That Name Above All Names

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by Neil Godfrey

Still stranded here at Kuala Lumpur airport (though I’ve had a few opportunities to escape and check out the city itself) and now late at night checking up on mail, blog comments, etc, and I see again various views (see the comments on The First Gospel: History or Apocalyptic Drama) on what might be the “name above all names” that we read about in Philippians 2:9-10

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . .

Is that name “Jesus”? Is it “Lord”? Is it “YHWH”? Is it …. Jason/Jesus?

Have a close look at the classicist John Moles’ articles on the significance of the Greek name Jason (cum Jesus). I think he may have been on to something:

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29 thoughts on “That Name Above All Names”

  1. Maybe the name was so sacred that it was never committed to writing but only spoken as part of some initiation. Has anyone ever considered such a possibility? I do not believe it (the name seems most likely to me to have been Jesus), but I would be interested in any rebuttals of this idea.

    1. The more defensible approach to the question is to work with the evidence (as per John Moles). If we have no evidence to support an idea then it needs no rebuttal.

    2. “Has anyone ever considered such a possibility?”

      Valentinus apparently did. Much later. Elaine Pagels has a book called “The Gnostic Paul”, where she attempts to explain how the followers of Valentinus interpreted Paul as Gnostic, and developed a whole cult based upon Paul’s writings. Squashed early though.

      1. Perhaps the Name above all names was melon.
        Irenaeus to Valentinus:
        “But, in that case, nothing hinders any other, in dealing with the same subject, to affix names after such a fashion as the following: There is a certain Proarche, royal, surpassing all thought, a power existing before every other substance, and extended into space in every direction. But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-Emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, since they are one, produced (and yet did not simply produce, so as to be apart from themselves) a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable, and delicious, which fruit-language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon. These powers, the Gourd, Utter-Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus. For if it is fitting that that language which is used respecting the universe be transformed to the primary Tetrad, and if any one may assign names at his pleasure, who shall prevent us from adopting these names, as being much more credible [than the others], as well as in general use, and understood by all?”

        1. Huh!

          I am reminded that in “The Lord of the Rings”, at the gates of Moria, the password in Sindarin; the word for “friend”, was . . . mellon.

          Probably a coincidence.

          Probably . . .

          1. 🙂
            Although “melon” was Irenaeus dissing Valentinus. Assuming Valentinus was the author of The Gospel of Truth, he gave a whole dissertation on “Name”.

      2. The letters of Paul are a fabrication from the second century; therefore, Valentinus was not that much later, but rather involved in the history of redaction.

        1. Maybe. I personally think 7 of the letters are original to Paul, and obviously early. However, I think what Paul meant by “Name above all names”, and Valentinus’s interpretation of Paul’s words, to justify his Gnostic approach, are both pretty much irrelevant. It’s not like Paul had ground truth, and Valentinus didn’t. Irenaeus thought Valentinus was crazy. But Paul was the one who supposedly met a resurrected Jesus, and developed his theology based on the teachings of a dead man, by a dead man. So both are interesting stories, but not worth 2000 years of trying to decide what “Name above all names” mean. Except for religion professors (ok Neil – I know; but if “Name above all names” was melon, what difference does it make?). Does it make Paul any more or less sane? Or Valentinus any more or less intelligent? Personally, I think Valentinus was a more likeable guy than Paul.

  2. The Expanded Bible presents a variant reading of that line as it’spreferred choice:

    So God ·raised [exalted] him to the highest place.
    God ·made his name [or gave him the name] ·greater than [far above] every other name
    so that every knee will bow to the name of Jesus—
    everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.
    And ·everyone [L every tongue] will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
    and bring glory to God the Father.

    That seems to make a lot of sense in context, as it’s about reputation rather than a magic name which nobody seems to care about.

    1. Unless I’ve missed something I don’t see any suggestion in Philippians that the name is a “magic name”. “Made his name greater” strikes me as an apologetic attempt playing on some technical ambiguity to remove the difficulty the the passage otherwise presents to the Gospel narrative. Yes? Compare other uses.

      If you read through Paul’s letters for the first time and were asked, what name do you think Paul believed to be above all other?…..

      1. That is a very fair point. Thinking about the nature of that interpretation though, the key word isn’t so much ‘gave’ as ‘name’ itself, which is often used to mean reputation.

        “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the reputation which is above every reputation, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.”

