܘܥ ishoʕ (išoʕ) /iʃoʕ/. The Aramaic Bibles and the Peshitta Syriac preserve these same spellings. Current scholarly consensus posits that the NT texts were translated from the Greek, but this theory is not supported directly at least by the name for Jesus, which is not a simple transliteration of the Greek form as would otherwise be expected, as Greek did not have an "sh" [ʃ] sound, and substituted [s]; and likewise lacked and therefore omitted the final ‘ayin sound [ʕ]. Moreover, Eusebius (early fourth century) reports that Papius (early second century) reports that Jesus's disciple Matthew wrote a gospel "in the Hebrew language". (Note: Scholars typically argue the word "Hebrew" in the New Testament refers to Aramaic; however, others have attempted to refute this view.) The Aramaic of the Peshitta does not distinguish between Joshua and Jesus, and the Lexicon of William Jennings gives the same form ܝܫܘܥ for both names. The Hebrew final letter ayin ע is equivalent to final ܥ in Classical Syriac and East Syriac and West 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 Yeshuuʕ and the Eastern dialectical Ishoʕ. Those churches following the East Syriac Rite still preserve the name Ishoʕ.
Yeshua, Yehoshua, and Yeshu in the Talmud
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). In references to Jesus in the Talmud, however, 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. 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.
Rabbinical commentary on the difference Yeshu/Yeshua
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. Some of the 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.
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.. 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. (Modena was a 17th-century polemicist and does not have reliable lingusitic evidence for the claim.) 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. But E.Y. Kutscher showed that the `ayin was still pronounced in Galilee, refuting a thesis by Paul Kahle.
- Aramaic of Jesus
- Isa (name)
- Joseph (name)
- Ma'aynei Hayeshua Movement
- Tikkun olam
- Ilan, Tal (2002). Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity Part I: Palestine 330 BCE–200 CE (Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 91). Tübingen, Germany: J.C.B. Mohr. p. 129.
- Stern, David (1992). Jewish New Testament Commentary. Clarksville, Maryland: Jewish New Testament Publications. pp. 4–5.
- Franz Delitzsch Hebrew New Testament, Matthew 1:1, BFBS 1877, Isaac Salkinsohn Hebrew New Testament Matthew 1:1, TBS 1891
- Robert E. Van Voorst Jesus outside the New Testament 2000 ISBN 978-0-8028-4368-5 p124 "This is likely an inference from the Talmud and other Jewish usage, where Jesus is called Yeshu, and other Jews with the same name are called by the fuller name Yehoshua, "Joshua""
- Kjær-Hansen, Kai. "An Introduction to the Names Yehoshua/Joshua, Yeshua, Jesus and Yeshu". Jews for Jesus Headquarters. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
- "Word 'y$w('". dukhrana.com. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
- The Passion of the Christ, retrieved 2020-01-23
- David Talshir, 'Rabbinic Hebrew as Reflected in Personal Names', Scripta Hierosylamitana vol. 37, Magnes Press, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, 1998:374ff.
- Brown Driver Briggs Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon; Hendrickson Publishers 1996 ISBN 1-56563-206-0
- "The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers 1990)
- David Talmshir, "Rabbinic Hebrew as Reflected in Personal Names" in Scripta Hierosolymitana: Publications of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, vol. 37 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press: Hebrew University of Jerusalem 1998)
- "וֹשֻׁשׁוּעַ", Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company 1987), where it means "a cry for help".
- "וֹשֻׁשׁוּעַ", William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing 1971), where it means "a cry for help".
- "שָׁוַע", M. Jastrow, Dictionary of the Talmud reprinted (Jerusalem: Khorev 1990), where שׁוֹשֻׁוּעַ is explained by the verb "to cry for help",
- Jewish Encyclopedia. entry JOSHUA (JEHOSHUA): Funk and Wagnalls. 1901-06-19.
- Farber, Zev (11 July 2016). Images of Joshua in the Bible and Their Reception. De Gruyter. p. 159. ISBN 978-3-11-034336-6.
[Per Philo’s interpretation of the name Joshua as “salvation of the Lord”] since Joshua [Hoshea] is such an excellent person, it would be more fitting for him to receive this “most excellent of names” (ὄνομα τῆς άρίστης). [On the Change of Names - De Mutatione Nominum - Mut.]
