4. Palestinian Jewish Names
This chapter “temporarily steps aside from our investigation of the eyewitnesses” to explore a topic that “will usefully inform” that study when resumed (p.67). Unfortunately Bauckham does not clarify with any precision his terms here or offer cogently supported rationales for accepting some names and rejecting others from the lists he works with. I was left wondering if he was trying to establish a point about the gospels with tools that were simply not designed for the job.
My references to the evidence used by Bauckham are to Tal Ilan’s “Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I: Palestine 330 bce – 200 ce.” Bauckham discusses Ilan’s list in some detail and gives his reasons for differing with her over certain entries (which ones are fictional and which not) and ways of counting (occurrences of names or occurrences of persons) and whether the provenance of specific cases was Palestine or elsewhere.
Palestine and/or Galilee?
Thus while Bauckham speaks of “Palestinian” names, I was left constantly wondering about “Galilean” Jewish names — a distinction not addressed in this chapter. And the distinction is very likely of considerable significance. Sean Freyne in his “Galileans, Phoenicians, and Itureans: A Study of Regional Contrasts in the Hellenistic Age” (ch. 9 in “Hellenism in the Land of Israel” ed by John J. Collins and Gregory E. Sterling, 2001). The simple fact that a separate chapter is allocated for Galilee in a book about “the land of Israel” is itself informative. Freyne reminds us that there is often a tension between the archaeological and literary evidence as they point to different conclusions. And the evidence for the culture of Galilee is mixed and uncertain, and even varies significantly across the different regions within Galilee itself. Galilee was renowned as far more ethnically diverse than other parts of Palestine. How much the literary evidence about the area indicates Jerusalem-centric colonialist ideology rather than the reality certain regional classes among whom Jesus was said to have mixed belongs to a study of its own. Given the complexity of the evidence and wide mix of ethnic and religious and cultural and linguistic influences across the different regions of Galilee it is not possible to assume that “Galileans” (whatever that means) followed the same naming practices as “Palestinian” Jews.
Peter is said to have been marked out as Galilean by his accent. Should one therefore expect Galilee to find a wider spread of certain names differing from those more popular around the Jerusalem area in the same way the popularity of certain names in Wales, Scotland or Ireland vary from those in south-east England?
So if we read Bauckham’s conclusions in this chapter with the differences between Galilee and what we normally take to represent “Palestine” of the period, and for good measure toss in Mark’s oft cited ignorance of the details of Galilean geography, then we might fairly conclude that the author has taken “Palestinian” based names and anomalously applied them to his Galilean setting. This would not be the only anachronism, of course. Synagogue and Pharisee life in the area, the evidence tells us, was a feature of Jewish life post 70 ce. That being the case, then who can say if along with the influx of Pharisees and other refugees from the Jewish War came a change in the representative name mix of the Galilee, another possible pointer to a cause for anachronistic errors of a later author?
The scope of the evidence
Although Bauckham boasts the extent of the known names and persons from the period 330 bce – 200 ce — “it may come as a surprise to many readers that we know the names of as many as three thousand Palestinian Jews . . . . ” (p.68) — this needs to be set against the conclusions of those specializing in ancient demographic studies. Again I refer to a chapter from “Hellenism in the Land of Israel“, Pieter W. Van Der Horst’s “Greek in Jewish Palestine in Light of Jewish Epigraphy”.
Demographers of the ancient world constantly have to struggle with the problem of the scarcity and the questionable representativeness of the sources.To give an example: Of the various classes into which ancient Greek and Latin inscriptions fall, by far the largest numerically is that of epitaphs. In many tens of thousands of these inscriptions the age of death is mentioned. But, as a specialist in the epigraphy and demography of the Roman Empire [M.Claus] has calculated, even so we only know the age at death of about .015 of all people in the first five centuries of the Empire. . . . Even if these numbers needed to be substantially corrected, the overall picture would hardly change. We will always remain far below 1 percent of the total population. This fact raises the serious problem of how representative this less than 1 percent is for the population of the Empire as a whole. (p.158)
How skewed is this small sample?
