Thursday, April 13, 2023

What's in a Name

The following post is an elaboration on the YouTube short about names and the authenticity of the Gospels.  Here's the video:

Or, watch it directly at YouTube:

The book is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, by Richard Bauckham.

The significance of names in first-century Judea, as discussed in Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 of "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" by Richard Bauckham, provides compelling evidence for the credibility of the Gospels. Bauckham argues that names were not arbitrary in the ancient world, but carried meaningful associations and were carefully chosen to reflect the cultural and social norms of the time. This view is further supported the name database compiled by Tal Ilan,  Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity, which provides insights into the naming patterns and practices of that era.  She is a professor of Jewish Studies.

Bauckham emphasizes that the names mentioned in the Gospels, such as Jesus, James, John, and Simon, were common names during first-century Judea. This is consistent with the findings of Ilan's research, which reveals that these names were indeed prevalent during that time period. This alignment between the Gospel names and the database of Jewish names lends credibility to the Gospels as reliable historical accounts, written very early after the events they describe.  It suggests that the Gospel writers were accurately reflecting the naming practices of the time.

Some scholars have tried to suggest the Gospels were written much later than the events, such as the 2nd or even 3rd century.  If this were the case, the names used would not have matched what Ilan discovered in her compilation of names used in the 1st century.  A person from the 20th or 21st century could maybe pull off writing something they claimed was from an earlier period, because we now have access to information, such as that database.  Someone in the 2nd or 3rd century writing a “Gospel” later on would have inadvertently used common names from their own century.  The database compiled in the 20th century would have revealed this.  On the contrary, it has only reinforced the evidence that the Gospels were written early!

Furthermore, Bauckham highlights the use of patronymic names in the Gospels, where individuals were often referred to with the name of their father, such as Jesus son of Joseph or James son of Zebedee. This practice was common in first-century Judea and served as a means of identification and recognition within the community. The consistency of this naming convention in the Gospels further enhances their credibility as historical documents, as it reflects the social norms of the time and adds to the authenticity of the Gospel narratives.

Bauckham also discusses the use of nicknames or alternative names in first-century Judea, which were fluid and subject to change over time or in different social contexts. This is consistent with Ilan's research, which reveals that individuals in that era often had multiple names or nicknames. The fact that the Gospels reflect this naming fluidity, with Simon being referred to as Peter or James being called James the son of Alphaeus, supports the argument that the Gospel writers were accurately depicting the naming practices of their time.

The use of titles in conjunction with names in the Gospels, such as "son of man" or "son of God," also carries theological and messianic connotations that were significant in first-century Jewish culture. This aligns with Bauckham's argument that names were not only markers of identity and social status, but also carried theological significance. The consistency of these titles and their association with specific names in the Gospels further strengthens the credibility of the Gospel accounts as accurate historical records.

The significance of names in first-century Judea, as elucidated by Bauckham in "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" and supported by Ilan's research in the "Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity," lends credibility to the Gospels as early, reliable, and historical documents. The alignment between the Gospel names and the database of Jewish names, the consistency of naming conventions, the portrayal of naming fluidity, and the theological significance of titles all point to the accuracy and authenticity of the Gospel narratives. These findings provide compelling evidence for the reliability of the Gospels and affirm their credibility as historical accounts of Jesus' life and ministry.

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