Bauckham follows with a speculative set of digressions suggesting possible reasons why some names were more popular than others. Some, he suggests, were popular because they recalled names with anti-Hellenistic associations of liberation or conquest (e.g. Hasmonean names); others were popular for the opposite reason — because they jelled so easily with similar sounding Hellenistic names (e.g. Simon/Simeon)!
One name that ranks 1oth for popularity in our population sample of less than one fiftieth of one percent is Menaham, and to B “it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it was understood as carrying messianic or eschatalogical significance” (p.77). Why? It’s root meaning is “comfort” — a common topos in eschatological literature of our canonical OT. Further, “it can hardly be accidental that the most famous Menahem of this period was the messianic pretender”. Well, that makes a lovely story and could certainly be quite an exciting “tidbit” at the visceral level for those who like to create history out of shapes and shadows, which admittedly can be fun for a few minutes, but hardly deserves a place in a work aspiring to inform readers of a more substantial historical methodology.
To Bauckham the word for “comfort” can only have “eschatological significance” (and he cites 8 Old Testament verses as illustration of this). For me this speculation is more informative about Bauckham’s hopes than it is about the hopes of ordinary Palestinian families living in an age as far removed from our comforts and privileges as can be imagined.
Fortunately Bauckham does rescue himself in this instance by adding none too soon:
Once names become popular for some reason, they are also popular just because they are popular. Moreover, there were also family traditions . . . . (p.77)
But this slip back into sound reasoning does not last. Suddenly we are hit with the absence of Moses, David and Elijah from the names attached to records of our surviving population samples. While Menahem is popular because of its messianic associations these three are avoided because of their messianic associations. While the popularity of Menahem is cited as “evidence for the messianic hopes of the period” the absence of these three is cited as evidence for the very same hope! Bauckham explains that to use one of these three names would have been expressing too presumptuous a hope from the parents for their child, though why that same guilt feeling never occurred to the parents who liked Menahem so much is not explained. It thought does not arise that these names are also singular within the OT literature, thus quite possibly pointing to a provenance quite left-field from B’s perspective.
The popularity of Joshua (Jesus), predictably enough by now, “would seem most readily explicable as a patriotic usage . . . ” (p.76). Equally predictably, if this explanation were valid and there really was such a passionate messianic hope among the population we would not see, as we do, the Greek Simon being the most popular name or Lazarus (the Egyptian Osiris?) being three rankings more popular (3rd) than Joshua in the statistics available.
None of this has anything directly to do with the eyewitness argument of Bauckham, but I have discussed it here to demonstrate again the tendencies of Bauckham to replace historical rigour with mere speculation. In following up one of Bauckham’s footnotes given in his next chapter (The Twelve) I read a lengthy article by J.P. Meier and the difference between Meier’s article and B’s discussion thus far was as far as light is from day. The former was a serious grappling with evidence and what could be seriously deduced from it, the latter remains largely speculation with ad hoc dismissals of patterns of evidence that does not conform. It reminds me of my fervent religious days when, for a time, I filled my bible margin with every titillating speculation that came my way. (Not that I find myself agreeing with Meier on some central points, but at least there was enough in Meier for a serious addressing and debating of the assumptions and supporting evidence.)
A more substantial section follows where B discusses the various practices of assigning names. He cites both New Testament and nonbiblical examples for cases of variant forms of the same name; both the additions and the substitutions of patronymics; identification by names of husbands or children; the addition of nicknames; the addition or even substitution of place names; family names; two names in two languages; and occupation labels.
Bauckham notes that Timaeus is a Greek name that occurs nowhere else, neither in Palestine nor in the Diaspora, as a Jewish name. I have already discussed the virtually meaningless size of our sample evidence for gauging popularity of certain names but B makes the reasonable observation that a rarer name would be sufficient for using it as a patronymic for identifying Timaeus’s son. Fair enough so far.
But B also notes that the only place we see this name is in Mark 10.46 where the name itself is explained “for his Greek readers”. Now I confess to confusion here. B has already asserted that the memory and use of some names survived in the gospels because the bearers of those names were known to those particular gospel audiences. Now Bauckham is discussing the only evidence for this name with the clear implication that this evidence points to Bartimaeus being completely unknown to his gospel audience! (This point was raised earlier in Steven Carr in a response to another post of mine.)
