The Unclear Origins and Etymology of Kleopas (Κλεόπας)

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by Tim Widowfield

The Road to Emmaus

The author of the third gospel tells the well-loved post-crucifixion story of two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. Along the way they meet a stranger (Jesus, incognito) who asks them what’s going on.

One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” (Luke 24:18, NASB)

Here, Cleopas (Κλεόπας) makes his first and only appearance in the canonical gospels, unless you believe the character named Clopas in John’s gospel is the same person.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19:25, KJV)

Notice that the Authorized Version manages to hide the fact that the underlying Greek contains a different name. The Textus Receptus says κλωπα, but the KJV translators have pre-harmonized John with Luke, a fact the lay reader would scarcely suspect.

(From this point forward, I’ll use the modern transliteration for Kleopas and Klopas.)

Virtuous Harmonization

Some have even argued that Alphaeus, Klopas, and Kleopas are all the same person, but you would have to dive pretty deeply into the upside-down world of the apologists to believe that. Harmonization here, given the scant information we have about the name and the characters portrayed in the gospels, is unwarranted.

We might even suspect that Luke invented the name, given the lack of attestation to it in contemporary literature and the uncertainty surrounding its etymology. Some authorities have presented the argument, not without merit, that Kleopas is short for Kleopatros, the masculine form of Kleopatra, a name that means something like “glory of the father.” As an example, they note that the nickname of Herod Antipater was “Antipas.” On the other hand, several authors have claimed that the names Kleopas and Klopas both come from the same Aramaic source, which seems possible, but tough to prove.

Fictional Characters

Being called Antipater or Antipas was not intended as an insult.

Richard Carrier, in On the Historicity of Jesus, says Luke probably invented the name and then goes further, claiming that it means “Tell All.” He writes:

Kleopas is occasionally claimed to be a contraction of Kleopatros (which means ‘renowned father’ <better, Glory of the Father>), but there is no need of that hypothesis when the apposite meaning is clear: the deliberate combination of kleo (glory, fame, report) and pas (all, everything). There are few precedents for such a name, as a contraction or otherwise. It thus appears to be Luke’s invention. (Carrier 2014, p. 480, my notes in angle brackets)

(Note: The names Kleopatros and Kleopatra are better rendered in the genitive, viz.: “glory of his/her father.” The queen who enchanted both Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius did not have a name that meant “renowned father.”)

If by “such a name” Carrier means “a name like this” or “a nickname that is formed in this manner,” he may have forgotten that the name of our supposed author, Loukas (Λουκᾶς) is short for the names Loukanos (Λουκανός) and Loukios (Λούκιος). Other “precedents” include Silas (Σίλας) for Silvanos (Σιλουανός) and, possibly, Theudas (θευδᾶς) for Theodōros (θεόδωρος). (For more discussion about hypocoristic names, see A. T. Robinson’s Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Researchp. 171 ff.)

If, on the other hand, he means “this particular name,” then he could just as well have written, “There are no precedents for such a name”: Kleopas is unattested before Luke.

As to whether “pas” in this case means “everything,” I’m reminded of some quite embarrassing efforts by Biblical scholars who botched (and continue to botch) the translation of Antipas as meaning “against everything.” It does not.

This mistake continues to recur, because some scholars appear to be unaware that the prefix “anti” can also mean “like” or “in honor of” as in “like the father” or “in honor of the father” — Antipatros. Being called Antipater or Antipas was not intended as an insult. They are also ignorant of the formation of nicknames in Greek. But enough of that.

References from the Grammarian Herodian

Carrier could be onto something. Let’s hear him out.

In extant literature, Kleopas as a name is mentioned only later by the second-century grammarian Aelius Herodianus (Definitions 64): but he does not identify it as a contraction of Kleopatros, and he doesn’t identify anyone as actually having that name (sometimes hypothetical examples appear in Aelius <i.e., Herodian>). (Carrier 2014, p. 480, my notes in angle brackets)

Note: Carrier refers to Aelius Herodianus as Aelius, but scholars refer to him as Herodian.

