Jesus' name in Arabic عيسى - يسوع‎

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by mansio, Apr 22, 2006.

  1. mansio Senior Member

    France/Alsace
    I have been wondering for years what is the origin of the Arabic name of Jesus 3iisaa as it is found in the Quran.

    Without the initial 3ayin it would be easy to say that it derives from the Greek Iesous, as Jesus does.

    The problem is the initial 3ayin. Where does it come from?
    The original Hebrew and Aramaic names carry a 3ayin, but at the end not at their beginning.

    The only linguistically cognate name in the Bible is that of Esau, 3esav in Hebrew, although Esau has nothing to do with Jesus.
     
  2. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    First off, There is a thread here, which might be of some interest.

    Secondly, regardless of the ع I believe the Arabic word does come from the Greek word. The Greek word is pronounced eye - ee - see - us, right? Many times the initial dipthong sound (eye) comes into Arabic as an ع because of the "roundness" of the sound which is better represented than with إي .

    Also, there is another word for Jesus in Arabic, yasuu3 (يسوع ), which is derived from the Hebrew yehoshuu3a (יהושע ), which, incidentally, is also the root of my name -- Joshua.
     
  3. mansio Senior Member

    France/Alsace
    Thanks Josh for your information. Semitic words have a strong consonantic skeleton (usually a three lettered root) so I am puzzled by the seemingly shift of the 3ayin from the end as in Yasuu3 to the front as in 3iisaa.
    Do you have other examples of foreign names beginning with a long "i" that get an extra 3ayin in Arabic?
     
  4. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    More like "Yeah-sooss". The first letter is read as a consonant, "y". I don't know if this makes any difference...
     
  5. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Yeah that's right. I have also heard 'yay-soos' or 'ee-ay-soos'.

    I still think the Arabic word is a corruption of the Greek but I can't be 100% sure.

    I seem to remember seeing some, but I don't know. I may have jumped the gun with that comment. I am looking, though.
     
  6. Muwahid

    Muwahid Senior Member

    الغرب
    U.S. English
    Hello!

    The word/name, "عيسى" I know in english it would corrospond with the name "Jesus", but lexically in Arabic what would it mean?

    Moderator note:
    This new thread's been merged to the previous one to have all the opinions and the discussion in one place.
    Please don't forget to search the forum before opening a thread.
    Thanks :)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2009
  7. Faylasoof Senior Member

    Plato's Republic
    English (UK) & Urdu (Luckhnow), Hindi
    The Arabic Bible has the name یسوع for Jesus, while in the Quran the name عیسى is used for him. Same as یوحنا in the Arabic Bible versus یحیٰ in the Quran for John the Baptist.

    The name doesn't seem to have any connection with either ع ی س or ع س ی roots.
     
  8. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Hello Muwahid,

    My initial guess is that عيسى came from the other Arabic name for Jesus, يسوع, since they share the same three letters, ي-س-ع, but somehow the letters got reordered. يسوع comes from the Hebrew ישוע yashuu3, which ultimately comes from יהשוע yahoshuu3 (or maybe it's the other way around), and which is, I believe, related to the Hebrew root י-ש-ע (y-sh-3), which is the cognate of the Arabic root و-س-ع (w-s-3). I will look through my biblical Hebrew dictionary and see if I can find more information.

    Lexically, the root ع-ي-س has to do with the color of camel hair and means something like yellowish-white, or dingy white. This information from Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon. So I think we can safely assume that the name عيسى did not originate from that root.
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2009
  9. Muwahid

    Muwahid Senior Member

    الغرب
    U.S. English
    Interesting, so can it be assumed that "عيسى" does not originate from arabic but hebrew?
     
  10. Faylasoof Senior Member

    Plato's Republic
    English (UK) & Urdu (Luckhnow), Hindi
    Well, reordered Hebrew letters!

    ...and Josh I too noticed the ع-ي-س as the root for words to do with camel hair colour as mentioned in Lane. Obviously no connection!
     
  11. djamal 2008 Senior Member

    arabic

    Then it should be written عيسا و ليس عيسى.
     
