Have you heard about that fellow who walked the dusty roads of Palestine some years back? You know, the one most Christians refer to as Jesus Christ? You have? OK, now raise your hand if you’re aware this isn’t his real name.
Whoops! You didn’t raise your hand? Well maybe it’s time for a history lesson.
Let’s go way back — about 2,000-plus years ago. This was the time when a young man by the name of Yeshua (as he was known among his fellow Hebrews) was traveling the countryside talking about Yahweh, one of the Hebrew gods.
Sidenote: according to Wikipedia, Yeshua is a late form of the Biblical Hebrew name, Yehoshuah (pronounced Yeh-ho-shoo’-ah), and translates in English to Joshua. Hmmm …
Reportedly, this chap performed a few healings, made some wine, talked a bit confusingly at times (parables), and eventually got himself into trouble with the Romans and was killed.
Some years passed, and around 50-75 CE the Koine Greeks began putting together some stories about this rather remarkable fellow (known today as the New Testament). However, their language prevented them from calling him by his Hebrew name, so they transliterated it to Iesous (pronounced in English as “ee-ay-soos”).
A few centuries passed and around 400 CE, the predominate language of Christianity had become Latin. In order to pass on these intriguing stories, it seemed appropriate to translate the Greek writings into the common language. This was done at the behest of Pope Damascus I, a rather prominent figure of the time. The new book became known as the Vulgate, and included events the Hebrew people had recorded in the years prior to the arrival of Yeshua.
When the translator came to the Greek name of Iesous, he decided to transliterate it as Iesus, yet the Greek pronunciation of “ee-ay-soos” was retained. It was this pronunciation and Latin spelling that dominated the Christian world for nearly 1,000 years.
Meanwhile, the English language was evolving, and here’s something interesting — early on, the letter (J) did not exist. It wasn’t until sometime during the early 12th century that (J) began showing up in some obscure dialects of the Middle English language.
The people seemed to like the new sound and eventually, over the next 500 (+/-) years, letters like (I) and (Y) came to be replaced by (J) (e.g., Iames became “James”, Yohan became “John”). Thus, in 1526 when Tyndale translated the New Testament to the English language from the Latin, he used the letter (J) in the the spelling of the name Jesus. This new spelling eventually became pronounced by the general public as “Jee-zuz.”
In Part 2, we’ll discover how and why Christ was added to Jesus’ name.