I remember in your Evidence for Jesus articles that there was a Jewish source which talked about the fact that Yeshu was be executed. I looked up what Yeshu means on Wikipedia and it means Jesus but people say that Yeshu refers to people who practice magic or deal with sorcery.  My question is if Yeshua means Jesus what does Yeshu (as opposed to Yeshua) actually mean?


Here is the quote you refer to.  It comes from the Babylonian Talmud (late first or second century AD)  Babylonian Sanhedrin43a-b

It is taught: On the eve of Passover they hung Yeshu and the crier went forth for forty days beforehand declaring that “[Yeshu] is going to be stoned for practicing witchcraft, for enticing and leading Israel astray. Anyone who knows something to clear him should come forth and exonerate him.” But no one had anything exonerating for him and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Ulla said: Would one think that we should look for exonerating evidence for him? He was an enticer and G-d said (Deuteronomy 13:9) “Show him no pity or compassion, and do not shield him.” 

From the context, it is really quite clear that what is being discussed is a person with the name Yeshu.  What the word yeshu means is not relevant at all to this passage.  For example, let me imagine that I said a friend named April Smith visited me yesterday.  The fact is that the word April means the fourth month of the year.  OK. So what?  The meaning of a word which is also used as the name of a person is really not relevant if it is being used as the name of that person.  I am not talking about the fourth month of the year, but about a person who happens to have the name April.  Therefore, if the Hebrew (or Aramaic in this case) word Yeshu happens to have another meaning such as a person who practices magic, this is irrelevant.  Bottom line, the word Yeshu here is clearly and unambiguously a reference to an individual person named Yeshu.  In fact, Yeshu or Yeshua was a very common name among the Jews in the first century, as has been proved from looking at the names on bone boxes found in Jerusalem from the first century.

In any case, the word Yeshu or Jeshua means to save or to rescue.  It means, essentially, God saves.  It does not mean “one who practices magic.”  I have done some quick research and cannot verify the claim you found in Wikipedia that the word yeshu or yeshua ever had this meaning.  However, the point is this.  If we look at the context of the quote from the Babylonian Talmud it is clear that it is a reference to an actual, individual person who had the name Yeshu, and therefore, the Aramaic meaning of the word yeshu is not relevant to the passage or its meaning.  Is this quote from the Babylonian Talmud about the person we know of as Jesus o Nazareth?  That is debatable, but in any case it is a person, not a “person who practices magic.”

John Oakes

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