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Jesus Christ: Savior or saved?

The name of Jesus in Hebrew.

RACHEL From the synagogue in Nazareth, this is Emisoras Latinas. According the latest audience surveys, our network is number one in the ratings, thanks to the remarkable revelations that we have been hearing each day from our special guest, Jesus Christ. And the number of people viewing our web page is breaking all records. Even so, the vast majority of the news media continue to have doubts about your identity, Jesus.

JESUS And do you also, Rachel?

RACHEL No, not me. I believe that… you are you. Although I don’t deny that at times… But let’s go on to other matters. You already explained to us that you were circumcised when you were eight days old.

JESUS That day they also gave me my name.


JESUS Yes, Jesus, but in my language it’s pronounced differently Yehoshuah – that’s the way it sounds.

RACHEL I understand that Jesus, or Yehoshuah, means Savior, and that your parents gave you that name because they knew about your saving mission.

JESUS Well, I’m not so sure of that, because in my time it was a very common name. Several of my friends were called Jesus. You see, it’s the same name as Joshua, the great Israelite leader who first led our people to these lands.

RACHEL [cell phone rings] We have a call… Yes? Hello? Where are you calling from?

GUTIERRE Yes, I’m Gutierre Tibon, and I’m calling from Mexico. But I’m sorry I have to disappoint you, Miss Perez.

RACHEL Why disappoint me?

GUTIERRE Because any scholar who has studied Hebrew etymology knows that “Jesus” does not mean “Savior” – it means “Saved”.

RACHEL Saved? Saved by whom?

GUTIERRE Saved by God. That’s the way the name Jesus should be translated. Let me take advantage of this call to ask you to give Jesus my greetings.

RACHEL Happy to do so. We thank our Mexican friend, Gutierre. How about you, Jesus? Did you know that your name means “Saved by God”?

JESUS Of course. Among my people we all know the meaning of our names. We place much importance on each person’s name.

RACHEL But you are not saved, you are the savior. The Savior of the World. Or am I wrong?

JESUS I was saved by God just like you and everybody else. God is the only one who saves.


JESUS Let’s forget about that for now and continue to talk about names. Do you know what your name means, Rachel?

RACHEL No, I don’t.

JESUS Sheep.


JESUS Yes, sheep of God

RACHEL That’s nice. I like it.

JESUS And my mother Mary’s name? It’s very pretty also. Once somebody told me that it meant bitterness. But then I thought they must be wrong, because all the Marys I know are joyful women. Afterwards, a rabbi explained to me that Mary actually means “rebel woman”. I liked that more. And it fit my mother to a T.

RACHEL In your time people used to remember the names of their ancestors, they used to know their genealogies.

JESUS Yes, we remembered our grandparents, our great-grandparents…

RACHEL And with all the more reason in your case, since your family line descended from great royalty.

JESUS What royalty do you mean?

RACHEL I’ve read that your father Joseph was descended from none less that King David himself. You have royal blood.

JESUS Hah! Sounds like the same kind of trick they used to have me born in Bethlehem, in order to make me look like an heir to King David! But I’m just a Galilean peasant…

RACHEL All the same, there are a lot of books that have been written about the Holy Grail.

JESUS What’s that, the Holy Grail?

RACHEL Holy Grail, Holy Blood. Through your veins, Jesus Christ, royal blood is running. You are the son of kings.

JESUS I am a son of man. That’s what I always called myself. One of many, just like everybody else…

RACHEL A certain Jesus?

JESUS Yes, just so. Because in this world nobody has royal blood, nobody is a blueblood. All the bloods are alike, red. And we are all brothers and sisters, we have all been saved by God, the only King, the only Savior.

RACHEL Well, there you have it, folks, another exclusive interview with Jesus the Savior – I mean, Jesus the Saved. Reporting for you from Nazareth, this has been Sheep Perez, I mean Rachel Perez, for Emisoras Latinas. Wow, what confusion…


ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.