We have, of course, no reason at all to expect that Herodian would identify a specific person having the name. Nor am I aware of any reason to assert that Herodian listed hypothetical examples.

But in any case, this reference had me stumped. For longer than I care to admit, I could not find the title Carrier referred to in this footnote, and sadly, it does not appear in his bibliography. Perhaps we can reveal a clue in the following sentence:

Aelius <i.e., Herodian> says that “every phrase deriving from the syllable kle is written with a bare epsilon, e.g., kleos, as in doxa [i.e. glory/opinion/reputation], and kleizō, in speaking, as in doxazō [i.e. to extol], and the following proper names derive from the same word: Kleon <he means Kleōn>, Kleonikos, Kleopatros, and Kleopas.” (Carrier 2014, p. 480, my notes in angle brackets)

Not until I back-translated the English into Greek did I finally stumble upon the source. It comes from a work called Ἐπιμερισμοί (Epimerismoi), commonly translated as Parsings. You can also find it listed under the Latin title Partitiones. Brill’s New Pauly renders it as Subdivisions. It does not mean “Definitions.”

I found a copy of a 19th century transcription of this work with the same page number that Carrier refers to. For anyone who might be interested, here is the actual Greek:

Πᾶσα λέξις ἀπὸ τῆς κλε συλλαβῆς ἀρχομένη διὰ τοῦ
ε ψιλοῦ γράφεται· οἷον κλέος, ἡ δόξα· κλεΐζω, ῥῆμα, τὸ
δοξάζω, καὶ τὰ ἐξ αὐτῦ· Κλέων, Κλεόνικος, Κλεόπατρος,
καὶ Κλεόπας, κύρια.

(Herodianus [Boissonade tr.] 1819, pp. 63-64, original line breaks preserved)

I wondered whether Herodian might have mentioned Antipas in his Parsings. He didn’t, but I did come across Klopas (Κλοπᾶς) on p. 72. That should have alerted me to the fun to come, but I was oblivious.


Next, I was curious to find the source of the footnote in the text that referred to the later Latin author, Suidas, who spelled both Kleonikas and Kleopas with an omega rather than an omicron. That search led me to a web page on Evangelical Textual Criticism by Dirk Jongkind. He writes:

The Partitiones contains orthographical and inflectional observations on Greek. A number of these words appear to come from the Greek Bible, both Old and New Testament, though the work in itself does not betray any ecclesiastical Christian connection. Under the initial syllable /i/, for example, the entry ιησους [iēsous, “Jesus”] is glossed rather simplistically, as ο θεος [ho theos, “the god”]. (Jongkind 2014)

He’s mistaken, but I’ll give him a pass. The editor of the 19th-century work prints Jesus in all caps, here on p. 42:

That’s startling enough, but notice as well that Herodian mentions Jeremiah, Jeroboam, Job, the Jordan, etc. I wouldn’t have expected that. What Jongkind actually meant to write was that Christos is glossed rather simplistically as “the god.” This is an image of a portion of p. 151:

Jongkind might have mentioned as well that in other cases he mentions gods like Hephaestus, whom he refers to as “the Greek god” [θεός Ελληνικός, p. 54]. But Christ? He’s just “CHRIST, the god Christ.” Note, too, that Herodian allegedly refers to Christians and the names Christina and Christopher.

What’s going on here?

The work is ascribed to Aelius Herodianus (II AD), but apparently falsely so, according to the Neue Pauly. The Pinakes website lists his work under Herodianus Alexandrinus (also II AD), but I haven’t seen any justification for this. A date of this work with its New Testament terms somewhere in the second century AD would be nice, but it is inherently unlikely that the writings of the New Testament (including Mark — Boanerges is mentioned) already had drawn attention from any grammarian. My own rule of thumb for dating anything is that if I don’t have a clue it is likely to be fourth of fifth century AD. (Jongkind 2014, emphasis mine)

Authentic, Spurious, or Something Else?

. . . the name Klopas almost certainly doesn’t mean you had to hide the silverware when you invited him over for dinner.

