Pronunciation of Iesous

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Thu May 20 10:15:45 EDT 1999

As this very same question was put to me off-list by someone else this
morning, and I see that it has come up once again on B-Greek, I take the
liberty of forwarding my reply to that inquiry.

>Date: Thu, 20 May 1999 09:41:08 -0400
>From: "Carl W. Conrad" <cwconrad at>
>Subject: Re: Greek pronunciation
>At 8:26 PM -0700 5/19/99, xxx wrote:
>>Dear Dr. Conrad
>>This day I noticed one of your entries onto the Internet b-Greek forum
>>regarding Greek pronunciation. I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to ask
>>you two questions. If you choose to help me with an answer it would be
>>considered a great favor.
>>To begin with, I am not a Greek reader or speaker. Nevertheless, as a Bible
>>reader I naturally have an interest in Greek, especially koine Greek.
>>Recently I have been considering James Strong's A Concise Dictionary of The
>>Words In the Greek Testament. In so doing, I noticed Strong's entry for
>>Iesous (English: Jesus) and that he assigns the trisyllabic pronunciation
>>ee-ay-sooce'. Realizing that Strong's work was published prior to koine
>>Greek being discovered, my questions are:
>>1. What did Strong base his pronunciation upon and is it at all valid, and
>The fact is that I've never looked at Strong's work and I don't feel
>competent to make any overall assessment of the work, although one or two
>errors in fact regarding etymology have been called to my attention in
>queries I have responded to in the past. I wouldn't make too much of that,
>however, as etymology is notoriously subjective and perilous as a
>foundation upon which to base firm statements about lexicology. BUT, so far
>as the pronunciation of IHSOUS (my transliteration of the Greek), I think
>that the information you cite is right on target--so far as we know--that
>the word is pronounced as three syllables. There's not any clear evidence,
>so far as I know, that the Iota had any consonantal pronunciation during
>the New Testament period. BUT, on the other hand, I find it interesting
>that Latin names like Julius and Junia are regularly spelled in Koine Greek
>as IOULIOS and IOUNIA. Moreover, we know that the Aramaic for Jesus was
>YESHUA. For this reason, and because I also suspect that Latin had a much
>greater impact on Greek pronunciation and even grammar than is commonly
>acknowledged, it wouldn't surprise me if information should someday come to
>light proving that the Greek Iota DID have a consonantal ('Y')
>pronunciation in initial position, especially in transliterated proper
>names from other languages. But that, I can only say, is my own "educated"
>speculative position.
>>2. Strictly speaking, is the koine Greek Iesous properly pronounced with two
>>or three syllables, or either way?
>I rather think I've answered that in what precedes.
>>Like yourself I am a professional person. I appreciate that you are likely
>>very busy. However, again, if you can find it within your power to answer my
>>questions, I'd be most appreciative. If you supply some references for your
>>answers it would be even better.
>The work currently held in greatest esteem on these questions is W. Sidney
>Allen, VOX GRAECA, published, I think, by Cambridge UP; I have a paperback
>edition and I think it is still in print. However, I read an article within
>the last year [Chrys Caragouinis, "The Error of Erasmus and un-Greek
>Pronunciations of Greek,"Filologia Neotestamentaria 8(1995) 151-185]
>presenting a fairly strong argument that Koine Greek in the NT period was
>pronounced much more like Modern Greek than like any of the reconstructed
>pronunciations offered and taught for ancient Greek of any period.
>More than that I can't say with any conviction. I fear it's not really
>definitive and therefore not as helpful as you might have hoped.
>Regards, cwc

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at

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