Who Is Jesus In Islam? A Case-Study (Part I): Linguistic Evidence



Introduction: Jesus In Islam: Yeshua vs Issa/Esau

You've heard of Jesus Christ, no matter who you are: Christian, Atheist, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostic, Secular etc. Jesus Christ is the universal God and Savior of all humanity, God incarnate, the most beautiful, the purely wonderful, the true loving God of the universe, the central figure of the Christian Faith. However, have you heard of 'Issa'?

Probably not. Not unless you are a Muslim or have heard from a Muslim. So what is an Issa? Is that a name? Is that an object? Is that a place?

Who Is Jesus In Islam
Jesus In Islam
Well maybe you've heard of Esau. Esau as in Jacob and Esau the children of Issac in the Bible. Issa according to the most famous Islamic apologist (arguably of all time) Ahmad Deedat is Esau. However why is this in the least bit significant? Who really cares if Esau (Hebrew) in Arabic is Issa? It's because of what Deedat asserted next that makes this truly controversial. Deedat thinks the real historical and original name of Jesus was in fact: Esau (in Hebrew) Issa (in Arabic).

Muslims wish to substitute the actual Jesus of history (contained purely in the New Testament documents) with the Issa of the Qur'an. The only problem is the Issa contained in the Qur'an is merely a repeatedly revised polemical character which was modified and embellished for the deliberate purpose of supporting a fairly new empire. Issa was originally purely contrived in the context of a rigorous historical warfare. Various competing religious-politico factions strove for complete autonomy, power and control over a newly forming global power. The final victors were those who managed to utterly Arabicize the colony and bring rampant Islamification in every aspect, everywhere. The domain was now plugged into the realm of Allah. Every time a victory would be made Issa became less and less human, less and less historical, and more and more of a mixed brew, a controlled theological concoction, an argument, if you will. To put it simply, Issa is not someone who lived on earth in known history, but rather is a contrived theological argument. The Qur'an presents Issa as an argument, it paints Issa as an Arab even using Arabic words, a slave and a Muslim it seeks to dispose of Jesus as the Son of God and place Issa as merely a forerunner to the greatest of all created beings Prophet Mohammed. Hence the role of Issa in the Qur'an is largely to vindicate and substantiate Mohammed as a prophet, again showing a polemical tonality to Issa who is used as a vessel, an ideologue rather than something purely historical, Issa is again utilized as an argument for Mohammed's legitimacy but against Christianity theological expression.

Issa in the Qur'an purely is an ideology which has no plug into actual real history. However to be charitable in the up-coming series of articles I'm going to assume the very opposite. Lets imagine Issa was a historical figure. But then who would he be? Could he be Jesus? A spin on Jesus? Could he be Esau? Could he be some one else? My article here will demonstrate even if we conceived of Issa as a conceivable historical figure who has to be integrated within a historical framework we couldn't identify this personage with what most people today refer to as Jesus Christ.

Jesus and Issa/Esa are not the same conceptually, theologically, historically, genealogically or even linguistically, this means they are not the same individual, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence for this thesis. I will present 6 lines of evidence showing that Issa cannot be the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Issa and Jesus are not the same individual as is commonly thought of in several Islamic and Christian schools of thought. I will present sufficient evidence to substantially contest this mainstream, dominant and prevailing conclusion. Here are the strands of evidence we will investigate and examine together:
  1. Linguistic
  2. Genealogical
  3. Geographical
  4. Chronological 
  5. Historical
  6. Conceptual/Theological

Part I: Linguistic Evidence

"Jesus" is a proper noun of an individual in the English language but the name has been translated through various languages resulting in the final anglicized version: Jesus, perhaps a more direct translation from the original Hebrew noun into English would be: Joshua. Not surprisingly all names in English have etymological origins and therefore if we speak of a historical figure who existed prior to the English language but attach that individual with an English name typically the translation in English is not the original name of that person in history. As an example I will point to the name 'James'.