He has a point. Something definitely seems amiss in this work. However, the jury is still out as to whether Parsings (Partitiones) is wholly spurious or heavily redacted by later editors and authors.

For a recent discussion of the issues surrounding Herodian’s body of work, we can refer to Eleanor Dickey’s “A Catalog of Works Attributed to the Grammarian Herodian”* in which she writes concerning this work:

Ἐπιμερισμοί “Parsings.” This title is used to refer to two completely different works. Schultz treats them both as no. 41 in his list; the TLG has only the second, as no. 36; and Dyck has only the first, as no. 14.

The first work known as Ἐπιμερισμοί is a collection of fragments concerning etymology; Lentz thought that these were late creations and so could not have a connection with Herodian, but more recently Dyck has argued that the situation is more complicated.** According to Dyck, the work is a composite production to such an extent that the question of authorship is meaningless: there may well be a core of material going back to Herodian or at least to his time, but it is no longer possible to separate this material from that derived from other sources. Lentz gives the majority of the fragments in his introduction, and Dyck adds some more; none of the fragments can be found on the TLG [The TLG Cannon, Berkowitz and Squitier 1990].** (Dickey 2014, p. 329, emphasis mine)

With that in mind, Carrier’s next sentence loses some of its punch. He continues:

Thus, we should infer that Kleōn, from Kleo + os, means Glorious, Reputable, Extolled; Kleonikos, from Kleo + nikos, means Famous Victory <better, Famous Victor>; Kleopatros = Kleo + patros, means Renowned Father <better, Glory of the Father>; and so Kleopas, from Kleo + pas = All Glorious, Everywhere Famed, Proclaiming All. (Carrier 2014, p. 480, my notes in angle brackets)

Even if Carrier were correct to rely on Herodian, we still have to account for the parallel situation of Klopas on p. 72. The containing paragraph, which starts on p. 71, deals with the root κλo (klo), which signifies the taking of someone else’s property. (Recall that e varies with o in Indo-European languages.) In the list or words leading up to Klopas, Herodian lists:

  • κλοπή — theft

  • κλεψία — thievery, theft

  • κλοπιαίον [better, κλοπιμαίων] — stolen property

  • κλοποφόρημα — a theft

  • κλοπoφoρώ — This obscure word could possibly be one of those “hypothetical examples” Carrier mentioned above. I could find only one other reference: Suidas (see Suidas 1619, p. 1478) gives the definition of Diripio (loot) or Depraedor (pillage).

Following Carrier’s etymological advice leads to an unsettling conclusion. Yet it seems highly unlikely that Klopas would mean “stealing everything.” If Partitiones provides no help in determining the etymology of Klopas, then its value for illuminating the meaning of Kleopas is also suspect.

And we have more evidence for why we might have reason to doubt. Observant readers will note that Kleopas (p. 64) and Klopas (p. 72) both appear at the end of each list, out of alphabetical order. A later Christian scribe may well have tacked them on.

James Audlin argues forcefully against the likelihood of a theft-based etymology in The Gospel of John – Volume Two: The Original Version Restored and Translated.

The first problem with that theory is that κλεω (kleō) is a very unusual (hence unlikely) variant spelling of κλειω (kleiō, “renowned”). However neither variation is a root of κλεοπας in Luke or κλωπας in John. The actual root of both κλεοπας and κλωπας refers to thievery. (This root is also behind the English word “kleptomaniac”.)

The second problem is that this theory requires πας to be a contraction of πατρος, “father”, but πας already means something in Greek: not “father”, but “all” or “everything”. In fact, the infamous king Herod Antipatros, Herod As-Opposed-to-his-Father (of the same name), is far better known by the nasty epithet given him by the people, Herod Antipas, Herod Against-Everything. Therefore, both κλεοπας in Luke and κλωπας in John would mean “Thief-of-Everything”! Leaving aside the issues this raises in Luke, I think it is a safe assumption that no one intended John 19: 25 to say Mary was the wife of a burglar.