Horst calculates that evidence provides us with one inscription for every 37,000 Jews. Any way of massaging the figures gives us no more than evidence for .025 percent of Jewish names in the surviving inscriptions. “From a statistical point of view that is a hopeless situation. . . .” But can it be said that our 1% points to the small educated elite while the bulk of the rest would never have left a funerary inscription? Horst demonstrates that this “hope” defies the evidence we do have. He demonstrates that Greek was widely spoken (even pointing to evidence suggesting that Greek was more widely spoken than Aramaic or Hebrew in Palestine in the Roman era), and that many of the surviving inscriptions we do have (sloppy craftsmanship, poor spelling) show clear signs of poorly educated and lower class origins.
Most inscriptions we have found are from urban areas. The countryside is not well represented. What was true for major cities need not have applied to small towns and villages. (Recall that while the gospels speak of Nazareth they indicate no knowledge of the major cosmopolitan neighbouring city of Sepphoris.)
Despite Bauckham’s assurance that it is enough that the bulk of our Jewish names come from the period in the middle of his 500 year range (330bce-200ce) Horst notes distinct chronological variations within that period that may or may not also suggest shifts in naming customs. Thus after 70 ce there was a drop in Jewish production of Greek literature the proportion of Greek inscriptions as opposed to Hebrew and Aramaic ones increases after that period. Does this indicate a cultural broadening of what was once upper class characteristics to other social classes? If so, were or to what extent were our gospel authors influenced by this post 70 ce shift?
About 90% of our epitaph evidence derives from just one area, the catacombs of Beth She’arim (p.163). This became a renowned rabbinic centre in the southern Galilee area after 70 ce and the evidence tells us that many Diaspora Jews were buried there. Despite assurances that non-Palestinian Jews are not included in his comparisons, it is not specifically clear from Bauckham’s chapter if these non-Palestinian Jews buried at Beth She’arim have had their names teased out from the evidence he uses for comparison with the gospels. But even if they have, we are still left with the bulk of inscriptional evidence deriving from a centre established by those Jews who migrated to this area after 70 ce.
But I might be being unfair here. Bauckham does not specifically mention the Beth She’arim inscriptions at all, as far as I noted. Yet I don’t see how they could be avoided in Ilan’s lexicon — and therefore would logically be included in B’s figures. B breaks down Ilan’s list between New Testament occurrences, Josephan literature, Jerusalem ossuaries, Jewish desert and Masada texts and early rabbinic literature. I don’t know where Ilan fits Beth She’arim of lower Galilee in this breakdown.
The names of the Seven in Acts 6:5
Bauckham omits these names from his comparisons because “it is not easy to tell” and “it is far from certain” if they represent people born in Palestine or in the Diaspora. This is just one case that illustrates my concern that B is attempting to use a lexical tool that is simply not designed to yield the sort of evidence he wants. The database creator, Ilan, on the other hand does include these names in her list of Palestinian Jews. When Bauckham speaks of his judgment differing from Ilan’s no rationales for his differences are explained and it is difficult to avoid the impression that his variations in judgment are essentially subjective to say the least. Let’s look at this first example:
Firstly, the reason for ditching the names in Acts 6:5 as non-Palestinian. I have already referred to the dominance of the Greek culture and language even in broader Palestine and south of Galilee discussed throughout Collins’ and Sterling’s “Hellenism in the Land of Israel“. At the very least the authors in this book demonstrate that we cannot make simplistic assumptions about Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek culture in our period of interest. Bauckham himself discusses the propensity of Palestinian Jews to have both Semitic and Greek names, and that in our sources we should expect only one of these two names to be used on any particular occasion (p.72). So by B’s own statement of the evidence we cannot be swayed by the Greek nature of the names alone. The most popular of Palestinian names, Simon itself, after all, is itself a Greek name equivalent of the Hebrew Simeon (p.74); and the name of our leading Simon’s brother, Andrew, was also a Greek name (p.83).
And the story of Acts 6 concerns different factions labelled Hebrews and Hellenists (surely not a surprising parochial division in a land dominated by Hellenistic culture since 330 bce) — and I know of no definitive understanding of what the author actually meant by these terms in this context. (But please to bring me up to date if this question has at last been resolved!) What is clear in our evidence in Acts 6:5, however, is that only one of the seven names is distinguished by the author as not being ethnically Jewish or from Palestine:
. . . and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
How can one assume from this evidence that the other names are likewise not intended to be understood as “from Palestine”?