The name James is ranked on the 8th position of the most used names. It means that this name is very frequently used. It is more often used as a boy (male) name (feminine: Jamie). People having the name James are in general originating from Australia, Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Seychelles, United Kingdom, United States of America. James is a proper noun that in English can clearly be the original name of the child in question. However when we refer to James as existing in the first century, we cannot say this was the original form of that name in the original language this is because of the linguistic ancestory:
"(James) English form of the Late Latin name Iacomus which was derived from Ιακωβος (Iakobos), the New Testament Greek form of the Hebrew name Ya'aqov (see JACOB). This was the name of two apostles in the New Testament. The first was Saint James the Greater, the apostle John's brother, who was beheaded under Herod Agrippa in the Book of Acts. The second was James the Lesser, son of Alphaeus. Another James (known as James the Just) is also mentioned in the Bible as being the brother of Jesus." (Online Etymology)
Jacomus was then taken by into an older french tongue:
"Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin Iacomus, variant of Iacōbus, Iacobus; see Jacob." (Etymological Dictionary)
As we can see Jacob is a direct translation of the Hebrew noun Ya'aqov. However James is a little more complex:
  1. Ya'aqov (Hebrew)
  2. Iakobos (Greek)
  3. Iacomus (Latin)
  4. Gemmes (Jammes) (Old French) (Cognates: French: Jacques. Italian: Giacomo. Spanish: Jaime. Catalan: Jaume. Galician: Xaime. Irish: Séamas, Séamus, Seumas, Seumus (Gaelic))
  5. James (Middle English) 
  6. James (Modern English) (Reported as the Consensus of Linguists at Teknia
One dictionary appears to at-least explain one of the changes, that is the evolution between the Greek and Latin form:
"The development Iacobus > Iacomus is likely a result of nasalization of the o and assimilation to the following b (i.e., intermediate *Iacombus) followed by simplification of the cluster mb through loss of the b." (Source)
But the evolution has not ceased, in English we have developed more cognates of Jacob/James:
  • Jake, Jakey (diminutive)
  • Jack, Jacky, Jackie (diminutive, chiefly British)
  • Coby/Koby (diminutive, uncommon, chiefly American)
  • Jamie (diminutive, found in all primarily English-speaking lands, U.K., Ireland, Canada, U.S.A., etc.)
  • Jaime/Jaimie (diminutive, uncommon, chiefly American, and by way of Spanish)
  • Jim
  • Jimmy/Jimmi/Jimi (diminutive)
  • Jimbo (diminutive)
  • Jambo
  • Jay
  • Jamesy
  • Jem (diminutive, also taken as a diminutive for Jeremiah, Jeremy or Jemma)
  • Jacqueline/Jaqueline (feminized, by way of French)
  • Jacqui/Jaqui (feminized diminutive), Jackie (feminized diminutive, chiefly American), Jacki (feminized diminutive)
  • Jamie/Jamey/Jami (feminized). (Wiki

Just like we know James is not the original name of Yakov, Yakov wouldn't have understood this word as being a reference to himself (namely because it didn't yet exist!) the original name of Jesus is Yeshua.

Yeshua on earth would not have known English along with multiple other languages. Just like Jacob's original name was Yakov, and this is not contested, no dictionary has disputed the real original name of Jesus:

The most popular online etymology dictionary shows us:
"late 12c. (Old English used hælend "savior"), from Greek Iesous, which is an attempt to render into Greek the Aramaic proper name Jeshua (Hebrew Yeshua) "Jah is salvation," a common Jewish personal name, the later form of Hebrew Yehoshua (see Joshua)." - Etymology Dictionary
It is usually purported the Qur'an and Bible have different ways of expressing the name Jesus. However one translation (the Arabic Bible) the noun given to Jesus is clearly derived from the Hebrew and Aramaic. While the name mentioned in the Arabic Quran "Issa/Esa" cannot be translated from the original language. Firstly this is evidence against the position that these are two distinct names for the same individual. Secondly this leads us to challenge two Muslim views.

Firstly there is a large group of Muslims who assert that Issa is the original name of the historical Jesus, the one his mother called him, the one whom he was called by all his contemporaries. If this is found to be false we can therefore conclude that Jesus and Issa are two separate figures seeing that they do not historically refer to the same person who possesses the identical name. Imagine for example if I insisted that a historical Jacob (who's original name would have been close to Yacov, (a Canaanite/Hebrew man)) was actually known and called by the English name: James, could we possibly be referring to the same individual? Could Yacov possibly have the name James on his birth certificate? (assuming he had one) The answer is no. In the same manner Yeshua could not have had the name Esa/Issa on his birth certificate, hence showing this position held by millions of Muslims is completely untenable. The secondary matter is whether Issa is a valid translation or legitimate expression of Jesus name in Arabic at all. There is no reason to hold to this view as we shall soon see.

Let's break this down in Arabic: Jesus name is as follows:

  • Arabic Bible: Yasu' = Ya + Sin + Waw + 'Ain
  • Arabic Qur'an: 'Isa = 'Ain + Ya + Sin + Ya.

As you can see the consonant in the word "Issa" is the precise reversal to Yasu'. This is technically known as a grammatical inversion. Ya and Waw are weak letters and Arabic grammar teaches that one can turn into the other as words take on different forms (declension, inflection) hence the change of Waw to Ya is accounted for easily. Since all three consonants directly correspond, the only significant noticeable difference is the 'Ain at the beginning of Issa however at the end of Yushua (Yasu'). Thus, one can see that the Muslim form 'Isa is basically an inversion of the Christian form Yasu'. But which Arabic noun is derived from Jesus true and original name and which isn't?

