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The Names Yeshua and Yehoshua

by Dr. James Price, professor of Hebrew

Yehoshua in the Septuagint

Two things indicate that Yehoshua is the proper Hebrew name for Jesus:
(1) In the Greek Translation of the OT known as the Septuagint (LXX), the name Joshua is rendered *Iasous* = Jesus.
(2) In the NT, Joshua is mentioned twice (Acts 7:45; Heb 4:8), and in both places the Greek NT spells the name *Iasous* = Jesus.

Thus the Greek *Iasous* is the equivalent of Hebrew *Yehoshua*

Yehoshua in the Hebrew Bible

As far as the Hebrew Bible is concerned, it is important to note that in the early books, the name Joshua is spelled as (     yod-hey-waw-shin-ayin) or on rare occasions as (    yod-hey-waw-shin-waw-ayin). However, in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the high priest is named Jeshua the son of Jozadak (    yod-shin-waw-ayin); whereas in the contemporary books of Haggai and Zechariah, the same high priest is named Joshua the son of Jehozadak (    yod-hey-waw-shin-ayin beth-nun). Thus, it can be concluded that in post-exilic times of the Biblical era, the namesYeshua and Yehoshua were regarded as equivalent.

Yehoshua in the Talmud

(From A.D. 200 to 500 ancient rabbis compiled their commentaries on the Bible, Jewish social customs and historical events in the Talmud. Because it was compiled by rabbis who were leaders in rabbinical academies, the Talmud is considered to be very authoritative by Jews, even to this day. [Missler, Chuck, "The Creator Beyond Time and Space", 1996 The Word For Today, p.165] )

As far as the Talmud is concerned, it is evident that the old uncensored editions of the Talmud associated Jesus of Nazareth with the name Joshua. This is demonstrated by the following passage:

Sotah 47a

Our Rabbis have taught: Always let the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near. Not like Elisha who thrust Gehazi away with both his hands (and not like ' Joshua b. Perahiah who thrust one of his disciples away with both his hands).11

Here, the editor's footnote reads:
[(11) MSS. and old editions read Jesus the Nazarene. R. T. Herford sees in Gehazi a hidden reference to Paul. Cf. his Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, pp. 97ff.]

Another interesting passage indicates that the Talmud regarded the changing of the spelling of a name to be a sign of divine disapproval. The following passage discusses the change of a name from Yehoshua to Yoshua. Arachim 32b
And the other?13 - He [Ezra] had prayed for mercy because of the passion for idolatry and he removed it, and his merit then shielded them even as the booth. That is why Scripture reproved Joshua, for in all other passages it is spelt: Jehoshua, but here, Joshua.14

The editor's footnote reads:
[(14) For his failure to implore the Lord to remove the passion for idolatry from the heart of the people. Just as with Abram the enlargement of his name into 'Abraham' was an expression of divine approval, so did this diminution of Jehoshua into Joshua express divine disapproval. The reason for Joshua's failure to implore the Lord to remove the passion for idolatry was his assumption that he possessed the land in its pristine holiness, so that it would in itself help Israel to overcome its idolatrous tendencies.]

Perhaps that is the reason why the Talmud altered the spelling of the name Jesus of Nazareth from Yeshua ha-Notzri to Yesu ha-Notzri. However, it is clear that the editor of the Talmud regarded this as the equivalent of Yeshua ha-Notzri. Associated with the following passage in the Talmud is an interesting footnote by the editor:

Sanhedrin 67a
For it has been taught: And for all others for whom the Torah decrees death, witnesses are not hidden, excepting for this one. How is it done? - A light is lit in an inner chamber, the witnesses are hidden in an outer one [which is in darkness], so that they can see and hear him,11 but he cannot see them. Then the person he wished to seduce says to him, 'Tell me privately what thou hast proposed to me'; and he does so. Then he remonstrates; 'But how shall we forsake our God in Heaven, and serve idols'? If he retracts, it is well. But if he answers: 'It is our duty and seemly for us', the witnesses who were listening outside bring him to the Beth din, and have him stoned.12

The editor's footnote reads:
[(12) In the uncensored editions of the Talmud there follows this important passage (supplied from D.S. on the authority of the Munich and Oxford Mss. and the older editions) 'And this they did to Ben Stada in Lydda ( . . .), and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Ben Stada was Ben Padira. '. Hisda said: 'The husband was Stada, the paramour Pandira. But was nor the husband Pappos b. Judah? - His mother's name was Stada. But his mother was Miriam, a dresser of woman's hair? (. . . megaddela neshayia): - As they say in Pumbaditha, This woman has turned away (. . .) from her husband, (i.e., committed adultery).' T. Herford, in 'Christianity in the Talmud', pp. 37 seqq, 344 seqq, identifies this Ben Stada with Jesus of Nazareth. As to the meaning of the name, he connects it with ** 'seditious', and suggests (p. 345 n.1) that it originally denoted 'that Egyptian' (Acts XXI 38, Josephus, Ant. XX, 8, 6) who claimed to be a prophet and led his followers to the Mount of Olives, where he was routed by the Procurator Felix, and that in later times he might have been confused with Jeshua ha-Notzri. This hypothesis, however, involves the disregard of the Talmudic data, for Pappos b. Judah lived a century after Jesus (Cit. 90a), though the mother's name, Miriam (Mary), would raise no difficulty, as . . . megaddla neshayia may be the result of a confusion with Mary Magdalene (v. also Box, The Virgin Birth of Jesus, pp. 201f, for other possible meanings of Ben Stada and Ben Pandira) Derenbourg (Essai note 9, pp. 465-471) rightly denies the identity of Ben Stada with Jesus, and regards him simply as a false prophet executed during the second century at Lydda.]

Note that the editor spells the name of Jesus as Jeshua ha-Notzri when he transliterated it.

From this evidence it can be concluded that in post-exilic Bible times the names Yehoshua      and Yeshua    were regarded as equivalent names of the same person. Also the Talmudic evidence indicates that historically the Jews regarded the name of Jesus as Yeshua, perhaps omitting the *hey*  as their sign of divine disapproval, and then subsequently omitting the *ayin*  as further disapproval.

James D. Price
Dr. Price is Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Temple Baptist Seminary in Chattanooga, TN. He holds the following degrees:
B.S. in Electrical Engineering, Purdue University
M.Div. Northwest Baptist Seminary
Ph.D. Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning

The Nazarenes of  Mount Carmel
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