The question is further complicated by a subsequent reference to some from a “Synagogue of Freedmen” who are singled out as originating from the Diaspora and whose religious preferences appear to be far more “Jewish-orthodox” and “Palestine-focussed” than the Christians, both “Hebrew” and “Hellenist”. Compare this with Acts 2 where the author again draws the readers’ attentions to whenever Diaspora Jews are present at this early stage of Church History. One goes way beyond the available evidence if one assumes that a faction called “Hellenists” in an area dominated by Hellenistic culture since 330 bce are not local Jews, and are not singled out as belonging to the Diaspora when other names either side of Acts 6:5 are so distinguished.
Ananias of Acts 9:10 goes too
Nor does B give an explanation for why he thinks this Ananias was a Syrian and must therefore be removed from a list of Palestinian Jews. He simply says he disagrees with Ilan’s inclusion of the name in her Palestinian list. Again the rationale appears without objective foundation. The story of Acts up to 9:10 has been of the parochial outlook of the local Christian community as they seem to completely forget Christ’s command in 1:8 to go out and witness to the world. The only thing that initially got them moving was the persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom (8:1-4). So the narrative leads the reader to directly perceive the Christian populations suddenly popping up in Samaria and Damascus as being the direct consequence of this scattering.
The author draws this link directly to Ananias in Damascus by having him speak to God a reminder of Acts 8:3 — the persecution and scattering of Christians that followed the death of Stephen — a persecution that this Ananias had been, by narrative implication, lucky enough to escape. Following Stephen’s martrydom there was a great persecution in which Ananias escaped, and this persecution is some short time afterwards centred on the specific actions of Saul, who was clearly not responsible for the first persecution immediately following Stephen’s death.
The author draws this link between Ananias’s presence in Damascus and the Jerusalem persecution again in 9:21 when Saul’s Jewish audience suspect he has come to ferret out and drag back to Jerusalem those Jewish Christians who had escaped after Stephen’s lynching.
This Ananias of Acts 9 is further presented as someone well-experienced in the Christian faith. It makes little sense to think that Saul would be sent for instruction to a novice. Saul then himself begins to preach to the Jews of Damascus and the direction of the narrative indicates that this was the first time Damascus Jews had heard the gospel. Saul’s audience prepare to murder Saul, not Ananias or earlier Christians who had taught there and converted him.
Against all this narrative evidence Bauckham dismisses this Ananias as a probably non-Palestinian Jew, and so discounts this instance of the name from his list of “Palestinian Jewish Names”.
The scope of the Diaspora?
Bauckham writes that names from the Jewish Diaspora were very different as a group from those of Jewish Palestine. My thoughts immediately raced to areas that have most commonly been under consideration as possible provenances of our gospel stories — Syria, Asia Minor, Rome, Greece — and wondered what we know of Jewish names in those areas. Regrettably the only illustration that Bauckham gives of Jewish Diaspora names being at odds with Jewish Palestinian names is the Jews in the Egyptian Diaspora.
I would have thought that Ilan’s Lexicon could have allowed for a bit more comprehensive analysis of Diaspora names, given that 90% of the funerary inscriptions are from Beth She’arim and most of these apparently indicate a birth place beyond Palestine. I would also prefer some specific reassurance that these names (all post 70 ce) were not lumped with the other count of “Jewish Palestinian names”.
But without this, and by comparing exclusively Jewish Egyptian names with Jewish “Palestinian” name, Bauckham’s following assertion is without any serious foundation:
Thus the 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. (p.73)
A look at the comparative figures presented by Bauckham does nothing to assist his case. Of the 7 most popular Jewish male names in Egypt (of which we have only 45 instances), 4 of them are found in both Jewish Palestinian name lists and the New Testament. The only exceptions are Dositheus, Pappus and Samuel. All of these exceptions are found among Jewish Palestinians but not the New Testament. Nevertheless, within Palestine, these 3 exceptions are even ranked as more popular than two Jewish Egyptian names that are found in both Jewish Palestine and the New Testament — Barsabbas (Sabbataius) and Bartholomew (Ptolemaius). Thus one could well argue from this data that the New Testament was at least as likely to select a popular Jewish Egyptian name as it was a less popular Jewish Palestinian name!
But we all know what they say about statistics so I won’t go there! 😉
Anyway, this is getting long enough by far for one post so will continue this chapter next time, and hopefully get on to a discussion of my additional tables then too.
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