  • Early Hebrew Yod + He + Shin + Waw + 'Ain 
  • Later Hebrew Yod + Shin + Waw + 'Ain
  • Aramaic  Yudh + Shin + Waw + 'Ain 
  • Arabic Ya + Sin + Waw + 'Ain
  • Arabic 'Ain + Ya + Sin Alif-maqsurah (Quran)

Upon close inspection we can show all four versions of the name correspond, with the 5th version Issa not correlating to the previous lingual ancestory of the name. This is explicit proof the Arabic word Christians use Yasu' is word for word derived from the Aramaic/Hebrew, each consonant directly corresponds to it's etymological predecessor, where as Issa cannot be derived from Yeshua. Ahmad Deedat suggested that "Issa" corresponds to "Esau". Now if Yasu' is Yeshua and Issa is Esau then they must refer to two completely separate figures.

Jesus In Islam Yeshua
Yeshua or Issa
Some Muslims have attempted damage control and asserted the word "Ishoo" or "Eshoo" is close to or the original name of Jesus. They appeal to the fact that this is how contemporary Assyrian Churches refer to Jesus, and this is suppose to vindicate the Quranic Esa/Issa. One Muslim even asserted Jesus would have called himself "Eesho" even more specifically "Eesa" since according to him the Northern Palestinian Jews pronounced the letter "shin" as "seen". However there is no evidence that "shin" would be pronounced as "Semkath". We know the reverse is true because of transliterations of such Hebrew words as "Israel" with a Semkath because the Aramaic Shin cannot be pronounced as a Semkath, Shin in Hebrew can with a special mark, as the letter Seen. Secondly Ishoo is the contemporary eastern Neo-Syriac pronunciation and it is not the original Aramaic dialectal pronunciation.

The problem with Deedat's theory is that no Jew living in the first century would name their own child "Esau" this was because biblically speaking this is the worse name to give your baby child. In Jewish tradition Esau was rejected by his Father Issac who gave inheritance rights to the non-firstborn Jacob/Israel over his firstborn Esau and therefore Esau was commonly thought to be used as a slur to refer to someone as illegitimate in Jewish culture. It is clear to see why Jewish contemporaries of Mohammed would have used the name Esau as a spin on 'Jesus' derogatorily the pun seems quite brilliant. According to the Jews, both must be true: God chose Israel (Jacob) over Jesus(Esau), a very glaring feature of Jewish exegesis (embedded double meaning). And therefore you have an arabicized version of Jesus that had the consonant reversed before Mohammed was even born, to show clearly Jesus was similar or identical to the illegitimate Esau.

To support this theory there are other streams of evidence. In the Mediterranean and Semitic culture a persons lineage is always recorded through the Father's descent. This means when a persons descent is recorded through the mother, it implies the father is unknown implying the child is a bastard or illegitimate. The Quran just so happens to only call Jesus: "Ibn Mariam/Son of Mary" which infers Jesus is illegitimate, especially if we take this in conjunction with Deedat's idea that Issa is Esau.

The original Arabs who contrived the Qur'an could of deliberately selected Issa for inclusion since it was consistent with the linguistic style required by the Qur'an. Rhyming schemes are very important in the Qur'an, and the Arabs clearly seem to have had an obsession with similar sounding pairs of names.  They managed to manipulate quite a few other names to make them rhyme: Saul and Goliath turn into Talut and Jalut (S. 2:249-250), we find the angels Harut and Marut (S. 2:102), Else where Cain and Abel are called Kabil and Habil. it is not too surprising nor absurd to think that they may have selected the name Issa in such a way as to make it rhyme with Musa (Moses) and Elisa.

Putting this altogether the Qur'an denies and attacks all essential elements of the Gospel (Jesus is not God, Jesus is not the Son of God, Jesus did not die on the Cross, Mankind is not lost and does not need a savior, there is no Trinity), and that the Qur'an puts a curse on all who believe that Jesus is the Son of God (S. 9:30), then it is not altogether unbelievable that even Jesus himself is cursed in the Qur'an in a veiled way by reversing the consonants that make up his true name, possibly connecting him to Esau and only asserting his maternal but not paternal descent, this could possibly be the Jewish way of communicating to the early Quranic redactors showing them that Jesus is illegitimate, he is not the Son of God, but the son of a Roman Solider, the son of a woman, the son of a whore. Whatever theory one wishes to come up with, Issa does not come from the Hebrew/Aramaic for Yeshua, and hence Issa is not linguistically the same name as Yushua. 