Audlin, James. The Gospel of John – Volume Two: The Original Version Restored and Translated (The Works of John the Presbyter Book 2) (Kindle Locations 12941-12956). Editores Volcán Barú. Kindle Edition.

Audlin’s first paragraph only makes sense if we forget the existence of the name Kleopatros, which simply cannot mean “stealing the father” or “theft of dad.” I suspect Audlin travels down this fruitless path because of his commitment to the notion that Klopas and Kleopas simply must be the same guy. The second paragraph contains nonsensical etymological arguments about Antipater and Antipas, which we should reject; however, he does reinforce the point I was making above — namely, that the name Klopas almost certainly doesn’t mean you had to hide the silverware when you invited him over for dinner.


None of the arguments for the origins and meaning of Kleopas strike me as conclusive. Given the rarity of the name, I would not be surprised if Luke invented it. Nor would I be surprised if Kleopas was a common pet name of Kleopatros, despite the lack of a reference in the written record.

One persistent issue in academia, Biblical scholarship in particular, is the requirement to publish, combined with the desire to say something new (or, just as likely, to repeat something old, but lost down the memory hole) while striking the pose of bold certainty. Confidence is sexy.

Unfortunately, in many cases we just don’t know what the truth is. This is such a case. Neither my paycheck nor my standing in some community depend on my “knowing” what Kleopas means. So I’m free to tell you the truth: We don’t know.

Another problem with Biblical scholarship is the temptation to go quote-fishing for references that may back one’s pet theory. Carrier wants Kleopas to mean essentially the same thing as Proculus. They almost surely do not. Referring to Herodian’s Parsings with an idiosyncratic translation of the title and with no reference in the bibliography is bad form — forgivable, but annoying. Worse is citing a work of extremely dubious heritage, clearly tainted, and possibly pseudonymous, with no apparent awareness of the controversy surrounding it.

* Dickey, E. (2014) A catalogue of works attributed to the grammarian Herodian. Classical Philology, 109 (4). pp. 325-345. ISSN 0009837X doi: https://doi.org/10.1086/677859 Available at http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/38617

** See the footnotes and bibliography in Dickey’s article.

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Tim Widowfield

Tim is a retired vagabond who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.

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22 thoughts on “The Unclear Origins and Etymology of Kleopas (Κλεόπας)”

  1. Wow! How about changing “thief” — or “burglar” — to “robber”-λῃστής.
    Doesn’t that suddenly give the name(s) a likely relevant meaning?

      1. That was a terse response. You don’t find it at all interesting that the word “robber”, λῃστής, in the NT not only appears several times in connection with events surrounding Jesus, but that λῃστής in Luke 23 is exchanged for a synonym, κακοῦργος, “criminal”?
        “Robber”, “criminal”, “thief” …
        No, we don’t know what these names — cleopas, clopas — mean. But you allow yourself to speculate, and it is to your credit that you inspire others to as well.

  2. Tim cited Carrier as saying

    kleos, as in doxa [i.e. glory/opinion/reputation]

    Here’s a fun riddle for all you aspiring philologists out there that I bet you could stump Carrier with: Why does “doxa” in ancient times mean both “glory” and “opinion?” What is the connection between the two?

  3. This –

    “The actual root of both κλεοπας and κλωπας refers to thievery. (This root is also behind the English word “kleptomaniac”.)

    “… both κλεοπας in Luke and κλωπας in John would mean ‘Thief-of-Everything’!”

