Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 8

Click here for the series outline.

Chapter 4. Palestinian Jewish Names

A new resource for study of the Gospels

In this key chapter Bauckham takes a small ‘time out’ from the main thrust of his argumentation in order to pursue an investigation of Palestinian Jewish names in the first century. He does this to inform his approach in the following chapters.

Bauckham’s foundational claim is that, in light of the work of Israeli scholar, Tal Ilan, and her Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I: Palestine 330 BCE - 200 CE (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002) names are now a valuable resource for historical study. Indeed, Ilan has collected the names ‘of as many as three thousand Palestinian Jews who lived during the five centuries’ she covers.

However, Bauckham does not uncritically appropriate Ilan’s work, and he differs in his understanding of certain criteria, which Ilan used to generate the statistical calculations. Bauckham’s purpose is primarily to gauge the popularity of each name and so where ‘Ilan counts persons’, Bauckham counts ‘occurrences of a name’. Thus his statistical analysis produces different results in such a way that indicates that a considerably smaller number of names were actually used.

The relative popularity of names

Based upon his foundational claim that the study of Palestinian Jewish names in the first century is of importance, Bauckham proceeds to assert the significance of the fact that ‘there were a small number of very popular names and a large number of rare ones’. Comparing the results of the broader statistical analysis with the names found in the NT, Bauckham can maintain, despite some anomalies, that the statistical results offered concerning the relative popularity of various male and female names is very plausible.

A comparative study of the names of Palestinian Jews in general and those found in the Gospels and Acts leads to an important observation:
[T]he names of Palestinian Jews in the Gospels and Acts coincide very closely with the names of the general population of Jewish Palestine in this period, but not to the names of Jews in the diaspora. In this light it becomes very unlikely that those in the Gospels are late accretions to the traditions
Why were some names so popular?

The fact that ‘six of the nine most popular male names are those of the Hasmonean family’ indicates that the popularity of certain names is understandable as patriotism in light of Roman rule. Other names were popular because they included, or in some way implied, the divine name. Indeed, many of the names seem to reflect a strong hope for Israel’s restoration and for deliverance from pagan oppressors. While Bauckham does not deny that names do not have to be popular for any specific reason but remain popular simply because they are popular and would, for the sake of family tradition, be repeated from one generation to another, he still suggests that ‘these are secondary factors that do not nullify the rather clear general reasons for the really rather extraordinary popularity of a rather small number of names’. Furthermore, in light of the above reasons Bauckham offers for the popularity of certain names, it may come as a surprise that the most famous Biblical names (Moses, David, Elijah) were not used hardly at all. Bauckham reasons (and the book is filled with fascinating and creative snippets such as this):
It may have been thought that to use these names for one's own children would be a presumptuous expectation that these children were actually the expected eschatological deliverers. So the non-use of these names is itself a kind of negative form of evidence for the messianic hopes of the period.
How to tell Simon from Simon

While some of the above may be interesting, it is not as central to Bauckham’s developing argument as what follows. Given that ‘about half the population of Jewish Palestine were called by only about a dozen personal names’, this means that a single name was not sufficient to distinguish one (e.g.) Simon [the most popular male name] from the next Simon. So how did these Jews go about distinguishing people with the same name from each other? Bauckham observes eleven strategies including the use of variant names, the addition or substitution of the patronymic, or husband’s or son’s name, or the use of a nickname, or place of origin, occupation etc. (cf., e.g. Mark 15:40; Luke 24:10; Acts 9:43; 10:7; 21:38).

While this chapter lays some important groundwork for the following chapters, there are some immediate implications. The names found in the Gospels ‘could not possibly have resulted from the accretion of names outside Jewish Palestine, since the pattern of Jewish name usage in the diaspora was very different’. Indeed, given that the gospels evidence typical strategies for distinguishing one person from another with the same name, it would be difficult to explain this data ‘as the result of random invention of names within Palestinian Jewish Christianity, and impossible to explain as the result of such invention outside Jewish Palestine’. Therefore, the authenticity of the names in the Gospel traditions is affirmed, which thus also ‘underlines the plausibility of the suggestion made in chapter 3 as to the significance of many of these names: that they indicate the eyewitness sources of the individual stories in which they occur’.