Issa is therefore not the original name of Jesus, but is it a valid translation or expression of the name Jesus? From what we can tell the most plausible theory shows us this cannot be a valid alternative for the name Jesus, but even if we set aside the reasoning expressed above, we still have a grammatical inversion that cannot be counted for by the classic languages, because the other Semitic languages do not make this mistake in regards to Jesus own personal name. Because Issa and Jesus cannot be the original historical name of the figure in question, we know that Jesus is a translation via several languages, and Issa is either deliberately inverted or not even an attempted translation and therefore possibly connected with Esau.

In conclusion in the absence of any positive evidence to demonstrate Isa is a valid lingual off-shoot of Yeshua and since all the evidence appears in support of another theory we can conclude Isa is not a valid version or valid translation of the name Jesus in Arabic. We must therefore conclude Isa cannot be Jesus as they would have two entirely different names on a hypothetical birth certificate. This being something that any police officer of forensic expert or detective would immediately notice. An essential observation for the beginning of our accumulating collection of data. Conntinued investigative analysis upon the overall case study who is Jesus in Islam coming soon, Christ Willing.

Brother Denis Giron (fellow guest writer: NYCulturalPhysician) kindly pointed to me to two videos he has made on a similar note years ago. I completely recommend watching this now:

In the second video Denis presents two views and in our private correspondence he seems to find the second view more plausible or tenable.

After some further research, my bi-lingual friend and I came up with 3 additional reasons to doubt the second view, the idea that Issa is a valid translation through the medium of several languages like Jesus and James. Jai Habor summaries why this is not convincing:
"To rule out any further speculation that the Quranic 'Isa is any sort of rendition or result of language shifting from the Aramaic Ishoo', or Greek Iésous. Let's take a look at the theories people use to support these ideas. Theodor Nöldeke notes in his book, Mandäische Grammatik, that some words that start with yudh in certain dialects of Aramaic often start with an 'ayin in Mandiac. While this is an existing phenomenon in Semitic languages in general, does this explain the shift from the Aramaic Ishoo' to the Mandaic 'Iso? This theory does not account for the dropping of the final 'ayin from the Aramaic Ishoo' into the Mandaic dialect's 'Iso. Nor does this theory work for Arabic, because in Arabic you have both the initial 'ayin and the letter ya following it. So there is no exchange of an Aramaic yudh into an Arabic 'ayin, because the Arabic ya simply follows the 'ayin and is not lost at all or being exchanged.
How about Greek, could this theory possibly work to explain the Greek Iésous into the Arabic 'Isa? We actually do have examples of Greek names in the Qur'an, such as Elias and Yonus. Note that the final sigma �� at the end is not dropped in either rendition into Arabic. If the Greek Iota (Iota, corresponding to the Arabic ya) were morphed into 'ayin. Then it would still be highly unlikely that 'Isa would be coming from the Greek word Iésous because the ending of the word is not retained. We do not see the final sigma as we do in other Quranic words that are renditions of Greek."
Finally the orthographic form of Yasu'/Eshoo in Aramaic is clearly derived from the root form in Aramiac/Hebrew. In Neo-Syriac the yud is merely pronounced as ee and the ayin at the end is typically silent too. However some rare dialects 'ayin will be pronounce as Eshoo'a. Hence when going into Greek, you lose two of the sounds. the sh and 'ayin sounds but the orthographic form is completely preserved in Aramaic. 'Ayin appears to be deliberately retained as the first consonant on purpose in order to distinguish it from another common noun Ishoo. This would mean that the name Esau is being deliberately distinguished from Ishoo(Yasu') and thus should be rendered as Esau.

Esau in the Syriac Peshitta is spelled identical as Esau in the Hebrew, which in turn is identical to the Mandaic 'Iso'. Esau stays the same in all dialects of Aramaic. The name for Jesus in the Syriac Peshitta (a dialect of Aramaic) uses the same word, Ishoo', that is - yudh, shin, waw, 'ayin. Fascinating because this means that Jesus' name was truly preserved. In Hebrew Esau is 'Ayin, sin, vav. In the Syriac Peshitta (Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic) it's identical: 'Ayin, sin, waw which is the exact spelling of the word used by the Mandeans. So we have evidence that in Aramaic this is how they spelt Esau's name, not Jesus' name. The Diatessaron renders Yeshua exactly the same as the Peshitta and the Targums render both these names the same as the Peshitta. It's also worthy noting that this is a proper name. This isn't just some word. So, the Mandeans were probably mocking Jesus saying: Esau the Messiah, son of Mary. Because the word they spell is the exact spelling for Esau. Finally the examples that the German scholar Nöldeke provided in his book were words like "glory" which are not proper nouns assuming that a name isn't spelled with an entirely different pronunciation. A name would be reserved but perhaps not other nouns.

In conclusion Deedat was right (and wrong). The best evidence that Issa is the Arabic noun for Esau, but the name Esau is neither the original name of Jesus or a valid translation of Jesus name into the Arabic tongue.