    – ties with Lena’s reference to robber (and the obscure reference to and use of robber/s in the NT)

    κλέπτω = kléptō (as might Κλεπτo, as in κλεπτομανής)

    κλέφτης = thief


    Πᾶσα λέξις ἀπὸ τῆς κλε συλλαβῆς ἀρχομένη διὰ τοῦ
    ε ψιλοῦ γράφεται· οἷον κλέος, ἡ δόξα· κλεΐζω, ῥῆμα, τὸ
    δοξάζω, καὶ τὰ ἐξ αὐτῦ· Κλέων, Κλεόνικος, Κλεόπατρος,
    καὶ Κλεόπας, κύρια

    κλε (or κλέ) occurs three times before one gets to the [four] similar names beginning with it …

    κλέος = glory*

    κλεΐζω – I cry

    * which relates to Neil’s qualification to a passage of Carrier’s cited above –

    Kleopas is occasionally claimed to be a contraction of Kleopatros (which means ‘renowned father’ ), but there is no need of that hypothesis when the apposite meaning is clear: the deliberate combination of kleo (glory, fame, report) and pas (all, everything).


    also, re “The Textus Receptus says κλωπα”, – κλωπα = cloak

    and, fwiw; κλοπή (theft) is similar to κλoπoς = knot

    1. The point, for anyone who may have missed it, is that we don’t know what these names mean, where they came from, whether they were invented, etc.

      And this is one of the most important ideas Neil and I have been trying to make people understand: Just because something appears to “fit” does not mean that it’s true or even likely. For example, Clopas sounds a lot like an Aramaic word. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clopas However, it’s still conjecture, because we have no corroborating evidence. This problem is rampant Type 2 Mythicism.

      1. “…we don’t know what these names mean, where they came from, whether they were invented, etc. … it’s still conjecture …”

        I fully appreciate that. Good day.

  4. “My own rule of thumb for dating anything is that if I don’t have a clue it is likely to be fourth of fifth century AD.”

    Now that is a method I can fully understand.

  5. If people were to criticize Carrier for this and other flaws (such as his inability to distinguish between Mohism and Confucianism and his complete ignorance about Shakyamuni Buddha’s name), then their criticisms would be legitimate and more likely to succeed. But instead they focus their criticisms as ad hominum insults and distortions of his main arguments.

  6. A couple of Extra Biblical Mentions of Clopas/Cleophas/Alpheaus:

    Eusebius , History of the Church,
    Book 3, Chapter 11
    2. They all with one consent pronounced Symeon, the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention; to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Saviour. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph.
    Book3,Chapter 32. Symeon, Bishop of Jerusalem, suffers Martyrdom.
    1. It is reported that after the age of Nero and Domitian, under the emperor whose times we are now recording, a persecution was stirred up against us in certain cities in consequence of a popular uprising. In this persecution we have understood that Symeon, the son of Clopas, who, as we have shown, was the second bishop of the church of Jerusalem, suffered martyrdom.
    2. Hegesippus, whose words we have already quoted in various places, is a witness to this fact also. Speaking of certain heretics he adds that Symeon was accused by them at this time; and since it was clear that he was a Christian, he was tortured in various ways for many days, and astonished even the judge himself and his attendants in the highest degree, and finally he suffered a death similar to that of our Lord.
    3. But there is nothing like hearing the historian himself, who writes as follows: “Certain of these heretics brought accusation against Symeon, the son of Clopas, on the ground that he was a descendant of David and a Christian; and thus he suffered martyrdom, at the age of one hundred and twenty years, while Trajan was emperor and Atticus governor.”
    4. And the same writer says that his accusers also, when search was made for the descendants of David, were arrested as belonging to that family. And it might be reasonably assumed that Symeon was one of those that saw and heard the Lord, judging from the length of his life, and from the fact that the Gospel makes mention of Mary, the wife of Clopas, who was the father of Symeon, as has been already shown.

    Mary the mother of the Lord. Mary the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle, and of Simon and Thaddeus, and of one Joseph. Mary Salome, wife of Zebedee, mother of John the evangelist and James. Mary Magdalene. These four are found in the gospel. James and Judas and Joseph were sons of an aunt of the Lord. James also and John were sons of another aunt of the Lord. Mary, mother of James the Less and Joseph, wife of Alphaeus, was the sister of Mary the mother of the Lord, whom John names of Cleophas, either from her father or from the family of the clan, or for some other reason. Mary Salome is called Salome either from her husband or her village. Some affirm that she is the same as Mary of Cleophas because she had two husbands. “Papias”, whether the 2nd c. Papias or Papias of Lombardy is indeterminate.
    Bodleian 2397, a Latin manuscript (dated 1302/1303). From Roberts-Donaldson, Fragments of Papias.