- Taylor, Bernard Alwyn (2009), Analytical lexicon to the Septuagint, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 286, ISBN 978-1-56563-516-6,
[New Testament uses Ἰησοῦ as the dative, Septuagint uses] Ἰησοῖ pr noun masc dat sg . . . . Ἰησοῦς
- Segel, Moshe Tsvi (1953). Sefer Ben-Sira Hash-Shalem. Chapter 46 verse 2: Mosad Byalik. p. 317.CS1 maint: location (link)
- Price, R. (28 September 2013). "Jesus or Yeshua?". Yeshua.org. Retrieved 2017-12-18.
- Buried Hope Or Risen Savior: The Search for the Jesus Tomb 2008 p81 Charles Quarles – 2008 "The distinction between the longer and shorter forms does not exist in Greek. The Greek Iesous (Ineous) was used to represent both Yehoshua' and Yeshua'. There are 48 instances of Iesous (Iesous and several eccentric spellings), "
- Photo in Witherington & Schanks pp 59–60
- Incantation bowls in Montgomery and Moussaief/Levene 2002. See transcription in Bauckham essay in Quarles.
- New Testament theology Joachim Jeremias – 1977 "... 1965, 284–93: 285; a graffito which I found in the south wall of the southern pool at Bethesda, now covered in, also read [y\fw ', see my: The Rediscovery of Bethesda, New Testament Archaeology Monograph No I, Louisville, Ky., 1966, ..."
- "The Furtive Patach". www.hebrew4christians.com. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
- Talshir 1998:374,376.
- Elisha Qimron, The Hebrew Of The Dead Sea Scrolls, Scholars Press, Harvard Semitic Studies vol. 29, 1986:25.
- Qimron:26, 31–35.
- Price, James D. Yehoshua, Yeshua or Yeshu; Which one is the name of Jesus in Hebrew?, accessed March 6, 2006.
- William Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1957 p.140
- Mendel, Roi (25 February 2007). "Ha-"chasifa" shel qever Yeshu: qiddum mkhirot". Yedioth Ahronoth. Retrieved 2007-02-27.
- Pilkington, Ed; Rory McCarthy (27 February 2007). "Is this really the last resting place of Jesus, Mary Magdalene – and their son?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-02-27.
- Wycliffe Bible Dictionary. entry HEBREW LANGUAGE: Hendrickson Publishers. 1975.
- Buth, Randall, and Pierce, Chad. "Ebraisti in Ancient Texts: Does Ἐβραϊστί ever Mean "Aramaic"?" Buth and Notley, ed., The Language Environment in First Century Judea. Brill, 2014.
- J. Maier Jesus von Nazareth 1978. G. Theissen, Historical Jesus. 1998. R. Voorst Jesus outside the New Testament 2000
- Brother of Jesus Hershel Shanks, Ben Witherington photo of the "Yeshu... Yeshua bar Yehosef" ossuary and dual inscription
- Jesus outside the New Testament p124 Robert E. Van Voorst – 2000 "This is likely an inference from the Talmud and other Jewish usage, where Jesus is called Yeshu, and other Jews with the same name are called by the fuller name Yehoshua, "Joshua" (e.g., b Sanh. 107b on p. "
- Michael H. Cohen A Friend of All Faiths – Page 42 – 2004 "In Hebrew school, one of my teachers had explained that Yeshu (Hebrew for Jesus), rather than meaning "Saviour," in fact was an acronym that stood for yimach shemo ve-zichrono: "may his name and memory be erased "
- Proceedings: Volume 4 Aḳademyah ha-leʼumit ha-Yiśreʼelit le-madaʻim – 1969 "Perhaps the most significant of these is the passage where instead of the printed 'that certain man' we find 'Jesus the Nazarene — may his name be obliterated' (thus also in a Genizah MS, British Museum, Or. 91842). "
- New Testament theology Joachim Jeremias – 1977 "... deliberate truncation made for anti-Christian motives; rather, it is 'almost certainly' (Flusser, Jesus, 13) the Galilean pronunciation of the name; the swallowing of the 'ayin was typical of the Galilean dialect (Billerbeck I 156f.
- E.Y. Kutscher, Studies in Galilean Aramaic, 1976.