I recently was watching a lecture online where the professor was surveying ancient history. When he arrived at the Roman Empire, he cited important dates, such as some conquests and emperors. But here he also mentioned Jesus, who lived from 4 B.C.E. (the acronym he preferred) until around 33 C.E.
I appreciated his reference to Jesus, although it wasn't surprising; it would be dishonest to skim him over. But what was surprising—and actually in a pleasing way—was how he referred to Jesus, as "Joshua ben Joseph."
Pleasant to Hear
Joshua ben Joseph? It was striking at first to hear that name. Associated with Christianity, cited with those dates, it was strange sounding. Knowing some Greek and Hebrew, I acknowledge that Jesus' name was 'Joshua' in Hebrew, which means "Yahweh saves." I also agree that many called Jesus "the son of Joseph" (Matthew 13:55)—of course not in flesh, but still, in his genealogy and by adoption (Luke 3:23). Finally, I understand that ben is the Hebrew word for "son (of)." So, all that said, I knew what the professor is getting at. The professor was right: many probably knew Jesus as "Joshua ben Joseph."
Yet that agreement isn't why I'm writing this post. But neither is any sort of disagreement I had with him referring to Jesus like that. There have been many times when I've watched frustrated as non-Christian 'scholars' misrepresent Christ and history. (Watch the History Channel from time to time.) But I didn't consider this one of those times. Nor was it even distasteful. Instead, I concluded that this time here was a non-Christian professor referring to Christ in a fitting way. I just wasn't used to it.
But most importantly, I noticed that I loved it. It brought a smile to my face. That's why I'm writing this post: to explain that pleasant, worshipful feeling I felt when I heard "Joshua ben Joseph."
Why did it intrigued, gratify, and not annoy me? Why did it lead me to worship? I suspect two reasons.
Worship Because of His Humanity
First, hearing "Joshua ben Joseph" propelled me to dwell pleasantly on Christ's humanity.
"Jesus" is a name I never hear in my life unless it's in reference to the Jesus. If Christ's name was "Sam" or "John" or "Peter," it'd be a different story. This partly has to do with my culture, where we don't name people “Jesus” (compare that to Latin culture). But it also in part has to do with how often I read, think, and speak about “Jesus.” I know he was and is a man, but I also know Jesus is God, Savior, Lord, and more. When I hear “Jesus,” I consider all those things together.
But when I hear "Joshua ben Joseph," it changes a bit. All the sudden like a freight train his humanity comes rushing in. The professor even put up a 'picture' of him. Of course, it has no relation to what he looked like (we don't know specifics of his appearance). But still it was a man, on my screen, with dates of his life, accompanied by the name "Joshua ben Joseph."
This could've hindered my faith. Perhaps it could have made me doubt much I've been taught. I could have believed the lie that this 'Jesus' was only a man, that I've been taught wrong since he was a mere man known as "Jesus ben Joseph." In fact, my professor might have even had this hindering intention, trying to prove that the "Jesus Christ" many Christians worship was only a mere man. But I already knew he was a man—just not a mere man. So, this didn't happen at all.
Instead, God used it to fuel my faith. Rather than doubting, I worshiped. It made Christ even more real, more compassionate, and more humble.
Through regenerated eyes, I saw something my professor didn't. On that screen, in those words, I saw the name God took when he entered his world. I saw the dates and name of the man who in history died and rose for me. I recognized in a fresh way the miracle of the Incarnation. God Almighty became "Joshua ben Joseph." God became a man that even my professor had to acknowledge.
Worship Because He Isn’t My Contemporary
Yet, my worshipful feeling was even more than this appreciation of his humanity. There was an even stronger affection when I heard "Joshua ben Joseph." Worship bubbled up because, with such a name as "Joshua ben Joseph," I saw afresh that this man was not English, nor American, nor someone from the 21st century, nor my contemporary. Rather, he—this God-man who incarnated for my salvation—was a historical man in a location, in time. He wasn't a 21st century, American individual, a realization which was pleasing to dwell on.
Now, that might sound like an intriguing idea, but as I said, it led me to worship. Why? Because it made me, in that moment, stand amazed at the global gospel he started—a world-changing gospel which I get to be a part of and which is refreshingly not American nor rooted in the 21st century. It made me see the historical man and appreciate anew his lasting legacy.
In short, it made me worship him because I saw that his life, legacy, and gospel are too great to be put in a cultural box. I knew this, but living in the West, in the most powerful nation in the world, in the majority white culture, I can start inadvertently associating Christ with all these things. I don't do it on purpose, but it happens.
Yet hearing "Joshua ben Joseph" shattered this my-culture focus. Such an emphasis binds, limits, and restricts him. Such an emphasis makes Jesus too me- and us-focused. So, my worship was fueled in that moment when I saw that Jesus wasn't like me. He was a Jewish man who lived, died, and rose 2,000 years ago. Acknowledging him as "Joshua ben Joseph" rips him free from Western, American ideals. It proves that he existed when times were quite different. And as Christians confess, he also has reigned through many ages since. He isn't an individual from the 21st century; he's not white; he’s not American.
But even more noteworthy, being so I sensed afresh that he isn't only to be worshiped by people like me either. Or better said, I sensed that he isn't mainly to be worshiped by people like me either. (We all know that Christ isn't only worshiped by people like us. But being self-focused, we can unintentionally think he's mainly worshiped by people like us. When we view the heavenly throne of Revelation 5, is it not true we imagine the majority looking like us?)
This realization also is refreshing and worship-producing. I am a 21st century white American; I love being so in many ways. But I saw in the name "Joshua ben Joseph" that my ethnicity gives me no advantage in relating to Jesus. I am as similar to this God-man as a Christian in an indigenous tribe in Africa is right now. We're both not Jewish. We're both living in the 21st century, not the first century. But amazingly, we both can be found "in Christ." Joshua ben Joseph died for both of us.
Worship Joshua ben Joseph Forever
In sum, on that screen, I saw Jesus' birth date of 4 B.C.E. and his death date of 33 C.E. I saw his historic name "Joshua ben Joseph." And through this, I felt afresh his humanity—a humanity which was taken on by God himself. I sensed anew his historicity—a historicity that shows he's not like me, yet which allows him to be precious to people throughout all times and all over the world. And so, I worshiped him.
And I'll keep worshiping this "Joshua ben Joseph" forever.