HOSANNA (הוֹשענא, Gr. ὡσαννά).—One of the Hebrew words which (like , Hallelujah, Sabbath, Sabaoth) have passed, transliterated and not translated, from the vocabulary of the Jewish to that of the Christian Church. In the NT it occurs only in three Gospels: in them it is found six times (Matthew 21:9
; Matthew 21:15, Mark 11:9-10, John 12:13
), but only in the history of our Lord’s triumphant entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and only as a vocal cry uttered, either by the palm-bearing multitude who met Him, or by the children who hailed Him thereafter in the Temple (Matthew 21:15
). Among the Jews, however, the word came to designate not alone the cry, but also the of palms, myrtle, or willow which on their joyous feast of Tabernacles, and especially on its seventh day, the people were accustomed—for the Law did not enjoin this ceremony—to carry in procession with the priests to the fountain of Shiloah and thence again to the Temple, where these ‘hosannas’ were piled up and beaten against the altar. It is only with ‘Hosanna’ as a cry that we are here concerned; but we cannot forget that when, in honour of our Lord, the multitude raised the cry, they ‘took branches of palm trees’ (John 12:13
) as well; and therefore, besides expounding the meaning of the cry, we must consider how a ceremony customary at the feast of Tabernacles came to be adopted, popularly, on an occasion when the worshippers were assembling at Jerusalem to celebrate a feast of a widely different character, that of the Passover.
Philologically, the word Hosanna is explained as a derivation from or contraction of Psalms 118:25
(Heb.): ânnâ Jahweh hôshî‘âh-nnâ (‘I beseech thee, O Lord, save now’). This Psalm was sung, and this verse of it used as a refrain by the people, at the feast of Tabernacles; and the refrain was abbreviated, through constant popular repetition, into Hôshaʽnâ, just as the old Canaanitish cry Hoi Dod (= ‘Ho Adonis’) was turned into a common interjection, Hedad.
The vocal ‘Hosanna’ was used by the Jews at the feast of Tabernacles when the branches also were employed; and on this account it has been asserted by Mr. Lewis N. Dembitz (in the Jewish Encyc. vol. vi. p. 276, s.v. ‘Hoshana Rabbah’) that ‘the Gospels by a mistake place the custom in the season shortly before the Passover, instead of in the feast of Booths.’ To this it may be answered, (1) that, according to another writer in the same Encyclopedia, Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler (vol. vi. p. 272), Hosanna ‘became a popular cry used in solemn processions wherewith was connected the carrying of palm branches as described in 1 Maccabees 13:51
and 2 Maccabees 10:7
.’ But (2) the procession in 1 Maccabees 13:51
was not at the feast of Tabernacles, which was kept on the 15th day of the 7th month (Leviticus 23:34
), but at a wholly different season, ‘on the three and twentieth day of the second month’; while the celebration in 2 Maccabees 10:7,
though ‘the procession was after the manner of the feast of Tabernacles’ (v. 6), was somewhat later in the year. Thus there was historical and uninspired (for the Jews did not hold the Books of Maccabees to be inspired) precedent for the employment both of the palm-bearing and the shout on other suitable occasions besides the feast of Tabernacles. And (3) was not the occasion of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem one that must have seemed eminently suitable alike to His disciples who began it (Luke 19:37
) and to the candid (Matthew 21:15
) and grateful (John 12:17
) Israelites who joined them in the celebration of it? The Jews, we know, were accustomed to associate with the feast of Tabernacles the highest of those blessings which Messiah was to bring. It was as Messiah that Jesus now presented Himself. He had chosen to ride that day upon the ass’s colt, in accordance with Zechariah’s prophecy (Zechariah 9:9
), just on purpose to make an offer of Himself to Jerusalem as her promised King (Matthew 21:4, John 12:14
). What, accordingly, would the people look for at His hands? What would they ask from Him? Salvation; but salvation not on its negative side alone, of deliverance, but on its positive side as well, of fruition. If the approaching feast of the Passover would remind them of the former, how their Egyptian oppressor had been smitten (Exodus 12:29
), it was the feast of Tabernacles which pre-eminently supplied illustrations of the latter: its branches and its booths were redolent of that first night of freedom which their fathers had enjoyed under the cool booths of Succoth (Exodus 12:37
). so refreshing after the dust and heat of the brickfield and the furnace. Both sides—the negative and the positive, the smiting and the booths—were in one chapter (Exodus 12): they could hardly remember the one without the other. The form, therefore, which the celebration of our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem is described by the Four Evangelists as assuming, is not such as to require us to suppose that they made a mistake in placing it at the season of the Passover. On the contrary, it was neither unprecedented nor unnatural; and the fact that it was not a legally prescribed but only a popular ceremony, left them quite free to use it when they thought fit. It is not as if the Evangelists had transferred the unleavened bread of the Passover to the Feast of Tabernacles.
Hosanna is rendered in both Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 (cf. Psalms 118:25,
whence it is taken) ‘Save now.’ The now is not here an adverb of time, but an interjection of entreaty, as in ‘Come now’: the word means ‘Oh! save’ (Jewish Encyc.), or ‘Save, we beseech Thee.’ As given (1) absolutely, as in Mark 11:9
and John 12:13,
the natural meaning of this would be an address to Christ, as Messiah, asking Him to bestow the salvation expected of Him; or, as our English hymn expresses it, ‘Bring near Thy great salvation.’ We can understand how, in this sense, ‘Hosanna’ should be followed by salutations or acclamations, ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord (Psalms 118:26, Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9
), ‘Blessed is the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord’ (Mark 11:10
), or ‘Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord’ (John 12:13
). All the different forms may have been used, for there was a multitude of speakers. The sequence of the thoughts is natural: for if Jesus be once conceived of as able to save (either by His own power or by that of Him that sent Him), the next thing, obviously, for His people to do, after asking Him to exert His power in their behalf, is to rejoice that He has come, and to bless Him for coming.
