Christmas Factoid : Jesus’ Mum didn’t call him Jesus
This is one of those things we all think we know until some bright spark pops up to say … “that’s not true”. So here is the low-down on why Jesus’ Mum didn’t call him Jesus.
For a start, when Jesus lived in Galilee, the letter ‘J’ didn’t exist. In Hebrew, his name was Yeshua or Yehoshua – from which we get the name Joshua. In Aramaic (the language he probably spoke at home) it was Isho or Yeshu.
When the Gospels were translated from Hebrew into Greek, Yeshua became Iesous. When the Greek was rendered into Latin, it became Iesus. Joshua and Jesus were once the same name.
Classical Latin had no letter J – Caesar was Iulius, not Julius. Except for a handful of borrowed foreign words, modern Italian still has no J. The letter J wasn’t really in common use until the seventeenth century, at first to distinguish between words with ‘i’ as a consonant, pronounced as ‘y’ in ‘iest’ (jest) and the short vowel sound ‘i’, as in ‘it’ or ‘inch’. J wasn’t used in English until around 1630, so Shakespeare never used it either – he wrote Romeo and Iuliet, King Iohn and, like Caesar himself, Iulius Caesar. In time, J came to be spoken in English like the Old English ‘dj’ sound, as in ‘hedge’, while in Spanish J still has a ‘Y’ sound’ and in French it’s halfway between the two.
In Hebrew Jesus’ father’s name was Yusuf, not Joseph, and Jesus would have been Yeshua ben Yusuf (‘Joshua, son of Joseph’). It’s possible neither of them were carpenters. The Hebrew word used to describe what they did is naggara (tekton in Greek). It only comes up twice in the New Testament and other possible meanings are ‘architect’, ‘stone mason’ and ‘builder’ – so Jesus may have been a brickie rather than a chippie.
Whatever the real pronunciation of his name is, there is no denying that his life and teachings were real and have directly shaped the world we live in today.