Labels: ,


At 12/16/2006 5:17 PM, Blogger Richard Fellows said...

I would like to comment on the issue of whether Matthew and Levi were the same person.

If Bauckham is right to suppose that many of the named persons in the gospels were known to the readers, this could explain why Mark did feel the need to explain that Matthew (Mk 3:18) was the same person as Levi (Mk 2:14). Mark’s readers may simply have already known. Similarly Paul expected the Galatians to know that Petros was Cephas. Matthew’s gospel repeats the story of the calling of Levi, but replaces the name “Levi” by the name “Matthew”. This is consistent with Bauckham’s hypothesis for we can conjecture that Matthew’s original name (Levi) was no longer widely remembered by the time Matthew’s gospel was written, and that the writer of that gospel consequently used the name “Matthew” at Matt 9:9. Instead of “Levi”. In cases where someone had two names it is natural that one would win out and the other would eventually fall from the collective memory.

“Matthew” means “Gift of God” and was the name of the man who started the Maccabean revolt (Mattathias). As Bauckham (page 74) and others have pointed out, the name “Matthew”, along with the names of the other Hasmonean leaders, became popular because it was considered a patriotic name. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that Levi received the name “Matthew” to symbolize his transformation from tax collector/collaborator to redeemed disciple of Jesus.

In the ancient world, as today, it was not particularly common for people to receive a life-changing religious calling. However, those who did, often received a new name to reflect their new identity. Levi was one such person. He had served the rulers and had made money from his collaboration, but Jesus called him to repentance and he became one of the twelve. His new name, “Matthew”, being a theophoric patriotic name, served as a public declaration of Levi’s rejection of his earlier life-style.

The name, meaning “gift of God”, might also have expressed Levi’s new dependence on God for his needs, in contrast to his earlier dependence on tax-collecting. A close parallel to this is the case of Aelius Aristides, who heard someone in a dream say, "Hail, Theodorus.", and accepted the name
"since everything of mine was a gift of the God". (Aristides (Or, 50.53-54; ed. Keil), quoted by Schoedel). Theodorus is the Greek equivalent of the name “Matthew”.

The name “Theudas” is probably an abbreviation of Theodorus and it is interesting that there seem to have been two insurrectionists called “Theudas”. Perhaps they too took their names to declare their loyalty to God above the ruling forces.

Bauckham himself rejects the commonly held view that Matthew and Levi were the same person (p108-112). His main argument is that we have little evidence of anyone else who carried two common Hebrew names. However, he does not factor in the special circumstances of Levi’s calling and earlier life. He does not discuss the possibility that Levi was given a new name to reflect his new identity rather than to distinguish him from other men of the same name.

We know the names of only about 1440 Jews who lived between 330 BCE and 200CE who had a Hebrew name that was as common as Matthew. Of these, only a tiny proportion will have had life-changing religious conversions (let’s say 3%, which gives just 43 people). Now most persons are mentioned in our sources only briefly and we have no way of knowing whether they were ever renamed or had a double name. Therefore, even if all of the 43 people received new names, we should expect to know both names in only a handful of cases (say 10). Therefore the observation that we know of no persons with two common Hebrew names is not statistically significant. Bauckham’s argument from silence would require a larger sample size than we have, I think.

But perhaps we DO, in a sense, have an example of someone with a popular Hebrew name being given a new name that was also Hebrew and popular. The baptist was to be called Zechariah, but his name was changed to John on the insistence of his mother (Luke 2:59-60). The name “John” was twice as popular as the name “Matthew”, and was the name of one of the five sons of Mattathias.

Bauckham prefers to suppose that the author of Matthew’s gospel chose to transfer the story about Levi to Matthew. A difficulty that I have with this is that I can’t think of a parallel case of this type of thing happening. There are, by contrast, several cases of religious re-naming in the NT.

