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

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How Saul-Paul got his names

Here I argue that Saul-Paul received that name "Saul" only after he moved to Jerusalem and that he later took the name "Paul", which means "small", out of modesty.

His name "Saul"
Saul-Paul was born in Tarsus and moved to Jerusalem as a child (Acts 22:3). It is often assumed that he  held both names from birth. This is unlikely because the giving of double names at birth was relatively rare among diaspora Jews. Williams finds just 54 ancient diaspora Jews who held double names (1). These had no tendency to have names with a phonetic similarity to each other, but Palestinian Jews often took names that sounded similar to their Hebrew name (Silas-Silvanus, Joseph-Justus-Barsabbas, Barkosiba-Barkokhba, Abram-Abraham, Sarai-Sarah, Oshea-Joshua). The similarity in sound between "Saul" and "Paul" therefore suggests that this double name was not completed before Paul moved to Jerusalem. Also, Bauckham writes, "the name Saul is very rare among Diaspora Jews but relatively common in Palestine" (2). And for what it is worth, archaeology has found no Hebrew name in Tarsus.

It is much more likely that Saul received his name when (or after) he moved to Jerusalem. Saul, being a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28), will have had Latin names at birth but such names would not have served him well in Jerusalem. As Bauckham writes, "A Latin name would not imply culture, as a Greek name might, but alignment with Roman political rule. Few Palestinian Jews would have wanted a name that proclaimed allegiance to Rome."(3) Saul needed his Hebrew name to integrate into Judean society. Possible parallels may be found in inscriptions at Jaffa that refer to an Isaac of Tarsus and a Judah son of Joseph of Tarsus.

In any case, he belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (Phil 3:5) and was no doubt named after king Saul, the most famous member of that tribe (1 Sam 9:1-2).

His name "Paul"
The name "Paul" is introduced in Acts 13:6-10
When they had gone through the island as far as Paphos, they met a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. But the magician Elymas (for that is the translation of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?"
Bar-Jesus, like Saul, had a double name. As I explained in my last post, this false prophet had taken the name of Elam, the grandson of Noah. He, like Simon Magus, had probably become a follower of Jesus of sorts and had presumptuously taken the name "Bar-Jesus", which means "son of Jesus" or "disciple of Jesus". In any case, whether Bar-Jesus was a follower of Jesus or not, Paul will have thought that he did not live up to his name. In this passage Luke records Paul confronting Elymas's presumptuous name-taking by calling him "son of the devil". Paul is telling Bar-Jesus here, "you are not the son of Jesus, you are the son of the devil. Note that the ancients were much more attuned to the meaning of names than we are. The meaning of prophets' names was particularly important (consider the attention given in the New Testament to the names of Jesus and John the baptist, and the new names given to Barnabas, Barkokhba and other prophets).

It is often said that the name "Paul" is introduced here because Saul was moving from a Jewish mission field to a Gentile one. However, if that were the case we would expect the name "Paul" to have been introduced at Acts 13:7 or Acts 13:1 or even Acts 11:25 or Acts 11:30. The name "Paul" is introduced in Acts 13:9 when Paul is addressing a Jew, not a Gentile. I do not doubt that Paul used his Latin name when addressing Gentiles, but that is not why Luke introduces the name "Paul" here.

Rather, Luke introduces Saul's other name, Paul, in the context of this discussion of the presumptuous name-taking by Elymas/Bar-Jesus. The name Paul means small and Luke is surely here contrasting  this humble name-meaning with the arrogant names of the false prophet. Luke records Paul's criticism of the name "Bar-Jesus" and points out that Paul himself was satisfied with a name with a much more humble meaning.

While it is possible that Saul held the name Paul from birth, there are reasons to suppose that he took the name while he was a Christian, probably after meeting Sergius Paulus:

1. Paul's response to arrogant rivals is always to take the humbler part to show up their hubris. Consider  the "fools speech" in 2 Corinthians where he says, "I will boast of the things that show my weakness", and consider the way be points to his lowliness in 1 Cor 4:8-13 to counter those who were "puffed up". It is therefore possible that Saul took the humble name, "Paul", in response to the magician's arrogant names.