  12. Mahaodeh Senior Member

    Arabic and English
    Why? That is more of a modern (or at least newer) convension. My understanding is that most of the Prophet names are actually not Arabic in origin (not all, of course), including: عيسى وموسى وإبراهيم ونوح ولوط وداود ويونس.
     
  13. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew
    Transition of the name from Hebrew to Aramaic (or Aramized Hebrew) to Greek to Arabic would mostly explain the sound of Isa:

    Yehoshu3a (יהושע) -> Yeshu3a (ישוע) -> Isus (Ἰησοῦς) -> Isa (عيسى)

    The initial "3" remains unexplained.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2009
  14. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Why do you think it passed to Arabic through Greek? :confused:
     
  15. clevermizo Moderator

    St. Louis, MO
    English (USA), Spanish
    Because the oldest widespread version of the Gospels was in Greek (although some claim the Aramaic). The version used in Arabic Churches primarily today is actually translated from the English version into Arabic. So it makes sense that the name of Jesus in Greek was very commonly spread, perhaps moreso than the name in the native Semitic languages.

    I myself have no idea and think that these things may be more or less unanswerable, but it's not inconceivable that it came through Greek. However, the evidence that it did not come through Greek is that the sound of ع is preserved in both renditions of the name (عيسى or يسوع).
     
  16. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew
    Tried to explain the shift of sh -> s.

    Yet this must have a simpler explanation, for example the Hebrew / Aramaic accent of Galilean Jews, or the Arabic interpretation of sh sound. :eek:
     
  17. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    In Muhammad's time, Greek was the lingua franca of the Roman Middle East, and also the language of the Christian Church in the East. It would definitely make sense for the Koran to adopt the name for "Jesus" from Greek - the language of the New Testament.
     
  18. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    That's what I was thinking.
    If it came through Greek, from where would it get the ع ? (regardless of the position of the Ayn).
    But Greek was not known in Arabia. At least this is what I know.
     
  19. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    They didn't have to speak the language. But when Arabs first heard about Christianity, it may well have been from Greek-speaking travellers, or when they travelled into Greek-speaking provinces of the Roman Empire. So they may have associated the Greek pronunciation of the name more with Christianity than the Semitic versions.
     
  20. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew
    AFAIK Greek was the language of administration and government, Aramaic remained the lingua franca until replaced by Arabic.

    [looking for reference]
     
  21. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic


    It's a common phenomenon in Arabic to convert the initial (and sometimes the final) hamza into a 'ayn. This was described by the ancient grammarians and can still be seen in the Peninsula and Gulf region today. So, I think it's very probable that عيسى came from the Greek Ieusus.

    There's nothing unusual in the Quran using a Greek-derived form. The Quran refers to the Biblical Jonah as "Younus," which is clearly derived from the Greek Jonas.
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2009
  22. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic
    By the way, is there any evidence that the practice of referring to Jesus as يسوع by Arabic-speaking Christians is anything other than a modern phenomenon? I'm not saying such evidence does not exist, but I personally have not encountered any. As far as I can tell, Christian Arabic-speakers in the Middle Ages were just as likely to call him عيسى as Muslims.
     
  23. clevermizo Moderator

    St. Louis, MO
    English (USA), Spanish
    This might very well be. The Eastern Churches were still using Greek and Aramaic scriptures up until the modern era when more Bible translations were available in Arabic.
     
  24. Faylasoof Senior Member

    Plato's Republic
    English (UK) & Urdu (Luckhnow), Hindi
    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Perhaps I can be of some assistance here! The Arabic names like عیسَی and یَحیَی have always intrigued me and long time ago I saw Arthur Jeffrey’s book “THE FOREIGN VOCABULARY OF THE QUR'AN” which I traced as an online version here.

    He goes further than people like Jarir at-Tabari, az-Zamaxshari, as-Suyooti etc. who had recognised and partially traced some of the foreign words in the Quran.

    Jeffery very conveniently lists all the foreign, non-Arabic lexical terms / names (~322 in all) mentioned in the Quran. [They represent ~0.4 % of the complete Quranic vocabulary.]