I would be interested to read Bauckham’s response if he has time to write.

Richard F.

At 12/16/2006 11:40 PM, Blogger Richard Fellows said...

In this chapter (4) of his book, Bauckham provides some really useful tables of data and valuable discussion. Also, he is right to point out the NT scholars have made relatively little use of the study of names, and Horsley has made a similar remark.

I would like to offer some suggestions on some of the characters that Bauckham discusses.

Concerning the name Menahem, Bauckham (p77)writes that "it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it was understood as carrying messianic or eschatological significance." He then writes:

"It can hardly be accidental that the most famous Menahem of this period was the messianic pretender, son of Judas the Galilean, who in 66 CE, early in the Jewish revolt, marched into Jerusalem like a king with an army of sicarii (Josephus, War 2.433-34). Could it have been his name that inspired him and his followers to think he was the Messiah?".

I wonder if Bauckham would like to comment on the suggestion that this man received the name "Manahem" only after he became a messianic pretender. A close parallel to this is the case of Simon Bar Kosiba, who was given the name "Bar Kokhba" when his messianic role was recognised. "Bar Kochba" means "son of a star" and is messianic.

On page 81 Bauckham discusses Joseph Barsabbas (Acts 1:23) and Judas Barsabbas (Acts 15:22). The name "Barsabbas" is puzzling and Bauckham discusses various proposals that have been put forward to explain it. He says that the name "could perhaps mean 'son of the Sabbath,' a nickname given to someone born o on the Sabbath." A difficulty here is that it is rather unlikely that TWO disciples would both be born on the Sabbath and both receive this unattested name. My own suggestion is that Joseph and Judas were brothers and that Jesus gave them the name "Barsabbas", meaning "son of the Sabbath YEAR", which refers to the time of their calling, not their birth. We are told that Joseph Barsabbas was a disciple from the start of Jesus ministry, which was probably during a Sabbath year. We also have evidence that Sabbath years were important for messianic movements (see Wacholder on Chronomessianism). Boanerges is another example of a nickname given to two brothers.

Bauckham (p81) assumes that there was a place called Magdala and that Mary Magdalene was from there. I have argued that "Magalene" was rather a nickname signifying that she was a tower of strength. See

On page 85 Bauckham explains the name "Bar-Jesus" by the suggestion that Palestinian Jew named "Jesus" fathered a son who was or became a Cypriot. However, Rick Strelan has argued that Bar-Jesus was not a genuine patronymic in this case. He points out that "Bar" can mean "Disciple of" instead of "son of", and interprets the name to mean "follower of Jesus". He proposes that Elymas, the magician, claimed to be a follower of Jesus, just as Simon Magus did. See I think this makes a lot if sense.

Richard F.

At 12/17/2006 1:44 AM, Blogger J. B. Hood said...

Per the last paragraph of your review:
Dont' we have to say that a writer of Palestinian origin (perhaps Mk, John, Matt) could easily retroject Palestinian Jewish names, just as they presumably would have done with Palestinian geography.

Happy Christmas, CT. Great reviews.

At 12/18/2006 1:38 PM, Blogger Steven Carr said...

Bauckham's claim is that the story about Levi was transferred to a different person.

'It is therefore reasonable to suppose that Levi received the name “Matthew” to symbolize his transformation from tax collector/collaborator to redeemed disciple of Jesus.'

NT scholarship is nothing more than supposition, with no supporting evidence.

I wonder why Jesus, who condemned violence, chose a person who changed his name to that of a leader of a violent revolt to show that he was the follower of somebody who decried revolt.

Perhaps Mark left many people anonymous in his Gospel because he had run out of plausible names?

That seems as plausible an hypothesis as Bauckham's , and I now know that I don't have to produce any evidence for a NT hypothesis.

At 12/18/2006 3:12 PM, Anonymous James said...

Of course, to talk of "Palestinian Jewish" names in the first century is oxymoronic - the area was first called "Palestine" in 135 AD after the Romans crushed the Bar Kochba rebellion and dispersed most of the remaining Jewish population. Chris, when are you going to resurrect your CZ series?

