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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Hosanna

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HOSANNA (=‘O save’!). An acclamation used by the people on Palm Sunday in greeting Jesus on His last entry into Jerusalem, and afterwards by the children in the Temple ( Matthew 21:9; Matthew 21:15 ). It occurs six times in the Gospels (all in the connexion above noted).

The expression, which has preserved its Hebrew form (like ‘Amen’ and ‘Hallelujah’), was originally (in Hebrew) a cry addressed to God ‘ Save now ’! used as an invocation of blessing. When the word passed over (transliterated into Greek) into the early Church it was misunderstood as a shout of homage or greeting = ‘Hail’ or ‘Glory to.’

The simplest form of the Palm Sunday greeting occurs in Mark 11:9 and John 12:13 ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,’ which really was the cry of the people. The additions that occur in the other passages (‘Hosanna to the son of David ,’ Matthew 21:9; Matthew 21:15 , and ‘Hosanna in the highest ,’ Matthew 21:9 , Mark 11:10 ) seem really to be later amplifications due to misunderstanding of the real meaning of ‘Hosanna.’ The Hosanna cry (cf. Psalms 118:25 f.) and the palm branches naturally suggest the Feast of Tabernacles, when the people used to raise the cry of ‘Hosanna,’ while marching in procession and waving branches of palm, myrtle, and willow. The great occasion for this was especially the 7th day of the Feast, when the Hosanna processions were most frequent. Hence this day was early designated ‘Day of Hosha‘na’ [Hosanna], and the lulab branches then used also received the same name. It was the greatest of popular holidays, probably the lineal descendant of an old Canaanitish festival, and still retains its joyous character in the Jewish Festival calendar ( Hosha‘na Rabba ).

It is not necessary, however, to suppose, with Wünsche ( Erläuterungen der Evangelien aus Talmud und Midrash , p. 241), that a confusion has arisen in the Gospel accounts of Palm Sunday between Tabernacles and Passover. Such processions were not peculiar to Tabernacles. They might be extemporized for other occasions of a joyous character (cf. 1Ma 13:51 , 2Ma 10:7 ), and this was the case in the scene described in the Gospels.

In its transliterated form the word ‘Hosanna’ passed over into early liturgical (esp. doxological) use (cf. e.g. Didache 10:6 ‘Hosanna to the God of David’), as an interjection of praise and joy, and was developed on these lines. The early misunderstanding of its real meaning was perpetuated. But the history of this development lies outside the range of purely Biblical archaeology.

G. H. Box.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Hosanna'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/h/hosanna.html. 1909.

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