[NOTE: The material from this study may be used, as long as you document the material and give me the credit for this study.]
From Origin to Exile
As discussed in the introduction, “Jesus is the ordinary Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua” (Potok 371). This is not only known by modern researchers, but it was also known by the Greek-speaking world of the early church. When they read the Greek form Ιησους (Iesous), they understood that it meant “Joshua.”
The Origin of the Name “Joshua”
As Eusebius, an early church historian and writer, notes in his history, the Bible does teach us in Numbers 13: 8, 16 that it was Moses who changed the name of Hoshea the son of Nun’s (Heb. הוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן) name to “Joshua.” The name “Joshua” (Heb. Y’hoshua יְהוֹשֻׁעַ) was not, in fact, the name given to him by his parents. To change his name from Hoshea to Y’hoshua (or “Joshua”) would have meant adding to the beginning of his name the Hebrew letter yodh and the vocal shewa vowel יְ, as well as changing the tsere vowel under the letter shin to a qibbuts שֻׁ.
But what I find interesting is that in Eusebius’ account and in the King James Version of these verses, it transliterates Hoshea’s name as “Oshea the son of Nun,” and I wondered why. However, when I searched further, I discovered that there isn’t any Greek letter that makes the “h” (or “huh”) sound; consequently, when the name “Hoshea” is transliterated into Greek, there’s no Greek letter that makes the same sound as the Hebrew letter He, so that sound is dropped and his name in Greek then becomes “Oshea.” But like the name “Oshea,” there are many other names in our English Bibles which are derived from the Greek, rather than the Hebrew (such as the name “Eve,” for example), and “Oshea” is just another one of them. But in contrast to this, more modern translations use the name “Hoshea” which actually does come directly from the Hebrew text.
My Research Sources
Based on what I had discovered so far, I wanted to trace the Hebrew form of the name “Joshua” throughout the Old Testament Scriptures (i.e., the Hebrew Bible). To help me do this, I bought a Hebrew Bible, entitled A Reader’s Hebrew Bible, by A. Philip Brown II and Bryan W. Smith (a Zondervan publication) and I compared its Hebrew text with two books used in synagogues across America: The Chumash: The Stone Edition, published by the Aleph Institute, and the Pentateuch & Haftorahs: Hebrew Text English Translation & Commentary, edited by Dr. J H Hertz, and published by The Soncino Press. Also, in addition to these print sources, I also used Mechon Mamre’s online Hebrew editions found on their website at mechon-mamre.org.
The First Use of the Name “Joshua”
The first time that the name “Joshua” appears in the Bible is in Exodus 17 where we find Israel under attack. At this point in the biblical account, Israel has crossed the Red Sea, has grumbled due to the lack of food in the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Sinai, which resulted in them being fed meat and manna by God (Exodus 16), as well as experienced their first lesson regarding the Sabbath. Then while camped at Rephidim, there was no water to drink, so again, they grumbled, leading to the incident where Moses strikes the rock and enough water comes out of it to satisfy everyone’s thirst (Exodus 17:1-7). It is after this when Israel is then attacked by the Amalekites while they are camped there at Rephidim. And it is at this point, that we are first introduced to Joshua, the son of Nun (Heb. Y’hoshua ben Nun):
So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us, and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand. (Exodus 17:9)
But in looking at the Hebrew text, what form of the name “Joshua” is used?
.וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בְּחַר-לָנוּ אֲנָשִׁים, וְצֵא הִלָּחֵם בַּעֲמָלֵק; מָחָר, אָנֹכִי נִצָּב עַל-רֹאשׁ הַגִּבְעָה, וּמַטֵּה הָאֱלֹהִים, בְּיָדִי
This is what the same verse looks like in the actual Hebrew. Hebrew is read from right to left; whereas, English is read from left to right. So beginning on the right, the fourth word in the sentence, the one right after the hyphen, is the name “Joshua” in Hebrew, and this Hebrew spelling יְהוֹשֻׁעַ is exactly the same spelling in every Hebrew source that I consulted.
The Hebrew Spelling of the Name “Joshua”
Please note, from this point on, the discussion is going to get rather technical in discussing and explaining the Hebrew. I will try to do this to the best of my ability. The name “Joshua” in the Hebrew (or יְהוֹשֻׁעַ) can be broken down into four syllables, each consisting of a consonant and a vowel.
- The first syllable begins with the letter yodh (Y) with a vocal shewa underneath it. The letter yodh is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet and it looks like an apostrophe in English, and the vocal shewa looks like a colon in English. The vocal shewa makes a very quick “uh” sound, and in English, we would write this using an upside-down e, like ǝ. Therefore, this syllable יְ would sound like “yuh.”
- The second syllable is comprised of the Hebrew letter He (pron. “hey”) and a cholem vowel with a vav (הוֹ), making a long o sound. So this syllable would sound like “hoh.”
- The third syllable is comprised of the letter shin, which looks like a strange-looking “w” in English, and it has the vowel qibbuts beneath it (שֻׁ), which looks like three dots descending down to the right. The qibbuts makes an “oo” sound, so the shin and qibbuts together would sound like”shoo.”