    In part 18 (page 218) he takes the etymology of the name عیسَی as that proposed by Fraenkel who seems to suggest that it comes (most immediately) from the Syrio-Aramaic version of the name and was used by Christian Arabs before Islam. Jeffrey however admits earlier that the "name is still a puzzle to scholarship".

    He doesn’t mention which region exactly these people were in but we know that the Nestorian Christians were centred in Najran – and present elsewhere too.

    (In part 25; page 290 he also has an interesting discussion about the etymology of یَحیَی.)

    According to Jeffrey there is some evidence for an ancient use of يسوع. Reference in the above reference.
     
  25. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    When I had posted my most recent post I had forgotten that عيسى most likely comes from the Greek, something that I had incidentally said three years earlier, in post #2 of this newly combined thread.

    Anyway, making the connection between the fact that عيسى and يسوع have all the same letters (save one) and that the two words basically look like the reverse of the other has led me to have an interesting thought.

    When you read the Hebrew word ישוע from left to right (as someone familiar Hebrew letters, but not necessarily accustomed to the the fact that they are read from right to left might do) it would be pronounced like 3uusa, more or less. As a comparison, it would be the equivalent of reading it as עושי in Hebrew or يسوع as عوسي in Arabic (the letters are merely reversed).

    So I wonder if it is possible that some Greek (which is read from left to right like English) speaking scribes/translators incorrectly read and/or wrote down the name this way (for whatever careless reason, be it lack of concentration, not being accustomed to reading from left to right, or otherwise) when translating into Greek. And then the spelling just stuck!

    The ע/ع thing is still problematic, however, as Greek has no equivalent letter, but perhaps they initially had some way of transliterating it (just to show that it was there) that was eventually lost. And then, when it made its way into Arabic, it was just carried over as عيسى.

    Now, this would be more convincing if the Arabic were عوسى instead of عيسى, but maybe the 'uu' sound got changed to 'ii' or maybe the Hebrew ו was wrongly pronounced as 'ii' by those Greek speakers to begin with.

    Who knows. Just throwing out an idea.
     
  26. clevermizo Moderator

    St. Louis, MO
    English (USA), Spanish
    That's cute but unlikely. If you believe that the Gospels were written as attested (by the Apostles themselves), then they'd have no problem knowing Jesus' name or with misreading it. Remember, the Greek is the original (as far as we can tell) text, not a translation.

    Furthermore, the iota is probably being used as a transliteration for yod. Furthermore, the iota and the yod have a genetic relationship.
     
  27. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Yes, that may be the case if one accepts that the Gospels were written as attested. I don't want to start a religious debate, but suffice it to say that there is a lot about that era that we do not know, and may never know. A great deal of scholarship suggests that the Gospels were written well after the purported life of Jesus, and not by their purported authors, or even people who would have known Jesus.

    Yes, the New Testament was originally written in Greek, but the authors were probably familiar with the Old Testament, which I assume had already already been translated into Greek by that point. If we accept that the name for Jesus comes from the Hebrew ישוע, then it might not be too much of a stretch to think that they relied on transliteration when rendering that name into Greek. Anyway, I'll stop there as I don't really know enough to make a confident statement.

    To turn back to linguistics for a moment, I just find it quite curious, and almost more than a coincidence, that عيسى and يسوع are so similar in spelling, one almost looking like the mirror image of the other. I don't know what to make of it, however.
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2009
  28. clevermizo Moderator

    St. Louis, MO
    English (USA), Spanish
    My final point about this before I too leave it alone is that this Hebrew name is not found in the Old Testament to my knowledge. Also, you're right that the Old Testament had already been translated into Greek, but the Septuagint at least was translated by Jews from Hebrew into Greek. In fact, I tend to believe the transliterations of names because they usually contain interesting information (say, about the classical pronunciation of Hebrew consonants).
     
  29. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew
    The name ישוע appears several times in the Old Testament, books of Ezra and Nehemiah. This is one of the families that returned from Babylon to Judea.
     
  30. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Regardless of who wrote (and later copied) the gospels, we can be sure that they were devoted followers of Christ. It's therefore hard to believe that they would have let such a crude mistake as the one you describe go uncorrected.

