I conducted this study because of a Meme that was making its way around the Internet.
The Meme says … “Did you know? That the letter J is only 600 years old, so how could Jesus who lived 2000 years ago be named Jesus?”
Most sensible people would regard this Meme as plain silly, but unfortunately there are people who believe what it says. The reason why they believe it is because it contains an element of truth. In other words, it is a half-truth.
The part that is true is that the letter ‘J’ is approximately 600 years old. However, it is not true that Jesus cannot be called Jesus because of it. After all there are many English words that start with the letter ‘J’, like Jerusalem, Judah and Jews. If it is impossible for Jesus to have the letter ‘J’ in his name, then it is impossible for Jerusalem to be called Jerusalem.
In my opinion there is a more sinister reason behind this Meme and its aim is not that the author has a issue with the letter ‘J’ per se: but that it is constructed in such a way that it attacks the name of Jesus. The purpose of the Meme is to encourage people to use an Aramaic name ‘Yeshua’ instead of Jesus. Which is part and parcel of the Hebrew Roots Movement. Hebrew Roots is a Christian Movement that is pro-Zionist and supports the Zionist agenda of Land, Language (Hebrew), Sabbath and other Jewish markers.
Half-truths are always more difficult to disprove than out-and-out lies, so I had to read a lot of books to get to the bottom of this subject. I also completed a course by Professor Michael Drout who is a leading expert on the English language. I feel I have done this topic justice by reading so widely. What I am presenting here in this Three-Part series on The Letter ‘J’ and the name Jesus are my conclusions.
Let us begin…
We need to appreciate first and foremost that the English language has an exceptionally long and complex history. And secondly that English has been influenced by many other languages. It is by no means a pure language, and to be completely honest, there is no such thing as a pure language that fell from the sky, and that includes languages like Hebrew and Arabic.
Despite its lengthy history, the English language developed in four distinct phases. They are: Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English and Modern English. The English language has predominantly been influenced by Latin, German, French, Greek and Romance (a group of Roman languages).
Old English was influenced by German, German was influenced by Latin. Latin was the official language of Christianity and it was also the Legal language in its day.
Understanding the origins of the English language is paramount to this study because it affects the way in which we understand and read the Bible.
Ultimately our goal is to find out how the letter ‘J’ ended up in the name Jesus. Because of this, we need to take a quick look at the history of the English Bible before we proceed.
The first Bible was translated from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into Latin, by Jerome, an Early Church Father, in 382 A.D. It was called The Latin Vulgate, Vulgate because Vulgar was the common Latin of the day. Jerome, was a Greek scholar, learnt Hebrew and was prolific in Vulgar Latin.
The next major translation was done in the German language by Martin Luther. Luther completed the German translation of the Bible, the New Testament in 1522 A.D. And the Old Testament in 1534 A.D.
William Tyndale wrote the Tyndale Bible in English, the New Testament in 1525 A.D. And the Old Testament in 1531 A.D. He introduced some new words and phrases in the Bible, like Jehovah (for the name of God) and we are going to see why he did that soon. You might also be surprised to learn that he was the first person to use the word Passover and Scapegoat. And phrases like, My brother’s keeper, Salt of the Earth etc. Tyndale was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in 1535 A.D. He had a falling out with King Henry VIII over divorce.
I have not added any information for the Wycliffe Bible, because it is not relevant to this study. But Wycliffe’s biblical manuscripts predated Tyndale by two-hundred years approximately.
This is what English looked like in Tyndale’s day, as you can see it is a little different to the English we read today.
Even though Tyndale’s Bible was not the first English Bible, it was the first to use the letter ‘J’ in the history of Bible translations. As far as I can tell that is, unless someone can prove otherwise.
Something to note is that Tyndale was influenced by Martin Luther, who was German.
German words beginning with ‘H’ and ‘J’ sounded like ‘Y’ in German and vice versa. Coincidently, it was about this time that we begin to see the ‘J’ used for the ‘Y’ sound in the Bible. ‘Y’ sound is the Hebraic sound, YHWH, Yehoshua, Yehuda etc. They were translated into ‘J’ words in the Tyndale Bible. Although Luther himself never used Jehovah which is a rendering of YHVH, he used LORD instead in his translation.
Just in case you did not know, JeHoVaH is YHVH with vowels in the Tyndale Bible. Suspicious, if you ask me, considering the proper pronunciation of YHVH which was only used by the Hebrew priest in Temple services once a year is lost. However, Tyndale took it upon himself to pronounce YHVH as JeHoVaH.
Although, Tyndale introduced us to the letter ‘J’ but not the ‘J’ sound. The ‘J’ sound was already in the English language.
The letter ‘J’ was incorporated into the English alphabet sometime in the fourteenth century.
Prior to that the letter ‘I’ had the ‘J’ sound. It is not that the English language did not have a ‘J’ sound, it did have a ‘J’ sound, it is just that it was represented by an ‘I’. So, ‘J’ evolved from ‘I’, kept its own sound and ‘I’ became a vowel and got a new sound.
That part of the Meme is a lie!
By the eleventh century (Middle English period) the Norman’s conquered England, and the French language influenced the English language. By then most people were bilingual.
The French speakers emphasised the ‘J’ sound in the French accent and that sound was then adopted by the English speakers. ‘J’ was a variant of ‘I’ and was used interchangeably with ‘I’.
It is estimated that in the Middle English period 10,000 French words were added to the English language. Now, that is a lot of English words that are of French origin.
Even though the early translations of the English Bible were written during the Middle English period they were still highly influenced by the Old English, which was influenced by German, which was influenced by Latin.
And, this was still apparent in the next major English translation, which was the Authorised King James Version in 1611 A.D. The AKJV is an Old English Bible, even though it was written in the Middle English period.
By the way, 80% of The Authorised King James Version is the same as the Tyndale Bible.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth century the English language entered its Early Modern phase and the language transformed yet again. Latin continued to influence the language, but Greek and Romance also played a part in this transformation. It is estimated that 30,000 new Latin, Greek and Romance words were added during this period.
The other major change that was taking place was the emphasis on vowels. Vowels became longer and more pronounced.
I would suggest you listen to a series of lectures by Professor Michael Drout who is a world leading expert on the English language and how it evolved.
Professor Drout says, that in the 1400’s, the Black Death gave rise to a new middle class in Britain. About half of the British population died because of this plague and this new middle class emerged, with new ways of speaking English, this is one of his theories, anyway. It did not happen all at once; he thinks perhaps it might have happened over 50 years or so. Scholars refer to this as “The Great Vowel Shift”.
The fifteenth century also gave rise to the printing press in Guttenberg in Germany, which pretty much revolutionised the English language. There is plenty more to write about in the next session, but for now I hope I have given you some idea as to how the English language evolved.
Before I move on to next session I just want to say this…”Yes, the letter ‘J’ was a late addition to the English language, but prior to it being a letter ‘J’ it existed as a sound and was written as the letter ‘I’.
Then the letters ‘J’ and ‘I’ were used interchangeably. Eventually they would split ‘J’ would become a consonant and ‘I’ would become a vowel.
That is why I call the Meme a half-truth which was made with the intension to deceive people!
Author: Cheryl Mason.
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