This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Al Wolters responds on Junia

Al Wolters has kindly responded to my last post where I critiqued his suggestion that we might have a male Hebrew name in Rom 16:7 instead of a female "Junia". With his permission I paste Al's comments below.
Thanks for alerting me to your discussion of my JBL article on Junia/s. Here are a few brief responses:
(1) I am pleased that you do not dispute the main point of my article: that a Hebrew name Yehunni was known and used in Paul's day, and that it would have been Hellenized as Iounias, -ou.
(2) You are right that Maria could also be a Roman name, assuming that the person in question belonged to the Roman gens Maria, or was a former slave belonging to a member of that gens. However, this doesn't affect my argument, since you agree that the Maria of Rom 16:6 "was almost certainly Jewish."
(3) You write: "A man called Yehunni, after moving to Rome, would likely have taken a Greek or Latin name, such as Junius." Might he not instead, since the name Junius would imply either that he belonged to a prominent Roman gens, or was an ex-slave, have chosen to Latinize his Hebrew name as Junias, on the analogy of names like Andreas?
(4) I am intrigued by your claim that, with virtually no exceptions, "[w]hen Palestinian Christian Jews travelled to Gentile territories where Semitic names would not have been familiar, they took a Greek or Latin name." I notice that this claim contains multiple qualifiers (Palestinian, Christian, Jewish, Gentile territories where Semitic names were unfamiliar), so that the many examples of Jews who did keep Hellenized or Latinized versions of their Hebrew names outside of Palestine, but were not Christians, or lived in places like Babylon or Egypt, cannot be cited as counter-evidence. However, even with these restrictions, in seems to me (without doing a systematic search) that the apostle John (Ioannes) is a clear counter-example, since he lived for years in Ephesus.
(5) You state: "The likely original name of Junia is Joanna," following Bauckham. I would assess this claim much as you assess my argument on Junia/s: it is just possible, but highly unlikely. If IOYNIAN does represent the female Latin name Junia, then a much closer Hebrew equivalent would be Yehunni, which could also be a woman's name, and would have the advantage (in your view) of having an almost perfect Latin "sound-equivalent."
(6) It is my own view that the much higher incidence of Junia compared to Yehunni makes it more likely that IOYNIAN in Rom 16:7 is a woman's name rather than a man's. In my judgment, however, it is only marginally more likely. There are other factors (such as the preponderance of male leadership in Paul's circle) which add weight to the other side. My article was meant to show that it is not unreasonable to defend the view that Junia/s was male. As is the case with so many exegetical questions, we need to be satisfied with degrees of probability.
Here are my own responses to the points that Al makes.

(1) I am not qualified to assess your claim that "Yehunni" would have been Hellenized as Iounias, -ou. As you know, Tal Ilan, sees Yehunni as a variant of "Honi", rather than a name in its own right. One of the two men named Yehunni was designated "the smith". This might support Ilan's view since the designation would serve to distinguish this Yehunni from all the others called Honi, which was a more common name.

(2) You seem to misunderstand my point about Maria. I was merely saying that she does not provide you with a precedent of a Christian using a Hebrew name that would be unfamiliar to his or her neighbours. Maria was able to keep that Hebrew name because it, unlike Yehunni, was also a Latin name.

(4) You are right to cite John as a possible precedent. However, the name "John" was very common and therefore might not have been completely unfamiliar to his Greek neighbours (unlike Yehunni). It was the fifth most popular name in Palestine and 11th in the Western Diaspora, according to Ilan's statistics. Also, I think it is unlikely that the author of Revelation would have wanted to identify himself in his text, for fear of reprisals. This suggests that "John" was not the name by which he was normally known. It may be that he was normally known by a Greek or Latin substitute name.

(6) We do see female leaders in Paul's circle (Prisca, Phoebe, and probably Lydia, Euodia and Syntyche). It is true that the traveling missionaries tended to be male, but we must ask why this was. I am willing to be corrected, but I suspect that it would have been hard for women to get the necessary permission from their husbands/fathers to embark on missionary journeys, and that it would have been dangerous for them to travel alone, and that they might have scandalized the very people whom they hoped to convert if they had travelled with male non-relatives. These restrictions would not have applied to Junia, who travelled with her husband (Andronicus), who was also an apostle. So the scarcity of female traveling missionaries is not necessarily an argument against Junia being one.

Even if we did not know that Junia was a female name, we would still suspect that Andronicus and Junia were husband and wife. They are greeted by Paul as a two-some and are given no separate designations. They seem to have had a long association with each other, since both were in prison with him, and both were in the faith before him. Paul greets and describes them as a two-person unit, in much the same way that he does Prisca and Aquila.

So, since the name "Yehunni" was so rare, and since apostles generally abandoned their Hebrew/Aramaic names when they went to Gentile lands, I think it is highly unlikely that Paul refers in Rom 16:7 to a man called Yehunni.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I am delighted to see Al weigh in on this. I think his most important contribution is that Junias, written with an acute accent, could have been a first declension male name. But, as he says, probability suggests that the name is female. Clearly, there is an unbroken tradition that she was female. Even those who added accents to the manuscript had been exposed only to the notion that Junia was female.

    There is no reason to suggest that those who had only heard of her as a woman, in an unbroken line, would suddenly think that Junia/s was a male first declension name derived from Hebrew. One can not connect the acute accent with any evidence that Byzantine scribes thought that Junia/s was male.

  3. Thanks for the interesting post, Richard. Some good points there. On (6), it is worth adding not only that there are many women leaders in Paul's circle but also that Romans 16 in particular has almost as many women mentioned as men -- Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus's mother, Julia, Nereus's sister.

  4. Suzanne, thanks for your thoughts. The tradition about Junia, that you have discussed on your blog is good evidence that the name was female, but I doubt that it is a memory of Junia herself. Traditions about Paul's companions from the second century onwards don't tend to be reliable.

    Mark, yes 9 of the 26 people greeted by Paul in Rom 16 were women.

    Mark Goodacre has given a fine podcast on Junia here. Readers may also be interested in the evidence that an early scribe demoted Julia (Rom 16:15). See here.