2. Humility was an integral part of Paul's identity. He writes:
"For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Cor. 15:9)
Augustine, who was much closer than modern commentators to ancient naming conventions (4), realized that Paul took his name out of humility:

"Christ then by one word laid Saul low, and raised up Paul; that is, He laid low the proud, and raised up the humble. For what was the reason of his change of name, that whereas he was afore called Saul, he chose afterwards to be called Paul; but that he acknowledged in himself that the name of Saul when he was a persecutor, had been a name of pride? He chose therefore a humble name; to be called Paul, that is, the least. For Paul is, "the least." Paul is nothing else but little. And now glorying in this name, and giving us a lesson of humility, he says, "I am the least of the Apostles."" (Augustine sermon 27)
The name "Paul" therefore fits Paul's self-identity. There is other evidence of humility in self-reference in the New Testament:
a) the anonymity of the gospels, Acts, and Hebrews.
b) the frequent use of informal name-forms and praenomina. I hope to devote a future blog post to this phenomenon.

3. The name Saul represented his membership of the tribe of Benjamin, which he no longer valued (Phil 3:4-7). Saul and Luke were familiar with 1 Sam 9:1-2 (see Acts 13:21), from which he had been given the name Saul. These same verses (and 1 Sam 10:23) say that Saul "stood head and shoulders above  everyone else". The name Paul (small) could therefore have been a conscious rejection of what the name Saul represented. Saul (tall) became Paul (small). The phonetic similarity of the names also suggests a connection between them and demonstrates that they were probably not both given at birth (see above).

4. The name of the proconsul, Paul, could have given Saul the idea of taking the same name.

5. The name Paul, when used as a cognomen, was very distinguished. See E.A. Judge's paper here. When Greeks were granted Roman citizenship they retained their Greek name as their Roman cognomen. Colin Hemer notes here (p182) that "most of the Tarsian expatriates I have noted in the epigraphy, at Athens or elsewhere, bear Greek names in a Greek context". How, then, could the name Paul have come into Saul's family? Murphy O'Connor (p42) judges it "impossible" that such a distinguished name should be held by a Jew in Tarsus, where citizenship had been granted only a generation earlier. The problem is solved if we suppose that Paul was not his cognomen but rather an agnomen taken in adult life.

The name Paul is Latin, whereas most new names taken by Christians in the New Testament were Greek. However, as McDonough (5) points out, only a little Latin would be needed to understand the name. It's like someone taking the name "Petit".

There is a Jew called Paul in the 3rd century Aphrodisias inscription and another in the 4th century Sardis inscription. These Pauls are sometimes taken as evidence that the name Paul was commonly  used as an equivalent to the name Saul. However the name combination Saul-Paul is unlikely since the names do not even start with the same letter.  If someone wanted a near homophone of Saul they would surely have chosen another name, such as the Latin Sallus or the Greek Sallous or Saulikon. Furthermore, there is little evidence that Jews followed conventions about which Greek/Latin name was considered the equivalent of which Hebrew/Aramaic name and such double birth-names were, in any case, not common.

After moving to Jerusalem he was given the name Saul because he was of the tribe of Benjamin. Later, perhaps to counter the influence of the arrogantly named Bar-Jesus/Elymas, Saul took the name Paul (small). The presence of Sergius Paulus may have brought the name to Saul's attention. This Latin name, meaning small, symbolized Paul's rejection of his Hebrew name, which represented pride in his membership of the tribe of Benjamin and physical stature.

(1) Margaret H. Williams "The Use of Alternative Names by Diaspora Jews in Graeco-Roman Antiquity" Journal for the Study of Judaism 38 (2007) 307-327
(2) R. Bauckham, ‘Paul and other Jews with Latin names in the New Testament’ in Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman World ed. A.Christophersen et al Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 217. P 208
(3) Gospel Women p182
(4) Murphy O'connor (Paul: A Critical Life p44) writes condescendingly and without reason that Augustine's view "has nothing to recommend it, except as an opportunity for rhetorical piety"
(5) Sean M. McDonough, "Small Change: Saul to Paul, Again", JBL 125 (2006): 390-391

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Elymas-BarJesus named himself after Elam and Jesus