- The final syllable is comprised of the letter ayin, which looks like a weird “y” in English, and it has the vowel patach underneath it (עַ). The patach looks like a straight line under the ayin. Interestingly, the letter ayin in Hebrew does not have a sound, and so the only sound in this syllable you hear is the vowel patach, which makes the “ah” sound like in “yacht.”
So when we put these four syllables together, the Hebrew form of the name “Joshua,” Y’hoshua, sounds like “Yuh-hoh-shoo-ah.”
The Name “Joshua” in the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible
In exploring the rest of the Old Testament [Hebrew Bible], I discovered that in all of the books that were written before the Babylonian captivity and in two of the books that are written after the Babylonian captivity (i.e., Haggai and Zechariah), the name “Joshua” in all of these books is written the same way in Hebrew, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (Y’hoshua). For example, here is Haggai 1:1 in the Hebrew:
בִּשְׁנַת שְׁתַּיִם, לְדָרְיָוֶשׁ הַמֶּלֶךְ, בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשִּׁשִּׁי, בְּיוֹם אֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ–הָיָה דְבַר-יְהוָה בְּיַד-חַגַּי הַנָּבִיא, אֶל-זְרֻבָּבֶל בֶּן-שְׁאַלְתִּיאֵל פַּחַת יְהוּדָה, וְאֶל-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן-יְהוֹצָדָק הַכֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל, לֵאמֹר.
In this verse, I boldened the name Y’hoshua ben Y’hotzadak, which was the name of the High Priest at the time of Haggai and Zechariah, which is written in its traditional Hebrew form. It is the same Hebrew form that we see used in the Torah (the first five books of our Bible) for the name “Joshua,” and it is this same Hebrew form that’s used in the book of Joshua and in Zechariah 6:11. In both Haggai and Zechariah, the traditional Hebrew form of the name “Joshua” יְהוֹשֻׁעַ is used, and the last part of his name ben Y’hotzadak (Eng. “son of Jehozadak”) is likewise in the traditional Hebrew form, but ben Y’hotazadak is not just an added identifier as it appears in English, but it is actually a part of his name.
In the biblical time period, people did not have last names like they do today. They were known by their father’s name as Y‘hoshua (Eng. “Joshua”) is here, as well as “Joshua son of Nun” (Heb. Y‘hoshua ben Nun) in Exodus 33:11, and sometimes even the name of the grandfather and tribe is added, as in, “Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur of the tribe of Judah” (Exodus 31:2). Individuals were also known by the villages or cities they were from, such as in our English Bibles, “Jesus of Nazareth” (John 19:19 KJV) or “Paul of Tarsus” (Acts 9:11), and finally, they were known by their occupation, such as “Simon the Tanner” (Acts 10:6).
Now there’s only one exception to the traditional form of the name “Joshua” in all of the books that were written before the Babylonian Exile, and it’s found in only two passages, Deuteronomy 3:21 and Judges 2:7, which share the same alternate spelling, יְהוֹשׁוּעַ. For example, here is Deuteronomy 3:21 in the original Hebrew:
וְאֶת-יְהוֹשׁוּעַ צִוֵּיתִי, בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר: עֵינֶיךָ הָרֹאֹת, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם לִשְׁנֵי הַמְּלָכִים הָאֵלֶּה–כֵּן-יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָה לְכָל-הַמַּמְלָכוֹת, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹבֵר שָׁמָּה.
In this verse, the alternative form of the name “Joshua” is the second word from the right after the hyphen on the top line. If we transliterate it into English, it would look exactly the same as the transliteration of the traditional form, Y‘hoshua. Consequently, the English transliteration does not indicate to us as readers that there is a minute difference between the two forms, but there is one in the Hebrew.
In the Hebrew text, the difference between the form used in this verse – יְהוֹשׁוּעַ – and the traditional form – יְהוֹשֻׁעַ – deals with how the “oo” sound in the third syllable, which begins with the letter shin, is written. In the dominant traditional form יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, the vowel sound is made with the qibbuts vowel placed under the letter shin (שֻׁ; for non-Hebrew readers, the qibbuts here looks like three dots descending to the right under the letter shin, which looks like a strange-looking w-shaped letter). In the alternative form, the vowel shuruq is used and placed after the shin (שׁוּ), instead of having the qibbuts vowel (שֻׁ) under it. But in both forms, the syllable makes the same sound, “shoo.”
But besides this one exception, the name “Joshua” in the Hebrew – יְהוֹשֻׁעַ – is spelled exactly the same way up until the Babylonian Exile. It is only after this event that we see in our Bibles, another form of the name “Joshua” being used.
The Babylonian Captivity
After hundreds of years of warning Israel to return to God and the Torah (His revelation of Himself to them at Mt. Sinai), God again reveals to them His plan to judge them for their sins through the prophet Jeremiah. God used the Babylonian Empire to destroy Jerusalem and to take the Jewish people away captive into Babylon for seventy years as judgment for their sins (Jeremiah 25:9-13). The Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem and took the people captive in 586 B.C.E. This was the first major traumatic event to happen to the Jewish people since they received the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) from God at Mount Sinai. In this siege by the Babylonians, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, and the House of David was taken captive into a foreign country. The book of Lamentations, written by Jeremiah, clearly echoes the pain and suffering they felt as a result of this event.