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Name changes throughout the Bible are pretty significant.

Numbers 13:16 says that "Moses changed the name of Hosea son of Nun to Joshua."

What is the significance of this name change? What are the Hebrew meanings/spellings of each name? Are there any commentaries about this (i.e., Rashi)?

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הוֹשֵׁעַ means "saves", while יְהוֹשֻׁעַ means "God saves". Rashi explains:

And Moses called Hoshea…: He prayed on his behalf, “May God save you from the counsel of the spies.” [The name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ is a compounded form of יָהּ יוֹשִׁיעֲךָ, May God save you.]- [Sotah 34b]

Sotah 34b (in the Babylonian talmud) relates the following (Soncino translation):

And they went up by the South and he came unto Hebron (Num 13:22) — it should have read ‘and they came’! — Raba said: It teaches that Caleb held aloof from the plan of the spies and went and prostrated himself upon the graves of the patriarchs, saying to them, ‘My fathers, pray on my behalf that I may be delivered from the plan of the spies’. (As for Joshua, Moses had already prayed on his behalf; as it is said: And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua, [meaning], May God save thee [yoshi'aka] from the plan of the spies.) That is the intention of what is written: But My servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him.

According to the rabbis of the talmud, Moshe knew to expect trouble and prayed on behalf of his assistant, going so far as to change his name. (Apparently a midrash says he knew this through prophecy; that site does not cite a source, but Jewish Virtual Library is usually credible.)

Yehoshua retains his new name, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, in the book named after him.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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The aggadic interpretation shared by many Jewish commentators is that the basis for the name change is that Moses prayed for Joshua. Indeed Rashi explains that he prays he be saved from the counsel of the spies.

Why he didn't pray for Caleb as well is a question many commentators who take this line have great difficulty understanding (see the Kli Yakar). Another problem with this line of explanation is why he couldn't simply pray without changing his name - not every prayer for someone involves changing a name (see the Or Hachaim). It's obvious that there are vastly more prayers said than names changed in the tanakh.

There are a whole host of alternate explanations regarding the details of the name change. The Tosfot quote Midrash Tanchuma explaining that Moses saw Caleb taking his portion of the land of Israel, and Joshua taking the portion of the remaining ten spies (the added letter having numerical value ten). Another opinion brought is that it's the numerical sum of the additions made to Abraham's and Sarah's names (ה to each makes two fives = ten). A slightly more literal explanation is proffered by Sforno, that Joshua will be saved and will save others - the new name being the future tense "he will save", without funny number stuff.

While these all seem like a nice story, I find this incredibly tenuous as a biblical understanding. A much more solid answer to this question is given by the Rashbam, who explains that the name change was traditional in the appointing of a second-in-command. He points to Genesis 41:44-45, and Daniel 2,4 for equivalents. This cross-references well and explains the significance here. It doesn't explain the meaning of the name change, although the Sforno's explanation above seems more than plausible even in this case.

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+1 interesting insights! –  user437158 Sep 7 '13 at 18:11
    
@Anonymous editor: Please post your edit as a separate answer. (You can retrieve the content of the edit from here.) –  Caleb Dec 30 '13 at 13:43
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