    The plethora of Alpheus, Clopas, Cephas, and Cleophas in the NT related literature and historical literature, as well as the confusing proliferations of Simons/Symeons and Clements, Domatillas, and a passel of bishops, historians and Emperors who took the Flavian surname sugggests something odd was going on, but underlying reasons are now buried by the noise of time.

  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopas

    Epiphanius adds that Joseph and Cleopas were brothers, sons of “Jacob, surnamed Panther.”[14] !!!!!!!!

    [14] of Salamis, Epiphanius; Williams, Frank. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: De fide. Books II and III Sect 78:7,5. BRILL. p. 620. ISBN 9004228411. Retrieved 10 December 2016.

  8. Dickey – 2014, Jongkind – 2014. And Carrier? Also 2014. Works that come out at the same time are not available to be incorporated in or to take account of one another. I can’t see any point to this post other than egregious Carrier bashing. When you parse a word, you are seeking meaning. When you define a word, the same. Cleopas? Carrier concludes it is not a random name, Louden concludes the same. A Jew could derive the New Testament from Jewish lore, A Greek could do the same from Hellenic lore, and a Roman likewise. Some of that is going to be wrong, some of it happy coincidence, but a great deal of it can’t be anything other than authorial intent. As for G.Lk, it has almost certainly been multiply redacted and some of the things that seem to spring from the text will be down to the redactor(s). Distinctions without differences have nowt to do with the price of fish. Leave the quibbling about very minor points that have no bearing to the apologists. The overall argument stands; even this very specific Emmaus snippet is so old hat I’ve forgotten where I first came across it but it must be thirty or forty years ago.

        1. You may recall that one of Carrier’s arguments against the historicity of the gospels is that they echo the similar narratives and use similar terms. I am sympathetic to these arguments.

          As part of his proof, Carrier asserts that Proculus means “Proclaimer” in archaic Latin. I can find absolutely no source that can confirm that. I can find no Latin or Indo-European roots that would even make this possible. He also asserts that Kleopas means essentially the same thing. It does not.

          As it happens, the founding myth of Rome, then famously known everywhere and celebrated in annual passion plays, is almost the exact same story: a man named Proculus (archaic Latin for ‘Proclaimer’ or ‘He Who Proclaims’, thus not only again a fictional name designed for the story but essentially the same name as Cleopas) journeys by road from nearby Alba Longa to Rome . . .” p. 481

          Remember, I support what Carrier is trying to do here. Most importantly, he’s trying to introduce a methodology that can confirm or disconfirm historicity. But, unfortunately, a lot of what he puts forth in the section on Romulus is simply wrong. A good thesis needs to be able to stand up to fair, honest, but intense analysis.

  9. Hello, Tim, from rural Panama – I just stumbled on your comments, and find them interesting. You’re reading an earlier edition of my book; in the edition to be published shortly the paragraph in question reads as follows —

    Other scholars assert, without the slightest proof, that the Lukan form of the name, κλεοπας, is a contraction of Κλειοπατρος (Kleiopatros, “Renowned Father”), best known today in its feminine form, anglicized as Cleopatra, associated with the notorious Egyptian queen. The Kleiopatros theory requires that κλειω (kleiō, “renowned”) shifted to κλεο (kleo) or κλω (klō), which is unlikely enough, and then was attached to πας (pas), which we must believe was meant as a contraction of πατρος (patros, “father”), even though πας already means something in Greek: not “father”, but “everybody” or “everything”. In fact, the infamous king Herod Antipatros, Herod As-Opposed-to-his-Father (of the same name), is far better known by the nasty epithet given him by the people, Herod Antipas, Herod Against-Everybody. By this avenue, the name Cleopas would have to mean “Everybody is Renowned”, which I cannot believe – this would take the specialness out of renownedness and make it as common as ordinariness.

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