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What does "Hosanna" (ὡσαννά) mean (as it appears in the Gospels)? What is its etymology/derivation from Hebrew/Aramaic?

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4 Answers 4

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The Hebrew phrase in Psalms 118:25 from which the Greek Hosanna (ὡσαννά) derives is actually two words: הוֹשִׁ֨יעָ֥ה נָּ֑א (hoshi'ah na):

  1. הוֹשִׁ֨יעָ֥ה (hôšîâ) is Hiphil imperative masculine singular fromישׁע` (ysh'), which means to help, save, rescue.

  2. נָּ֑א (na) is a particle which indicates urgency or sincerity, and takes different meanings based on context.

In the context of Psalms 118:25, the meaning is literally, "save now" (so KJV, NKJ).

Psalm 118:25 (KJV)
25  Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.

Given the other OT quotations used by the crowd at the Triumphal Entry in the Gospel record, I think it is likely that the term was used there in a very literal sense. The people cheering Jesus' entry were calling on Him to enact the salvation of Israel, and to do so now. (Of course, their conception of the salvation that Jesus came to accomplish differed significantly from His and leads to a disillusioned mob that shouts "crucify Him" instead.)

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The key point here being that it is a transliteration into the Greek from a Semitic word. (+1, by the way) –  swasheck Feb 3 '12 at 15:38

Below are a few different entries for the Greek word ὡσαννά (copied from BibleWorks 8):

Friberg Lexicon

29106 ὡσαννά a particle transliterated from the Aramaic; strictly, a cry expressing an appeal for divine help save! help, we pray! in a liturgical usage, a shout of praise and worship hosanna, we praise you (MT 21.9)

Louw-Nida Lexicon

33.364 ὡσαννά: (an Aramaic expression meaning 'help, I pray' or 'save, I pray,' but which had become a strictly liturgical formula of praise) a shout of praise or adoration - 'hosanna.' ὡσαννά εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου 'hosanna; blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord' Mk 11.9; ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις 'hosanna in the highest' Mk 11.10; ὡσαννὰ τῷ υἱῷ Δαυίδ 'hosanna to the Son of David' Mt 21.9 . In Mt 21.9 ὡσαννὰ τῷ υἱῷ Δαυίδ may also be rendered as 'praise to you, Son of David' or 'we praise you who are the Son of David' or '... a descendant of David.' Though for many early Christians, and especially those of Jewish background, ὡσαννά would be known from its Aramaic background as meaning 'help' or 'save,' nevertheless, its association with liturgical expressions involving praise and exaltation resulted in the expression acquiring quite a different significance; hence, a phrase such as 'hosanna in the highest' became equivalent to 'praise be to God.' For growing numbers of Christians without Jewish background, ὡσαννά probably acquired much the same meaning as it now has in English.

VGNT Dictionary

4754 ὡσαννά orig. a cry for help (Ps 118:25), but as used by the Evangelists a shout of praise (Mt 21:9, Mk 11:9 ff.): see Dalman Words of Jesus, p. 220 ff. It is because of Luke’s omission of ὡσαννά in 19:38 that Jerome calls him “inter omnes evangelistas Graeci sermonis eruditissimus” (Ep. 20. 4 to Pope Damasus). For a discussion of the cry Hosanna, see F. C. Burkitt in JTS xvii. (1916), p. 139 ff., and cf. Preuschen-Bauer, Wörterb. s.v.

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During the Intertestamental period, Judas the Maccabee (the Hammer) led a major revolt in Israel. This is the Hasmonean revolt (beginning in 167 BC). After Judah and the other Hasmoneans led the people to victory in a major battle, the people had a celebration. They cut off palm branches, waved them in the air, and shouted "Hosanna!"

Judah was killed in 160 BC, but his brothers carried on the revolt and eventually drove the Seleucids out. They set up a dynasty that lasted, with various amounts of independence, from 140 to 37 BC. From 110 to 63, the Hasmoneans enjoyed full independence from foreign powers. In 63, they were annexed by the Romans but allowed to remain on the throne. In 37, Herod the Idumaean (supported by Anthony) defeated the last Hasmonean ruler and took Jerusalem.

When Jesus enters the city, they are calling on him to be like the Hasmonean kings and free the people from foreign oppression. In this case, the Romans.

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Thanks for putting the pieces together. That makes Jesus' entry into Jerusalem that much more significant. –  Jon Ericson Feb 3 '12 at 17:24

The Wikipedia article Hosanna makes a reference to the Bauer Lexicon, explaining the etymology of the Greek word ὡσαννά:

derived from Aramaic (הושע נא) from Hebrew (הושיעה נא) (Psalm 118:25, הוֹשִׁיעָהנָּא), meaning "help" or "save, I pray", "an appeal that became a liturgical formula; as part of the Hallel... familiar to everyone in Israel."

So by the time Jesus rode into Jerusalem and the people shouted Hosanna*, it had become "a liturgical formula". Hosanna had originally been a cry for help, but it had become, as Strong's concordance puts it, a cry of happiness.

*The people probably shouted this in Aramaic, which was transliterated to Greek. But I'm no expert.

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