One may contend that there existed a basic text of Jesus’ life story written in Hebrew. One arrives at this assumption not merely on the basis of the church fathers’ writings, but because the Greek texts of the synoptic gospels show so much evidence of being “translation Greek,” that is, Greek that contains Hebrew idioms and sentence structures.
Torah has always been the focus of rabbinic teaching. Unfortunately, the Hebrew word “torah” is usually translated in English simply as “law,” which has created the impression that it has to do only with commandments. This is not the case at all. The Torah was given by God as a guideline for a whole way of life. A better translation would be “God’s instructions.”
In this lesson we will learn the two sounds of the second syllable of Jesus’ Hebrew name. The first sound of the second syllable of יֵשׁוּעַ (ye·SHU·a‘) is the “sh” sound. This is represented by ש (shin), the twenty-first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Written with three points or teeth, it got its name from the Hebrew word for “tooth” because of the pictograph upon which it was based.
Jesus spoke of himself using many messianic titles from Scripture. Names such as “Son of Man,” “Green Tree” and “King” all have their origins in messianic passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus also was referred to by such messianic titles as “Lord” (Luke 5:8), “Son of God” (Luke 1:35) and “Son of David” (Luke 18:38). One title applied to Jesus is not so clearly messianic: “Prophet.” There can be little doubt that Jesus viewed himself as a prophet, and that many of his contemporaries concurred. Jesus claimed to be a prophet when he quoted the popular saying, “No one is a prophet in his own village,” going on to compare himself to Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:24-27). He made the same claim when he said, “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33). But what did the people of Nain have in mind when they exclaimed, “A great prophet has been raised in our midst!” (Luke 7:16)?
Although he was born in Judea, Jesus grew up in the small Galilean village of Nazareth. Many scholars believe that the Synoptic Gospels contain little evidence that Jesus ever toured Judea. Robert Lindsey disagreed. He believed that there is sufficient evidence in Matthew, Mark and Luke to support the existence of a Judean ministry, and that Judea is the setting of many of the Gospel stories.
Many of Jesus’ words were spoken against a profoundly Hebraic background. We believe that a knowledge of Hebrew is central to understanding much of what Jesus said, and what was written about him in the Gospels. This is the second of a series of articles about the Hebrew language. Hopefully, these “nuggets” will encourage you to explore the riches Hebrew study can offer to those who want to understand the Bible more fully. The second sound in Jesus’ Hebrew name, יֵשׁוּעַ (ye·SHU·a‘), is a vowel. Hebrew vowels are represented by signs that are placed under, or sometimes, to the left of consonants (letters). A vowel is pronounced after the consonant that carries its sign.
Although Christians often associate parables exclusively with Jesus, rabbinic literature reveals that this form of expression was well established as an instructional tool among Israel’s first-century teachers. The fact that Jesus used parables to teach is evidence that he was a characteristic sage functioning in a world of sages. Jesus’ efforts were directed toward bringing more and more people under God’s reign—or, in the rabbinic parlance he used, getting them into the “Kingdom of Heaven.” That was what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 9:37-38. Although he used different words, Jesus stressed the same points as the rabbinic saying in m. Avot 2:15: 1) although difficult, the work of the Kingdom of Heaven is all-important, and, 2) God is interested in the urgent completion of the work.