    You may well be right about that. I think the term "Syriac" is normally used with reference to that period. There are very ancient Bibles written in Syriac.

    Still, the hierarchy of the Roman Church would have most likely used Greek in that part of the world. The Greek version of the Bible was likely the model on which other versions were based.

    What was Jesus called in medieval Aramaic/Syriac Bibles?
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2009
  31. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew
    In the Peshitta (Syriac NT) - ישוע (same as Hebrew), and in Aramaic letters ܝܫܘܥ
     
  32. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Thank you. So, the Arabic version of the name can't be explained by Syriac influence. Hmm...
     
  33. clevermizo Moderator

    St. Louis, MO
    English (USA), Spanish
    I stand corrected. I think I didn't realize because I can't think of a "main" Tanakh character with this name.:D
     
  34. Ander Senior Member

    France
    I would say the language of the Christian Churches in the Middle-East was Syriac Aramaic and Greek.

    The Bible had been translated into Syriac (the Peshitta), as Origumi and Outsider said..
     
  35. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I've been reading a book that reminded me that Ethiopia (the Kingdom of Axum) conquered parts of the Arabian Peninsula in pre-Islamic times. By then they had become Christian. I wonder if the Coranic version of Jesus' name reached the Arabs through the Ethiopians.
     
  36. Faylasoof Senior Member

    Plato's Republic
    English (UK) & Urdu (Luckhnow), Hindi
    Hello Outsider,

    The Aksumite / Axumite Empire did include parts of the southern Arabian peninsula.. Being Christians, they also came into conflict with the Jewish rulers of Yemen (~ 524 CE). So both Judaic (Hebrew) and Ethiopian Christian (Ge'ez)influences were there in the South.

    The point is if Jesus’ name in the Quran is from Ge’ez, then could you (or someone else) tell us what that would be in this language – in both the original and Romanised form please!

    These days Ge’ez refers to the language of the mainly liturgical texts in Ethiopia and Eretria. The official language being Amharic instead. But at that time Ge’ez or Ethiopic was supposed to be the official language
     
  37. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I wish I knew! :)
     
  38. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew
    AFAIK: Yasus
     
  39. Talib Senior Member

    English
    עושי would be read as 3ushi or 3oshi most naturally.

    Plus there are lots of Hebrew and Aramaic names and words which were transliterated in Greek properly, so your idea about reading ישוע backwards is intriguing, but I think untenable.
    I noticed this too and I always assumed the ع got transposed to the front of the word somehow. How, I don't know.
     
  40. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    This wouldn't prove anything. Arabic cognates of Hebrew words normally have "s" where Hebrew words have "sh". Arabic Sīn corresponds etymologically to Hebrew Shin and vice versa.
     
  41. Talib Senior Member

    English
    What's more, /s/ is believed to have been the original sound. Arabic preserves the sounds of Proto-Semitic more faithfully than Hebrew, including Biblical Hebrew.
     
  42. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew
    This is true for "original" Semitic words. But what about Quran-time (or post Quran) borrowing? Both Hebrew and Arabic seem to have the sh sound at the time, so there was no apparent reason to change the sh -> s, unless by a strong bilingual population used to actively change Hebrew sh to Arabic s in many other words.

    This comment refers to much earlier time. The shibboleth test proves that most Israelites had clear distinction between s and sh long after the Proto-semitic period and long before Jesus time. As far as I know the difference between shin and sin in written Quranic Arabic reflected the spoken language, so Arabic, even if maintained the original s sound, has no problem with sh.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2009
  43. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I see what you mean. But I'd still argue that it would be a weak argument because the correspondence of Hebrew "sh" an Arabic "s" is too obvious from the assimilation of other Hebrew names (e.g. Ishmael>Ismail) to make the sound shift an argument against a direct assimilation from Hebrew rather than an indirect one via Greek. (To avoid any possible misunderstanding: I do not say it was one way or the other. I just think that the sh>s sound shift does not constitute a convincing argument.)


