The J in Jesus

Trevor & Julie Peterson 06peterson at cua.edu
Sun Sep 30 14:47:30 EDT 2001


[snipped]

> There is no letter J in Greek.

Nor is there a letter Y as such.

> Since the new testament was first written in Greek and there was no J in
> the English language until the 16th century, then what was the original
> name of Jesus?

As has already been pointed out, the Aramaic name is Yeshua.  It still
appears that way in the Syriac NT.  Greek typically represented an initial Y
in Semitic languages as I (iota), so in the GNT we get Iesous (with a long-i
that sounds something like English long-e and a long-e that sounds something
like English long-a).  If you put such an I before another vowel sound and
say them quickly together, you get something like a y-element in between.
(The S at the end is simply part of how Greek adjusted foreign names to give
them the form that Greek nouns take.)  The Latin translation kept the
initial I for a similar reason (and dropped the O).

Now, the J seems to have appeared in German, where the letter J is
pronounced like an English Y.  We kept the basic spelling but converted it
to our pronunciation of the letters, resulting in an English j-sound, long-e
sound, voiced s-sounds, and a short-u sound.  Why we did that I really have
no idea, since up to that point, the practice seems to have been a
preservation (more or less) of the original phonetic elements represented in
different orthographic conventions.  But at least as far as I know, that's
the general process.

Trevor Peterson
CUA/Semitics




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