Saturday , 1 November 2014

The Sign on the Cross of Jesus: Hidden Acrostic?

It has been suggested that the reason the Jewish leaders were so upset with Pilate regarding the sign on the cross of Jesus was due to the acrostic that the words spelled in Hebrew.  That is the first letter of each word “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19) actually spelled YHWH, which, if true, would obviously be an affront to the pious leaders of the day.

For the above claim to be true, the Hebrew would have needed to be:  Yeshua Hanotzri W [1] -melech Hayehudim (Jesus of Nazareth and King of the Jews). I have capitalized what the transliterated letters would have needed to be to get YHWH.  The problem is that the letter Vav (represented by the W) is not reflected in the Greek texts of the Gospels.  Hence the above reconstruction is unsound and doubtful and is nothing more than a reconstruction.  If we had the Hebrew original, this would be a moot point, but unfortunately, it is not extant.

Below is the complete list of scriptural passages regarding the sign on the cross.  If the letters YHWH truly did appear on the cross as the reconstruction indicates, then we should clearly see this in the Greek text.  The Hebrew affix W (Vav), which means and, corresponds to the Greek word kai.  For the claim to be true, we should definitely see the word kai between the word Nazareth and the words the king.  If we don’t see this word, then the theory falls apart.

  • John 19:19 “…JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

…᾿Ιησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ᾿Ιουδαίων.

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While the text of John is the most promising of the four, the underlying Hebrew would most naturally be rendered as: Yeshua HaNotzri Melech Hayehudim, thus becoming an acrostic YHMH, which means absolutely nothing.  As a note, we would not see the definite article in front of melech (king) in the Hebrew even though it is there in Greek due to the difference in Hebrew grammar.  In the Hebrew the definite article on yehudim (the ha) is adequate to make melech definite as well.

It should not be overlooked, however, that in the Bible and Jewish literature, a common way to write YHWH was to abbreviate it by just writing יה YH.  So, seemingly, perhaps the Jewish leaders were not so much seeing YHWH but just YH .  This theory could work if it were not for their very complaint a few verses later.  “Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, Do not write, The King of the Jews, but, He said, I am King of the Jews.” (John 19:21)  Notice, they didn’t ask Pilate to change the YH (Yeshua HaNotzri) but specifically asked that the claim of kingship be removed and so the first two letters of the supposed acrostic were in no way an issue.

  • Matthew 27:37 “…THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

…οὗτός ἐστιν ᾿Ιησοῦς ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ᾿Ιουδαίων.

Matthew provides little information, yielding a translation of Ze Yeshua Melech Hayehudim or ZYMH, meaning nothing.

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  • Luke 23:38 “…THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

… οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ᾿Ιουδαίων.

Luke gives less information than a little less than Matthew: Ze Melech Hayehudim or ZMH, again meaning nothing.

  • Mark 15:26 “…THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

… ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ᾿Ιουδαίων.

And Mark records the most truncated of the four: Melech Hayehudim or MH, meaning nothing.

Conclusion:

In none of the texts above do we see the word kai, which, if the acrostic YHWH had been written in Hebrew, would have appeared in the Greek.  If it appeared in at least one of the texts, then we might conclude that it really was there.  However, since we don’t see it in any of the texts, which are our only records of what was (or was not) on that sign, we must conclude that the acrostic YHWH was not on the cross.  It is best to be silent where the Bible is silent.  Regardless, however, of what it spelled out, the reason that the Jewish leaders were angry was not because the writing somehow spelled out YHWH, but because it said he was the king of the Jews, an obvious declaration of Messiahship, which they plainly rejected.


[1] The letter vav before the letter M is pronounced as a long “u”.

About Doug Hamp

  • Tone Griffey

    As the writer stated below. Also you must remember that Pilate, a roman citizen, knew of the inscription on zeus temple in Pergamos. Where the omicron was used to represent of, mand, the…..he worded the phrase on the cross for the jews the same way it was for his god. Also, you must transliterate these greek terms back into the Hebrew the pure language. So it is entirely possible that what the rabbis saw was YHVH, not yhwh. There is no “w” sound in hebrew. The way they translate hebrew is to drop the first letter down and see it if has any additional meanings like the names of the first 10 sons in Genesis does. So, what they saw in the inscription very well could have been Y H V H…..the unspeakable name as they said to Pilate write it to say “he said he is king of the Jews . Because that is what they wanted to see instead of the what they saw that offended them. The YHVH.

  • Pat

    Luke 23:38 says, “And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew.” Looking at the different versions of the inscription on the Cross recorded in the 4 Gospels, the 3 languages used in the superscription are most probably not literally translated. Each Gospel writer was probably referring to different languages on the board. So there is still a high probable chance that the acrostic YHWH was there because God’s finger prints are all over the bible.

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