I hear arguments from some christians that the name Esa is wrong as they say that Esa is from the word iesous and not yeshua, his Hebrew name. Is this a valid argument to challenge the reliability of the Qur'an that a wrong name is used, if that is the case? What do the scholars say about this?

1 Answer 1


Preliminary Remarks

Good question. There is a lot to be said on the subject. The debate about Isa and other various foreign (non-Arabic loanwords) words goes back to the first centuries of Islam. The first thing to point out is that Iesous (Ἰησοῦς) is the Greek name of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel (such as in Mark 1:9 here), which is from the Hebrew for Yeshua.

Lexical origin of Isa

Authur Jeffrey (1892-1959), who made substantial progress in the field of Qur'anic studies, published a landmark work in 1938 entitled The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur'an that summarizes scholarship up to that point on "lexical borrowing" in the Qur'an citing many sources starting from early Muslim philologists and grammarians. Jeffrey's work presents 275 foreign words in the Qur'an (excluding proper nouns), "in which he compiled and presented all of his predecessor's studies," including the early Muslim philologists that recognized many words in the Qur'an as foreign, such as Isa.

According to Jeffrey, "the name [Isa] is still a puzzle to scholarship." Some have proposed that Isa is actually the name for Esau "and was learned by Muhammad from Jews who called Jesus so out of hatred" (this has been debated by Roediger, Landauer, Pautz, Derenbourg, and Rudolf). We don't have evidence that Jews called Jesus Esau, though. Another possibility is it being adapted from the Syriac word. Overall, however, the word "Isa" is not known anywhere prior to the Qur'an.

Jeffrey concludes that it is a consonontal permutation (variation) due to Muhammad that was perhaps influenced by Nestorian pronounciation (Nestorians were a large Christian group around Muhammad that would have primarily spoken Syriac, see Syriac Christianity).

Further Reading

I'm uncertain of what scholarship has progressed beyond this on the question. Here are some later developments on the subject that might help:

  • "Lexical Borrowings in the Qur'an" is an article that discusses Jeffrey's work and also mentions further developments that would be worth pursuing to answer this question!
  • The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran by Christoph Luxenberg is another influential book (it also has been more criticized but still influential) that discusses more about words borrowed from Syriac that, he proposes, would change our understanding of many words in the Qur'an, such as changing "virgins"/chaste partners to "raisins." I'm uncertain if he discusses a Syriac origin of Isa.

Influential works that were already included or referenced in Jeffrey's work:

  • Judaism and Islam by Abraham Geiger (originally published in German in 1833 as What did Muhammad take from Judaism?) mentions 14 loanwords from Hebrew. Since Jeffrey referenced this work but not about Isa, it seems Geiger didn't make an argument for Isa being Hebrew in origin
  • Al Suyuti (1445-1505) published three relevant works, Risāla muhaḏḏab fī al-ᵓalfāẓ al-muˁarrab (literally “Pure Treatise on Arabized Words”), Al-Itqān fī ˁulūm al-qurᵓān [The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qur’ān], and Al-Mutawakkilī include a total of 138 loanwords.


If Isa came from Iesous, since Iesous is correct, I don't see how this is a challenge to the reliability of the Qur'an. The only possible challenge to the Qur'an would be that Isa is perhaps (though many other words are certainly) of non-Arabic origin, which some may think contradicts the verses that say the Qur'an is revealed in (plain, pure, or clear) Arabic. See Qur'an 12:2, 16:103, 20:113, 39:28, 41:3, 42:7, 43:3, 46:12, 16:103.

Qur'an 16:103 "And We certainly know that they say, "It is only a human being who teaches the Prophet." The tongue of the one they refer to is foreign, and this Qur'an is a clear Arabic language."

However, many early Muslims freely noted the foreign origin of many words in the Qur'an. Al-Suyuti would say that although the words were borrowed from other languages, they were incorporated into the Arabic language so could still be called "Arabic." There were centuries of debate about this topic. Do with that what you will. So, here is the relevant data that I have, and you are welcome to explore more and come to a more firm conclusion.

  • I once watch this YouTube video that said eesa was the name of Jesus: youtube.com/watch?v=Y9_OYGaIwcQ Apr 23, 2019 at 5:50
  • @AsanRamzan this really isn't much evidence, and is really only saying that the Aramaic name for Jesus sounds similar to Isa (which to me didn't sound like it at all). Some unanswered questions would be: How do you know the people are speaking Aramaic? How do you know they are speaking Jesus' name? Apr 24, 2019 at 2:41
  • You can see the Aramaic form here, and see the word as used in Ezra in Aramaic here. So I think it is clear Isa is not from the Aramaic form of Jesus. Apr 24, 2019 at 2:45
  • as to you first comment it is a well know fact that the predominate language at the time of Jesus was Aramaic. Since you do not know this I feel you either have not done your research or are not familiar with this feild. I have past in reseach, and generally we don't go to Wikipedia, it is bias especially considering the Christian majority. Apr 24, 2019 at 5:16
  • @AsanRamzan. Yes Aramaic was the lingua franca of the day; that has nothing to do with my comment, which was about the people in the video. And yes, go to the sources linked in Wikipedia. Apr 24, 2019 at 20:56

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