        Given the context that seems to make more sense than taking it as a literal reference to a name. It can’t be ‘Jesus’ or ‘Josiah’ because we have roughly infinity times more references to other mortal men with the name in the first century than we do to Jesus Christ. It’s just a name. Christ isn’t even a name. If there was another name then it seems not to have been a matter of note in any texts that survive. (Unless I’m missing something, which is entirely possible. That seems to be a truism when it comes to early Christianity…)

        Taking the other tack the ultimate name in a Judaic sense would be the name of God wouldn’t it? A hint that Jesus was God? The problem with that is that it involves God giving himself his name.

        A third option might be that God gave Jesus the secret and true name of God (and how to pronounce it), as in Jesus was a man who learned the name of God and used it to perform supernatural feats. Compare that to the Jewish anti Christian account of Jesus the wizard, as a man who stole the name of God or secret knowledge of some sort.

        I lean towards the first as the simplest answer, but may of course be completely wrong and option three is much more interesting.

        1. One principle I have addressed a few times now is the problematic method of looking for supporting evidence for our theories with our confidence growing as we continue to find more evidence. The real test comes from trying to find what evidence would challenge our views. Example: what other words are more commonly used for “reputation” in this case, and how are the key words used elsewhere in similar contexts, etc.

          But the main point of my post was to try to direct readers to John Moles’ argument that the name really is Jesus. That obviously is counterintuitive for those of us who have been repeatedly told that it couldn’t be Jesus because that name was so common, but then the plain straightforward reading of that Philippians passage does indeed present us with counterintuitive meaning especially given our familiarity with the gospels. But Moles’ argument deserves a fair hearing.

  3. Per Philo’s De Mutatione Nominum (On the Change of Names):

    Ίησοΰς δέ σωτηρία κυρίου, (You are the Lord’s salvation,)
    εςεαις όνομα της άριστης (your name is excellent)

    Philippians 2:9:

    ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα (hyper every name)

    1. A clearer superlative might be: απο πᾶν ὄνομα (apo every name)

      “Hyper” might imply an everlasting name.

      Cf. Moses made for himself an everlasting name — Septuagint (LXX) Isaiah 63:12:

      ὁ ἀγαγὼν τῇ δεξιᾷ Μωυσῆν ὁ βραχίων τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ κατίσχυσεν ὕδωρ ἀπὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ ποιῆσαι αὐτῷ ὄνομα αἰώνιον

  4. I don’t have a firm view of what Phil 2:9 means by “the name” but I do see very good arguments for both Jesus and Lord. I’m less keen on YHWH because the passage suggests that the name is indeed heard and that is why nations will bow to its bearer.

    Note other traditions or interpretations, too. In Rev. 3 Jesus says he has God’s name but then he adds that he has another secret name. Then in Hebrews 1:4 we have a passage that reads very much like the name that is exalted above even the angels is “Son of God” — who else has God called his Son! goes the rhetorical question. So I sometimes wonder if we are being too pedantic if we insist the name in Phil.2:9 must be an orthodox personal name.

    And though “Christ” is not a personal name it is (per Novenson — see the archive on Novenson’s book, Christ Among the Messiahs) it is used as an honorific, so that a direct counterpart would be Epiphanes or Augustus, or Soter (=Saviour) or Africanus (conqueror of Africa). Then in other passages in Paul’s letters and the deutero-Paulines we read that “the Lord Jesus Christ” will be the name to whom all will be subject, etc. Commentators like to strip out the words “Jesus” and “Christ” from those references and say Paul meant only “Lord”… but that is another one of those explanations that sounds apologetics driven to me.

  5. On the 2017/12/29 posting I suggested that the name, Jesus, may have been an allusion to “the common man”. Evidence supporting the earliness of this identification might be found in Mark 10.42-43 (“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”). This posits a “You” (ordinary, common) class in opposition to a (rich and/or privileged) “Ruler” class. So the “Common Man” concept is there early on.

    Perhaps supporting this thesis is the role of Joshua in Zechariah. Joshua begins (ch. 3) his role dressed with filthy clothes (lower class) and progresses to rulership (v.7) which also included his high priesthood. Zechariah likely fires the imagination of early Christianity by making a point of saying (v.8) that the angel’s testimony is an indication of things to come.

  6. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” -Isaiah 9:6

    1. Septuagint (LXX) Isaiah 9:6:

      καλεῖται τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ (his name is called)
      μεγάλης βουλῆς ἄγγελος (megális voulís ángelos)

      1. von Heijne, Camilla Hélena (2010). The Messenger of the Lord in Early Jewish Interpretations of Genesis. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-3-11-022685-0.