    I think it is more complicated. Proto-Semitic is believed to have had five different sibilants which rearranged in different ways in the different Semitic languages. The standard reconstruction is that Hebrew Samech was derived from and Shin from [
    ʃ] ("sh") while in Arabic both merged into Sīn. The Hebrew Sin and the Arabic Shīn are thought to be derived from a Proto-Semitic lateral sound similar to the Welsh double-"l", i.e. [ɬ].
     
  44. Talib Senior Member

    English
    Yes, explaining why both Arabic and Hebrew contrasted /s/ and /ʃ/, but from different sources.

    That's why I think any explanation involving Greek is far-fetched. Greek only has a /s/, it's true, but Arabic renders ישמעאל Yishma'el as إسماعيل so it's not hard to see how ישוע Yeshua3 could become عيسى with an /s/. The only question is how the ع got at the beginning, but there is probably an obscure linguistic process going on there. I'm afraid I don't have much more than that at the present.
     
  45. maxq New Member

    English
    Well it obviously NOT from Hebrew, which is exactly the case with Musa موسي wherein the Hebrew word would end with the soft "h" instead of the vowels ي or ا.

    The word عيسي does not conform to Arabic grammar, which leads to only two possible explanations:

    1) It was transliterated from Greek
    2) It was naturalized into Arabic via Nabataean or Assyrian Aramaic.

    (1) is a bit unlikely since it would have then been using a Glottal stop ء instead of the ع. Furthermore, Pre-Islamic Arabs (both the Ghassanid and Lakhmid) had good command of Greek and knew the lexical mapping for "E/J" as non-pharyngeal "h" as in "hammer". For instance, Pella is properly transliterated as فهل in Arabic and not as فيل or فعل. The use of عيسي is attested as per Alphonse Mingaga in the Pre-Islamic times. So this leaves us with the second option.

    (2) I feel that Pre-Islamic Arabs also had good command of Aramaic: Christian Arabs in Assyrian and Pagan Arabs in Nabataean. Arabic itself was a NON-RELIGIOUS SPOKEN language and NOT a literary or religious language by ANY stretch of the imagination. عيسيfor Pagans (yes Pagans) and Christians would have held a very special religious connotation which undoubtedly makes this word a pure transliteration of the Aramaic word ܥܝܣܐ which if translated, would mean العيس.
     
  46. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic
    As I said earlier, it's quite reasonable to expect the ع in that position, as Arabs have always put a ع in place of the glottal stop in many situations, and still do today. For example, some dialects say أجل while others (e.g. Iraq and the Gulf) say عجل, some say لاء while others say لاع. Where I come from, the old-fashioned way of saying "ice cream" was عسكريم. The Classical grammarians called this عنعنة. As for the mapping, there's no reason to believe that every instance of borrowing followed this mapping convention with absolute rigor, and in any case, is there anything but a Greek explanation for يونس?
     
  47. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    Regardless of its origin, it seems it was immediately understood by the existing Arab Christians, and therefore was most probably the same name they already used.
     
  48. jahidmasud New Member

    Bengali
    I think, عيسى , 3isa (Transliterated in Modern Hebrew as עיסא) has been formed in the Holy Qur'an by reordering the letters of the word for christian name of him, يسوع , Yasu3 (Hebrew, יֵשׁוּעַ - Yeshua3, Aramaic/Syriac, ܝܫܘܥ - Esho3) backwards.
     
  49. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Hi,
    Isa backwards would be Asi, no? Or am I too naive and literal now?
    Unless you can make a case out of it and give some solid evidence, I am afraid we'll have to store this "reorganisation" in the department 'pseudo-linguistics'.

    Groetjes,

    Frank
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2010
  50. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    If it were a name that originates from a Latin-alphabet based language, yes... but it is not.

    The letters involved are ayin, yeh, sin, alef (note: there's 4, not 3, for a start).

    Whether or not those 4 match the reversed version as it exists in Aramaic or Hebrew, I'm not sure. If it is yeh, sin, waw, ayin.. then perhaps, since vowels in Arabic (and other Semitic languages) can often change especially those long vowels which act as consonants here.
     

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