Hebrew word of the week: Yeshu/Jesus


The Hebrew name יהושע yehoshuaʿ,* was pronounced yeshu in Galilee; becoming Iesus or Jesus in Greek-Latin. The form Yeshu was probably common among the Jews at that time, but was discontinued afterward. Among Christians today, the name is common only among Latin Americans, pronounced Jesus (Hay-zuse), but not among other Catholics. However, its Arabic form ’isa, or Issa, is a common surname among Christian and Muslim Arabs (including Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Vista), of Christian Lebanese origin).

Many people avoid using, out of respect, the name Jesus (Christ) in everyday talk or exclamations, saying gee (whiz) instead (similar to holy moly for holy Mary; gosh for God; heck for hell; darn for damn); just as observant Jews say/write G-d, Eloqim, Adoshem, HaShem, etc.

The word Christ (in Greek, Christos) is a translation of the Hebrew mashiaH, for “anointed, Messiah.”

*Spelled ישוע Yeshuaʿ in late biblical Hebrew (Nehemiah 8:17; Ezra 2:2; 3:8).

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

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