But (2) it is not only in this absolute construction that the Evangelists use the word Hosanna. St. Matthew employs it with a dative, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ (Matthew 21:9
); and both St. Matthew and St. Mark give us ‘Hosanna in the highest.’ Both these variations have been censured by Dr. Kaufmann Kohler (Jewish Encyc. l.e. supra) as ‘corruptions of the original version’: the addition ‘in the highest,’ he declares to be ‘words which no longer give any sense.’ But in a connexion which seems to justify St. Matthew, the dative is used alike in the OT (Psalms 3:8
‘Salvation belongeth unto the Lord’) and in the NT in a passage based upon that Psalm (Revelation 7:10
‘Salvation unto our God; and unto the Lamb’); while there is surely nothing ‘senseless’ in the thought that the salvation which God gives, or sends, to men should fill the highest heaven with rejoicings in His praise. We have the idea in the OT (e.g. Psalms 8:1
) and in the NT (Luke 2:14, Ephesians 3:10
). To some Christian commentators, however, and those of no mean weight,—e.g. Cornelius à Lapide and Dean Alford,—St. Matthew’s use of Hosanna with the dative has seemed to render requisite a different interpretation of the word. Hosanna was, says Alford (on Matthew 21:9
), ‘originally a formula of supplication, but
of gratulation, so that it is followed by a dative, and by “in the highest,”—meaning “may it also be ratified in heaven,”—and he cites 1 Kings 1:36,
where Benaiah answers David, saying, ‘Amen: the Lord, the God of my lord the king, say so too.’ Cornelius à Lapide takes ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ as a prayer for Christ, offered by the people ‘asking all prosperous things for Him from God.’ Now, this would, in itself, be admissible enough. Of Messiah, even when thought of as Divine and reigning, the Scripture says, ‘prayer also shall be made for him continually’ (Psalms 72:15
). But it seems unnatural to postulate so violent an alteration in the meaning of the word—from ‘supplication’ to ‘gratulation,’ when, taken in its original meaning, it yields a sufficient sense: ‘Save now, for it is to thee, O Son of David, that the power to save us has been given.’ It was not unnatural that the people should speak in this sense: as Jews they knew already that ‘salvation belongeth unto God’ (Psalms 3:8
). This view derives considerable confirmation from the parallel passage in the Apocalypse, where the whole scene in ch. Psalms 7:14,
and even the very words—‘the multitude before the throne and before the Lamb … with palms in their hands’ (Revelation 7:9,
cf. John 12:13
), who cry with a loud voice (cf. Luke 19:37
), saying, ‘Salvation to our God … and to the Lamb’—seems to be based on what happened at Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday; as if the Seer were beholding the salvation come which that day was asked, and recognized that the palm-bearers of the earthly Jerusalem were precursors of the hosts of the redeemed. St. John, it will be remembered, has, in his Gospel (John 12:16
), the remark, ‘These things understood not his disciples at the first, but after he was risen they remembered,’ etc. If, as seems clear, the vision is expressed in figures drawn from that event, then the acclaim in heaven must be held to settle the meaning of those Hosannas upon earth: the dative of the Apocalypse is the dative of the Gospel: it is the dative not of a prayer for Jesus, but of an ascription of salvation to Him as its Mediator and Bestower.
It remains only to be added that the Third Evangelist, while recording the same Triumphal Entry, and mentioning the acclamations of the people, omits alike the palm-branches and the word ‘Hosanna.’ The explanation, no doubt, of both omissions lies in the fact that St. Luke wrote especially for Gentiles: his readers would not have understood the Hosanna, and would have misunderstood the palms. To Greeks the palm-branch would have been, inevitably, the palm of pride and victory: not, as to the Hebrew mind, an emblem of peaceful rest, and freedom, and household joy. ‘Hosanna’ would have meant nothing at all. Therefore the Evangelist to the Greeks paraphrases the word, and paraphrases with it St. Matthew’s and St. Mark’s addition to it, ‘in the highest’; rendering the whole by ‘Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest’ (Luke 19:38
). And, as St. Matthew had the dative of ascription, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’—as looking for salvation to Him who had come to Jerusalem in this capacity; so St. Luke, in his paraphrase of the Hosanna, employs what we may call a dative clause: his ‘Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest,’ are introduced so as to show us these as the result of Christ’s coming as King in the name of the Lord: it is for these ends that He has come; and on this account the people call Him blessed. It was for these ends that He was born: wherefore the angels sang the same strain over Him at His Nativity (Luke 2:14
); it is for these ends now that He paces forward to His cross: and therefore men, though as yet they understand it not (John 12:16
), are moved, by a Power they know not, to bear Him record.
Literature.—Art. ‘Hosanna’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible and in Encyc. Bibl.; Jewish Encyc, loc. cit.; Milligan, Com. on Gospel of St. John and Revelation; Westcott, St. John’s Gospel; Cornelius à Lapide, Neale and Littledale, and Perowne, on Psalms 118.