Here is a modified form of an exploratory essay I posted at another forum. It was in response to the question raised by the “Philippian Hymn”: was the name of Jesus itself “the name above all names” that was bestowed on God’s Son after his exaltation after crucifixion?
6 [Christ Jesus], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)
That looks like Jesus is the name that is “above every name”. But that seems so strange. We know the gospels tell us that Jesus had the name from birth. Besides, the name was the sixth most common male name at the time according to Tal Ilan’s Lexicon of Jewish Names (part 1, Palestine, 330 BCE – 200 CE, p. 56)
|Table 7: … MOST POPULAR MALE NAMES
|Joshua = Jesus
According to Wikipedia’s lists of most common given names in the last 100 years in the UK, Australia and USA, the equivalent would be Harry, Thomas and Benjamin.
We certainly don’t expect a “name above all names” to be a very common personal name, but then we don’t expect a very common personal name — the name itself — to have magical power when associated with a particular deity, either. Yet we do find the name of Jesus itself being chanted as having a magical power. From The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation:
Place olive branches before him, I and stand behind him and say:
“Hail, God of Abraham; hail, God of Isaac; hail, God of Jacob; Jesus Chrestos,
the Holy Spirit, the Son of the Father, who is above the Seven, / who is within
the Seven. Bring Iao Sabaoth; may your power issue forth from him, NN, until
you drive away this unclean daimon Satan, who is in him. I conjure you, daimon, —- p. 62
After placing [the patient] opposite [to you], conjure. This is the conjuration:
“I conjure you by the god of the Hebrews, / Jesus, IABA IAE ABRAOTHA ….. etc. p. 96
A phylactery for fever:
“SARICH “Of Jesus Christ, son of IAO (?), AORKACH quickly, quickly, / ROUGACH heal!…”
……………. p. 323
Ditto in Acts 3:16 — healing was performed by or in the name of Jesus
It is his name—that is, by faith in his name—that has healed this man whom you see and know. (ISV)
But in Acts 19:13 some mere nobodies or charlatans tried to use the name of Jesus to perform a miracle but they were punished and made to look complete idiots. The magical power of the name only worked if deployed by people with the right credentials.
Then some Jews who went around trying to drive out demons attempted to use the name of the Lord Jesus on those who had evil spirits, saying, “I command you by that Jesus whom Paul preaches!” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit told them, “Jesus I know, and I am getting acquainted with Paul, but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit jumped on them, got the better of them, and so violently overpowered all of them that they fled out of the house naked and bruised.
Otherwise it was nothing more than a powerless common name.
Matthew and Luke tell us that the name was assigned even before birth of Jesus. So we see here a paradox. Why would a common everyday name be selected to be assigned prior to birth unless there was something else associated with that name when assigned to a person with a particular role?
In John Jesus said he performed miracles by the power of his father’s name. So a name itself has power — but not absolutely. It only has power in the hands of a rightly credentialed user. Otherwise the demons will get ya — as we see in Acts.
Such a paradox is addressed by John Moles, a classicist, who wrote a lengthy article arguing why such a common name as Jesus (or in Greek, Jason) could indeed, in the gospels and letters of Paul (Paul speaks of doing or saying things “in the name of Jesus”) be found to have a distinctly special power:
But it was even more than a divine name: for the early Christians the
name ‘Jesus’ was a ‘transcendental signifier’.189 The early Christians ‘knew’
that Ἰησοῦς would ‘heal’ (and ‘save’) everything and everyone. They also
‘knew’ that the curse of Babel would finally be undone by universal acceptance,
and proclamation, of the name of Ἰησοῦς (cf. Philippians 2.9–10). ‘Jesus’
was the ‘name’ above all names; ‘Jesus’ was also the incarnate ‘word’ of
God; ‘Jesus’ was the sound that would resolve all discord. Again, the totalising
linguistic unity of ‘Jesus’ as supreme ‘name’ and ‘Jesus’ as logos generated
a religious energy and intensity quite unavailable through ‘Yahweh’ or
through Greek or Latin words for ‘G/god’.
Consequently, ‘Jesus’ had irresistible ‘healing’ power to ‘heal’ the Jews
beyond their historical rejection of him, beyond their rejection of the renewed
Jesus movement, beyond their punishment in the Jewish War, beyond
all their future rejections of him. Thus the early Christian historiographical
theodicy of the Jewish War is both like and distinctively different
from the theodicy of Josephus, Jewish historian and (eventual) supporter
All of the above observations are the more paradoxical for the very
commonness of ‘Jesus’ as a male Palestinian Jewish name. This paradox itself
requires explanation. The explanation must be that those of his followers
who accepted Jesus’ resurrection (some, of course, did not) found in it decisive
validation of his entire healing ministry.
So much for the significances of the pun on the level of meaning. But the
phenomenon also illustrates things on the level of praxis.
Not least is the effect of the sheer repetitiveness of the naming and the
associated punning: like Classical education, Jewish and Christian education
emphasised the importance of memorising tags as a way of dinning in basic
Of course, none of the above addresses the question of how that name happened to be assigned after the resurrection of this person.
For that we have Guignebert concluding that Jesus was not the name of our hero at all in his lifetime; he was assigned the name Jesus posthumously:
In other words, the name of Jesus has a peculiar power over the whole of creation, so that the spiritual beings of the world, who rule the elements and the stars, prostrate themselves at the sound of it. . . .
The most reasonable and probable explanation, if we reflect for a moment, is that the original followers of Christ, those, that is, who first recognized him as Christ, the Messiah, gave him a name which set him above humanity and expressed his divine nature. . . . .
It would be perfectly consistent with the process of “mythication” which the whole figure of Christ underwent, and which is already manifest in the Gospels. . . . . (p. 77ff)
Or as some mischievous ne’er do wells are wont to say, the man we know as Jesus wandering around healing and preaching in a pre-resurrection state was a late invention.
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