These four letters are probably the most recognizable ‘acronym’ throughout the entire Western Hemisphere and many parts of the entire planet Earth, especially where Christianity has been carried into. The ‘specialness’ and recognition ascribed to these four characters of the English/Latin alphabet isn’t unlike that of the “Tetragramatton”(‘YHVH’), the sacred and unpronounceable Name of the Lord God of Israel, revered by all the Jews.
Each of the Gospel narratives present a slightly differing account of exactly what was written and by whom on a sign placed above the head of Jesus as He lay outstretched with His hands and feet driven through with spikes, lifted up and hanging on the wooden cross at Golgotha Hill on Mount Calvary. The question is why there is such variation in an event that was observed by eyewitnesses, and to what purpose would there be to leave out certain details of the crucifixion?
GREEK (“This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”)
ουτος εστιν ιησους ο βασιλευς των ιουδαιων
houtos esti Iesous basileus Ioudaios
זה זה את ישו המלך של היהודים
Yeshūa' ūmeleḵ hayĕhūḏīm
is est Iesvs Rex Ivdaeorvm
Matthew’s version mentions ‘they’ [presumably the Roman soldiers] wrote this inscription as charge against Jesus and placed the sign above His head, and this would most probably have been written in Latin or Greek. The word “Nazareth” is omitted.
GREEK (“The King of the Jews”)
ο βασιλευς των ιουδαιων
המלך של היהודים
Mark’s account simply says, “The king of the Jews” without any additional qualifiers such as Jesus’ name or where He was from.
GREEK (“This is the King of the Jews”)
ουτος εστιν ο βασιλευς των ιουδαιων
houtos esti basileus Ioudaios
also sometimes given as:
outos estin o basileus twn ioudaiwn
is est Rex Ivdaeorvm
זה זה המלך של היהודים
Luke uses the same title as Mark but he adds that the ‘inscription’ was in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. None of the other authors mention anything about letters of the alphabet or a particular script or type, which may possibly mean that the source possibly didn’t know how to translate the lines of characters which was written on the sign.
GREEK (“Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews”)
Ιησους ουσ.ναζαρέτ ο βασιλευς των ιουδαιων
Iesous Nazoraios basileus Ioudaios
Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm
ישו של נָצְרַת המלך של היהודים
yeshūa' Natz'rat ūmeleḵ hayĕhūḏīm
John states that Pilate wrote the inscription that was to be placed over the head of Jesus as He was to be hung on the Cross of Crucifixion, and the writing was in first, Hebrew, then Greek, and lastly, in Latin. It is interesting that the Roman Governor of Judea would give primacy to the Hebrew Language over Latin or Greek, because he certainly didn’t seem to have any particular love or respect for the Jewish people.
To sum it all up then, for whatever reasons, the sources used by mark and Luke chose not to reveal Jesus’ identity or hometown; perhaps as a deliberate to protect His family and loved ones, or for some unknown purpose that the Scriptures do not reveal. No doubt there have been many individuals who have claimed the mantle as the promised Messiah/Delivered and King of the Jews who have met a similar fate of martyrdom; and for some, this latest person is just “another unnamed one” in the long line of unsuccessful revolutionaries, soon to be forgotten in the dust of the earth; or so they thought!
In John’s version, not only is Jesus’ name mentioned but also where He was from, and it is this bold declaration, “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews” or Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm, that we derive the letters ‘INRI;’ which will be cherished from henceforth, and throughout time immemorial.
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April 27, 2009