Wednesday, October 19, 2011

One of the family . . .

You probably know this, most people probably know this, but it came as a shock to me when I discovered
recently that, in thinking of the founder of the Christian faith as having the name 'Jesus', I was mistaken.
To my surprise, I learned that, to his family, friends and followers the man I'd always known as 'Jesus' was, in fact, known by the Hebrew name of 'Yeshua'.

Does it make any difference to his teaching or to our faith?

I know that it shouldn't, but a name conveys a vivid image. My mental picture of a 'Yeshua' is very different from my mental picture of a 'Jesus'.

Try it for yourself. Say 'Yeshua', and then say 'Jesus'. Does an identical figure come to mind?
My 'Yeshua' is mature, substantial and quietly spoken. My 'Jesus' is young, passionate and slight of build.

Names shouldn't matter. But they do. Why else would parents devote so much time and thought to selecting the names for their children?

Nor is it just a question of the subjective reaction to a name. In changing the name of 'Yeshua' to that of 'Jesus', the early church was establishing its European base. 'Jesus' is a name still common in Mediterranean countries, you won't find it on the West Bank.

Historically, we've done this down the ages, changing names to make them more acceptable to the English ear. We insist on calling 'Firenze' 'Florence', 'Roma' has become 'Rome', and in Anglicizing the pronunciation of 'Paris' we've stripped it of all its Gallic zest. But when it comes to the name of 'Jesus', with all the significance that the name conveys, such a fundamental change feels different.

All right, when compared to the strength and universality of the teachings, it may seem a trivial quibble, and nothing that I say is likely to make the slightest difference to centuries of worship, not to mention Biblical tradition, hymns and prayers.

Nonetheless, in discovering 'Yeshua', I somehow feel a little closer to the original teacher's message . . . more one of the family.