        [Margaret Barker] claims that the concept of four archangels may have been derived from the four titles of the Messiah according to the MT of Isa 9:5
        In the LXX these four designations are combined into one, ‘The Angel of Great Counsel.’

  7. In Acts some nobodies tried to heal in the name of Jesus, that very common name, and the demons made complete fools of them. But when others with the right credentials used the name of Jesus, because of that name, the demons feared and fled; people were healed. (The cognate Greek name, Jason, means “healer”.) The name is so common but it is also with meaning, and at least one critical scholar of renown, Guignebert (no friend to mythicists of his day) was very doubtful that the person was so coincidentally given that name and that surely the name was applied to him only after his decease and resurrection.

    In Mark, too, it is the name of Jesus that the demons fear and before which they flee, and in which people are healed.

    And don’t forget the magic formula of the day that used the power of the name of Jesus. That was at a time when Jesus was also a common name. So what? The name still has meaning and a relevance that takes it beyond the common usage when used appropriately — as, for example, Paul did, both in his letters and according to his Acts interpreter.

    Check out the John Moles article.

    1. Ilan, Tal (2013). “Jesus and Joshua ben Perahiah: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue on Magic in Babylonia”. In Boustan, Ra’anan S.; et al. Envisioning Judaism: Studies in Honor of Peter Schäfer on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday. 2. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. pp. 985–995. ISBN 978-3-16-152227-7.

      [Per the Nippur incantation bowls] What these bowls suggest is that there existed a competition between Babylonian amulet writers who used the name of Joshua ben Perahiah and others, who used the name of Jesus. What they also show is that it was not at all clear at the time who was winning. Some Christians became convinced of the efficacy of Joshua ben Perahiah, and some Jews were convinced that the name of Jesus worked.

        1. • Joshua ben Perahiah (יהושע בן פרחיה‎, Yehoshua Ben Perachia) fl. 2nd–1st century BCE.
          • Jesus ???

          Avery-Peck, Alan J. “Magic Bowls”. My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 14 July 2015.

          During the talmudic period, in roughly 300-600 C.E., such bowls were in common use in Babylonia by Christians, Mazdeans, Mandeans, and Jews. While bowls in use in Jewish homes often were prepared by Jews who were not involved with or representative of the rabbinical academies, certain rabbinical figures also were deemed potent agents the citation of whose names could drive away particular demons.

          NB: Reprinted with permission of The Continuum International Publishing Group from The Encyclopedia of Judaism, edited by Jacob Neusner, Alan Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green.

          1. Thanks. The evidence would seem to tell us that there was a competition between the names in Late Antiquity; there is no reason to date this competition any earlier, however. The evidence invites us to investigate the social-religious circumstances of late antiquity that gave rise to the rivalry.

              1. Alexandria Maritime Museum (C1_3557) engraving:
                · ΔΙΑΧΡΗΣΤΟY (DIACHRISTOY)
                · ΟΓΟΙΣΤΑΙΣ (OGOISTAIS)

                Steve Singleton (14 October 2008). “Jesus the Magician? Archaeological Find is Unlikely as Earliest Reference to Jesus Christ”. DeeperStudy Blog.

                NOTE: The Franck Goddio Society has responded to this blog.

                Per Katrin Wollgast (c.2008):

                Dear Steve,
                scientists have studied the engraving and have come to different conclusions. The one hypothesis that Christ (in relation to Jesus-Christ) is mentioned on the bowl comes from Prof. André Bernand, epigrapher and Professor emeritus of French Universities.
                Kind regards,
                Katrin Wollgast
                Public Relations for Franck Goddio Society

                Ceramic Bowl Alexandria Roman times (1st Century BC and 1st Century AD) Alexandria Maritime Museum (C1_3557) by David Fabre, Doctor in Egyptology, member of the European Institute of Submarine Archaeology @ https://web.archive.org/web/20130124034938/http://deeperstudy.com/link/letter_on_bowl2.pdf

                According to the interpretation of Pr. André Bernand, Professor emeritus of French Universities, Goistais might be a mistaken graphic of goes, the “goet”, that is, the “magician, the sorcerer, the charmer, the magus”. This hypothesis becomes even more seducing as the expression introduced by “dia” is typical of these casters of chance and soothsayers well-known by the classical texts. According to this supposition, the writing could then be translated either as “by Chrestos/Christos the magician”, or “the magician by Chrestos/Christos.”

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