Ask any Israeli how to say “Jesus” in Hebrew, and you’ll invariably hear the response: Yeshu (pronounced Yay shoo). Yet according to scholars, His Hebrew name (depending on how you spell it) is Yeshua or Y’shua (pronounced Yeh shoo wah). Why then, don’t Israeli Jews call Him by His correct name? Shouldn’t they be the first to know (and use) His Hebrew name? The answers to those questions take us back to a time prior to 1750 A.D.
Ever since the Enlightenment, Jesus has been viewed in an increasingly positive light by most Jews—not as the Messiah, it is true, but as a good teacher, a rabbi, “our brother,” perhaps a political martyr.1 But long ago, Jesus was believed by most Jewish people to be a deceiver who led Israel astray, and some even regarded Him as a sorcerer. Consequently, centuries ago he was called by the name Yeshu, a “play” on His correct name that is actually an acronym standing for Yimmach Shemo Ve-zikro—May his name and memory be blotted out. He is still viewed that way by some, especially Ultra-Orthodox Jews; those, however, are the minority.
The name Yeshu has filtered down through history as the name of Jesus in Israel. Most Israelis (who are secular) have no idea that it originated as an acronym of contempt. How could they not know? Just think of our days of the week: Thursday was originally Thor’s Day, but what it originally meant has nothing to do with its current meaning. Ask an American what Thursday means, and the answer will probably be, the day of the week that comes after Wednesday. Similarly, ask an Israeli who Yeshu is, and the answer will probably be, a man who lived in the first century, the Christians’ Messiah.
Our staff in Israel have been working to make Jesus’ true Hebrew name a talking point, and this will continue throughout the next several years of Behold Your God Israel. Imagine the possibilities! We want to lift up the true name of Y’shua, which was given to indicate that He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
And outside of Israel, few Jews know him as either Y’shua or as Yeshu. Perhaps you can tell a Jewish friend that you have learned the name of Jesus in Hebrew, and it is Y’shua; and that his mother’s name was originally not Mary but, in Hebrew, Miriam (a topic for another article). Then you can ask why, since Jesus is Jewish, most Jewish people don’t believe in Him—and see if God opens a conversation.
For an in-depth look at the name of Jesus, see the article “An Introduction to the Names Yehoshua/Joshua, Yeshua, Jesus and Yeshu” by Kai Kjµr-Hansen at http://www.jewsforjesus.org/answers/jesus/namesEnd Notes:
1. In contrast, it is Paul, not Jesus, who is seen as the “bad guy” who invented a new religion and “turned” Jesus into a god. For more on this modern Jewish view of Paul, see http://www.jewsforjesus.org/answers/paul.