*More information about this polemical topic…*

“Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name pronounced “Yeshua”, which in ancient times had the form “Yehoshua”. It means “God saves” and also “God liberates”. For centuries it was one of the most popular names for men among the Israelites. The first famous person to bear it was Joshua, the leader who took over from Moses in the great saga that tells of Israel’s traveling through the desert to reach the “promised land”.

Gutierre Tibon
Gutierre Tibon was a professor at the National University of Mexico and the author of the Comparative Etymological Dictionary of Proper Names of Persons, an excellent sourcebook on the original meanings of personal names. Gutierre takes part in our program on the basis of this work of his, which is as thorough as it is interesting.

An etymological change
The best explanation for the name Jesus is found in the Bible itself, in the book of the prophet Isaiah (12,2): God is my salvation, Yahweh has saved me. The evangelists, however, who were announcing Jesus as the Messiah, changed the etymology around and interpreted “Jesus” as “savior” instead of “saved”.   As a result we read in Matthew 1,21 the following: He will be called Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.

The importance of names
For Israel, as for all Middle Eastern peoples and most ancient cultures, names were used not just to distinguish one person from another, but to indicate each person’s deeper identity. The name “made” the person: it indicated who she or he was in the world. Giving a child a name had great meaning. It was not a formality or a simple social gesture. Understanding the great importance of names helps explain the extraordinary reverence that Israelites felt toward the name of their God: Yahweh. They believed that somehow just speaking a name made present the person who bore it. They also considered telling another person one’s name to be a sign of great confidence. For that reason they did not give their names when starting a conversation, but only at the end, after a certain mutual knowledge had been established. They also thought that someone who knew another person’s name had power over that person.

No genealogy without theology
Every Israelite family traced its genealogy to indicate where it came from and from which of the twelve tribes it was descended. In this way each family knew which branch of God’s people it was located on. The relation to the tribe of Judah was the one that produced the greatest number of genealogical trees. And the most prominent genealogy within the tribe of Judah with that of the family of David, since that king had left such a strong mark on Israel’s history. In general, the Israelites were familiar with the names of their ancestors for several generations back.
In writing their gospels, both Matthew and Luke drew up genealogies to show that Jesus belonged to the family of King David. In this way they also “proved” that he was the Messiah. A person’s genealogy was always traced through the ancestors of the father, not those of the mother.   Therefore the evangelists had Joseph, not Mary, belong to the line of David. Thus they were not trying to formulate an accurate, biographical genealogy, but were rather elaborating a theology and a catechesis for the communities for which they were writing.

The legend of the Holy Grail
Traditionally the Holy Grail refers to the goblet that Jesus used at his last supper, before he was killed, and it is said that Joseph of Arimathea used the same cup to catch Jesus’ blood when he was nailed to the cross. It seems rather unlikely that anyone would have preserved that goblet over many centuries, but there are many medieval legends about the search for this “sacred object”.

The religiosity of those times had an obsession with the finding and reverencing of relics. One of the most famous legends, transmitted orally at first and later written down, told of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, who went in search of the Holy Grail in Albion, a mythical island identified with Great Britain. Supposedly it had been taken there by Joseph of Arimathea, who as a wealthy merchant traveled far and wide.

More legends, more symbols
Other legends about the Holy Grail existed throughout Europe. In the course of time the Grail ceased to be thought of as a concrete goblet and became instead a spiritual object that guaranteed good health. More recently, to reinforce the idea of Jesus’ royal lineage, the Holy Grail was identified with Royal Blood or “Sangreal” [compare “Santo Grial” in Spanish]. In an even broader symbolic interpretation, the grail or cup is proposed as an allegory of the female womb, such as we find it in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code.
The legend of the Holy Grail has been the source of inspiration for many works of art and literature, such as Richard Wagner’s opera “Parsifal”, John Boorman’s film “Excalibur”, and Umberto Eco’s novel “Foucault’s Pendulum”.