Jumble Sales of the apocalypse: One God, one Lord, so many Jesuses
Twitter waxed theological in July, thanks to that noted school of biblical studies, Manchester City Football Club. The club was doing some social media PR and invited fans to tweet questions to their Spanish right-winger, Jesús Navas. They sensibly chose the eye-catching hashtag #AskJesus for the task, and that whipped up the kind of Christological frenzy that hasn’t been seen since the Council of Chalcedon.
The flood of tweets which followed included enquiries such as: “Is it more fun playing for Man City, or healing lepers?” “Can you explain why you walk on water, but dive on grass?” “What are you like on crosses?” “Who do you hate more: Judas or United?” “If you can turn water into wine, can you turn Javi García into a decent footballer?” “Was that really you in my tomato?”
There was something here for everyone: Blasphemies to make the descendants of Mary Whitehouse reach for the “smite” button; puns more painful than watching England lose on penalties; and jokes for preachers to copy and paste into the intro for this week’s sermon. The hashtag quickly accelerated to 93 tweets per minute, making #AskJesus the number one trending topic in the UK.
The calculated mixup between Jesús Navas and Jesus of Nazareth isn’t anything new. Like all famous Jesi, he’s been the plaything of newspaper headline writers since the start of his career. Just a year ago, his winning penalty for Spain in a game against Italy was greeted with: “Praise Jesus!” Meanwhile, his namesake Jesus Luz, a Brazilian fashion model who dated pop star Madonna, was doubly-blessed by a headline which announced: “Madonna trying for a baby with Jesus”.
Google turns up many famous people called Jesus: Footballers, wrestlers, a folk musician, several politicians, a (now deceased) drug baron and more baseball players than you could shake a bat at. All of them are from countries that speak Spanish or Portuguese. In fact, the name is so plentiful in South and Central America that a post on a forum I visited recently asked the genuinely perplexed question: “If Jesus was Jewish, how come he has a Mexican name?”
Jesus has apparently been chosen as a first name in the Iberian countries since at least the 14th or 15th Centuries, and, according to one theory, it’s because Spanish and Portuguese piety is so in love with the holy family. José, Maria and Jesus are all popular choices at the font, with José and Maria topping the lists for Spanish boys and girls for much of the 20th Century. Another theory holds that because Spain and Portugal were part of an Islamic state until only a few hundred years ago, Christians living there might have called their boys Jesus in imitation of Muslims who called theirs Mohammed.
The name Jesus has never been on the menu in the English-speaking world. Unusually, the French agree with the English on this point. A French synod in 1692 said that priests should stop people calling their children names “ascribed unto God in Scripture, such as Immanuel, and others of like nature”.
Today, there’s no legal prohibition in Britain from calling your baby Jesus, but it’s more likely to happen in a register office than at a christening near you. Curiously, English-speaking Christians avoid the name for exactly the same reason that Spanish-speaking Christians embrace it: Reverence for Jesus himself.
Last summer, a couple living in Tennessee got into hot water when they gave their baby boy the name Messiah. A judge ordered the name to be changed, saying that Messiah had been earned by one person and “that one person is Jesus Christ”. She added that the name Messiah could cause problems if the child grew up in Cocke County, which has a sizeable Christian population. (To my mind, Cocke County has enough problems of its own, namewise, to start laying down the law about baby names, but maybe that’s just me.)
Given the brilliance of Latin footballers, wordplays linking our Lord with the beautiful game are unlikely to cease – and, in any case, they have something of a history. In 1964, a church near Liverpool city centre posted a pious question on its wayside pulpit: “What shall we do when Jesus comes to Liverpool?” A day or two later, a fan of Bill Shankly’s team responded with a scrawled message: “Move Ian St John to inside left.” It’ll take a £15m transfer fee at least to make that happen now. Either that, or the second coming.
This article was published in the September 2014 edition of Reform.