The far simpler explanation is that the author of Mark’s gospel opted to add a name here that symbolically represented the story in which it was embedded. A rejected beggar was called to follow the royal “son of David” — what more apt name than “Son of Honour”? Compare Jairus, Enlightened, for a miracle associated with raising one “from sleep”; or even Peter, who in Mark is typical of the rocky soil of his seed-sowing parable (Tolbert).
Simon the Leper
I earlier noted I would return to this name. Bauckham compares this name with others like “Simon the stammerer” or “Matthias the hunchback”, two of Josephus’s ancestors. But this doesn’t work, of course, since B insists that Simon would have been healed of leprosy before he was able to host guests in his home (p.81). But that doesn’t follow either, because Mark tells us that Jesus had no problem with touching lepers, and who is to say (so might the reasoning go) that by this time his disciples had learned to follow his lead and not discriminate against them either. Mark does tell us, after all, that the only hosts Simon the leper entertained were Jesus and his followers. So B falls back on “perhaps . . . while not diseased, he resembled a leper in some way”.
I’m left trying to imagine how someone could resemble a leper “in some way” enough to earn him this epithet, especially given the wide-ranging symptoms then allowed for what was known as leprosy. Was he albino? Why not Snowy Simon? A little more dignified, surely. Leper scarcely sounds an appropriate choice of name to be remembered by Christian authors and known as such among a Christian audience. B leaves us guessing and drawing on our imaginations. I am afraid mine does not come to his rescue here.
No, the simplest explanation is, once again, as per Bartimaeus and Jairus and possibly even Peter himself, along with Levi and Judas, (not to mention Jesus, but that might be going too far for the scope of this review) is that names are sometimes selected for their symbolic meaning. I have already discussed the symbolic meaning of Simon the Leper in Mark and why Luke changed it and the setting to the house of Simon the Pharisee. (Not all gospel names are symbolic, of course. But historical names like Pilate that provide the background setting are features of fiction both ancient and modern and serve the purpose of adding plausibility to the story and are in themselves no more “proof” of historicity than they are today in a Tom Clancy novel.)
The statistical tables (comparing mine with Bauckham’s)
I suggest that the evidence on which B bases his conclusions is too narrow (despite his pushing the “3000 instances” number!), too skewed, too vaguely related to Galilee in pre 70 ce, and therefore potentially anomalous and anachronistic for his purposes, too subjective in name selections and de-selections (especially given that many Jews had both Greek and Semitic names and reference to only one was likely to be made at any one time; and that Palestine had been dominated by Hellenistic culture for 300 years by the time of Jesus), to tell us anything about gospel names with any certainty at all.
Nevertheless, I was interested enough to take the time to extract from Bauckham/Ilan’s lists a breakdown of each gospel’s (and Acts’) distinctive use of names. The result was a little surprising in comparison with Bauckham’s more aggregated figures.
But first, a brief explanation. Ilan’s/Bauckham’s lists (B footnotes where he varies from Ilan’s counting and entries) are, according to my understanding of B’s explanation, based on the times a name appears in Josephus, in Jerusalem ossuaries, Judean desert texts and Masada, and early rabbinic (tannaitic) literature. It is not explained where (or even if) the Beth She’arim inscriptions fit in here. But surely any lexicon of Jewish names from the period stated must include it.
B lists the occurrences of names the NT, Josephus, Jerusalem ossuaries and in the Judean desert texts. He does not cite the early rabbinic literature. My figures indicating the rabbinic literature is a deduction from the total number of instances of a name of the above 4 breakdown of sources.
I invite a look at my figures for NT names broken down book by book, and posted earlier here. Compare in particular the NT names against their occurrences in Josephus — and secondarily against the later rabbinic texts.
Does this book by book breakdown offer some support to the old “fringe” theory that the gospel authors knew and used Josephus? And were perhaps even sometimes reliant on names better known to later rabbinic authors than to contemporaries in Palestine (Galilee?) pre 70 ce.?