At 12/18/2006 7:22 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Steven, "NT scholarship is nothing more than supposition, with no supporting evidence ... I now know that I don't have to produce any evidence for a NT hypothesis"

I once again suggest you get a "NT historical study for beginners" book to learn about historical hypotheses, how to assess them etc.

"I wonder why Jesus, who condemned violence, chose a person who changed his name to that of a leader of a violent revolt to show that he was the follower of somebody who decried revolt"


Hi James. oxymoronic or simply anachronistic?

Thanks, yes, I want to get back to that series – just a bit busy at the mo. Will do in the new year. I hope you are well.

JB and Richard, I’ll try to write a response to your comments later. Sorry, Richard F, if I’ve given too much time to the less important discussions thrown up by one of the other commentators. I’ll try to spend more time on the more serious, substantial and constructive issues from now on.

At 12/18/2006 11:34 PM, Blogger Richard Fellows said...

If Levi's name was indeed changed to "Matthew", he would have been able to explain the significance of the new name to those that asked. I have suggested that the meaning of the name (gift of God) could have been the reason for its selection, and that it could alternatively be a reference to Mattathias, father of the Maccabee brothers. If the latter is the case, what aspect of the story of Mattathias might Levi-Matthew have emphasised when asked to explain his new name? Mattathias's use of violance was not what set him apart from other historical characters, and indeed his story (1 Macc 2) does not emphasise his violance. What set Mattathias apart was his resolute refusal to collaborate with the oppressors. This passage in particular may have been in mind when Levi was given his new name:

"And the king's officers answered and spake to Mattathias, saying, Thou art a ruler and an honourable and great man in this city, and strengthened with sons and brethren: Now therefore come thou first and do the commandment of the king, as all the nations have done, and the men of Judah, and they that remain in Jerusalem; and thou and thy house shall be in the number of the king's Friends, and thou and thy sons shall be honoured with silver and gold and many gifts. And Mattathias answered and said with a loud voice, If all the nations that are in the house of the king's dominion hearken unto him, to fall away each one from the worship of his fathers, and have made choice to follow his commandments, yet will I and my sons and my brethren walk in the covenant of our fathers."

So it seems plausible to me that Levi, who had made money from collaborating with Herod, accepted the name of the archetypal anti-collaborator (Mattathias), who had refused the enemy's money, to symbolise his repentence. If there was any ambiguity in what the new name symbolized, Levi-Matthew would have been able to clarify it.

Note that the movement was comfortable calling one of the twelve "Simon the zealous one", which would have been equally ambiguous to those to whom it had not yet been explained.

Richard F.

At 12/19/2006 3:16 PM, Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Bauckham's main contention in this chapter is that the Palestian Jewish names in the gospels and Acts are historical since they correspond well with the name frequencies derived from other sources. This is plausible and is further supported by the observation that the names in Acts correspond very well to the names in Paul's letters. Names such as Prisca/Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy, Aristarchus, and Apollos are found in both Paul's undisputed letters and Acts. The Palestinian names correspond equally well: James, John, Barnabas, and Cephas/Peter. The agreement is even more striking when we equate Silas with Silvanus, the Erastus of Acts 19:22 with the Erastus of Rom.16:23, Sosipater with Sopater, the Sosthenes of Acts 18:17 with the Sosthenes of 1 Cor.1:1, Stephanas with Gaius Titius Justus, Titus with Timothy, Lucius-Luke with the author of Acts, and perhaps the Jason of Rom.16:21 with the Jason of Acts 17. These equations are not merely arbitrary harmonisations, but are supported by evidence. I would go so far as to say that there is not a single person who is prominent in Paul's letters but absent from Acts.

On any estimation there is good agreement between Acts and Paul's letters on the named persons. So it should come as no surprise if the names in Luke's first volume were accurate too.

Richard F.

At 12/20/2006 12:34 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

I'll have a Richard Responds III up tomorrow, folks. Thank you for the constructive and helpful thoughts.


Post a Comment

<< Home