Saturday, January 02, 2010

Christ-Mass: Day 9 (The Holy Name of Jesus)

“On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing ...”

The traditional Roman calendar associated this day with the Holy Name of Jesus -- that is, unless on a Sunday between the first and sixth of the month, don't ask me why. The relationship with bestowing the name on the Child with the event of the Circumcision is such, that the traditional Gospel reading for both is the same. In addition, some Western traditions, such as Anglican and Lutheran, celebrate both on the first of January. This year, the traditional ordo places the feast on this coming Sunday, but we've got other plans for that day, so ...

Once I heard a comedian pose this important theological question: "If Jesus was Jewish, why did He have an Hispanic name?" The peculiar occasion aside, it gives us occasion to consider, that the name "Jesus" was not an uncommon one in His day. Brian Palmer writes for Slate:

Many people shared the name. Christ's given name, commonly Romanized as Yeshua, was quite common in first-century Galilee. (Jesus comes from the transliteration of Yeshua into Greek and then English.) Archaeologists have unearthed the tombs of 71 Yeshuas from the period of Jesus' death. The name also appears 30 times in the Old Testament in reference to four separate characters -- including a descendant of Aaron who helped to distribute offerings of grain (2 Chronicles 31:15) and a man who accompanied former captives of Nebuchadnezzar back to Jerusalem (Ezra 2:2)...

How would Christ have been addressed by those around him? Well, certainly not as "Mister Christ." In fact, "Christ" was not a name, but a title, from the Greek Khristós or "anointed one." The Hebrew word was Moshiach or "Messiah." He would have been known by his given name, and the name of His father -- Yeshua Bar Yehosef or "Jesus Son of Joseph." In later centuries (or in present-day Iceland), He might have been addressed as "Jesus Josephsson," but that's just a hunch. We know that He eventually left Nazareth of Galilee, the town of His childhood, for other parts of that country, as well as Samaria and Judea. In those places, He would have been just as likely addressed as Yeshua Nasraya or "Jesus of Nazareth." We know from Scripture that such was the inscription on the Cross, which gave His name, and the nature of his offense: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." After all, a guy from a hick town like that would have been rather conspicuous in a high-falutin' place like Jerusalem, especially outside of the High Holydays.

The Scriptures also record him being addressed as "Jesus Son of David." A man would also have been known for his extended family; that is, his tribe or house, as in Yeshua ben David or "Jesus of the House of David." Or so I've read. But even though family lineage was everything in Jewish society, such an address was not as common in everyday use.

Or so I've read.

(NOTE: The above illustration is the seal of the National Association of the Holy Name Society. HNS chapters have been the basis for men's clubs in Catholic parishes for generations.)

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