Here I reproduce some earlier thoughts in support of the work of Rick Strelan who argues that the false prophet, Elymas (Acts 13:6-11), took his name from Elam, the grandson of Noah, and that he became a Christian of sorts and named himself "BarJesus" accordingly.  See Strelan "Who Was Bar Jesus (Acts 13,6-12)?" Biblica 85 (2004) 65-81. Acts 13:6-11 reads:
"When they had gone though the whole island as far as Paphos, they met a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the translation of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now listen - the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun. Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he went about groping for someone to lead him by the hand"
The name “Elymas”
Commentators have long been puzzled about how the name "Elymas" can be interpreted to mean "magician" in the passage above. However, Rick Strelan appears to have resolved the problem. In his paper he suggests that the magician had taken the name of Elam, the eldest son of Shem, the son of Noah, and that Elam was considered an archetypal magician. The name "Elymas" would then have signified "magician" and this would explain Acts 13:8. In support of his proposal Strelan quotes Josephus: "For Elymos left behind him the Elamites, the ancestors of the Persians" (Ant 1.6.4) and notes that the magoi were commonly associated with the Persians. There is also evidence, not mentioned by Strelan, that Shem was considered a magician. Firstly, in the Book of Jubilees a book of healing arts is given by Noah to his eldest son, Shem:
"And we explained to Noah all the medicines of their diseases, together with their seductions, how he might heal them with herbs of the earth. And Noah wrote down all things in a book as we instructed him concerning every kind of medicine. Thus the evil spirits were precluded from (hurting) the sons of Noah. And he gave all that he had written to Shem, his eldest son; for he loved him exceedingly above all his sons."
The Treatise of Shem is a Pseudepigraphic work, written in the name of Shem, probably in the first century BC. It is an astrological treatise and therefore shows that Shem was associated with astrology.

To sum up: Noah's eldest son was Shem, whose eldest son was Elam, whose name was written "Elymos" by Josephus in the first century. The evidence suggests that there was a tradition that the magical arts of astrology and perhaps healing passed down the Noah-Shem-Elam line. Therefore, by accepting the name "Elymas", Bar-Jesus was identifying himself as a magician in an ancient Jewish tradition.

The name "Bar-Jesus"
Strelan argues that Elymas was, like Simon Magus, a follower of Jesus, of sorts. He suggests that Elymas took the name "Bar-Jesus" because he considered himself to be a disciple of Jesus. Strelan cites several cases where the term "Bar" or "Son of" is used to mean "disciple of". While "Jesus" was a common name for Jews, Strelan is probably right. Someone who had named himself after Elam and had then started to perform his magic in the name of Jesus, might well have taken the name "Son of Jesus" to reflect the new source of his power or inspiration. Also, Paul's accusation, "You son of the Devil" seems to be a reference to the presumptuous name "BarJesus". Paul seems to be saying here, "you are not a son of Jesus but a son of the Devil". In a future post I hope to argue that Luke here is contrasting Saul's humble name "Paul", meaning "small", with the magician's arrogant self-naming.

Strelan goes on to suggest that Luke intended to suggest that the name "Bar-Jesus somehow represented the name "Elymas". This suggestion seems entirely unnecessary, given Strelan's own convincing explanation of the name "Elymas".

It is clear that "Elymas" was not his birth name. The name "Bar-Jesus", on any hypothesis, cannot have been his only name in infancy, so he must have had another name. Josephus describes a Jewish magician from Cyprus:
"At the time when Felix was procurator of Judaea, he beheld her; and, inasmuch as she surpassed all other women in beauty, he conceived a passion for the lady. He sent to her one of his friends, a Cyprian Jew named Atomus, who pretended to be a magician, in an effort to persuade her to leave her husband and to marry Felix." (Josephus Ant.20.142)
Both Atomus and Elymas were Jewish magicians from Cyprus who associated with high Roman officials. Felix was procurator from A.D. 52-59 so Atomus incident was only about a decade later than the Elymas incident. It is therefore chronologically possible that they were one and the same person. If, as seems likely, Elymas was employed by Sergius Paulus, he might well have lost his job after the encounter with Paul. If his other name, Bar-Jesus, indicates that he had been in contact with the Jesus movement, he may have had Judean connections. Thus it would not be surprising if Elymas left the employment of Sergius Paulus and attached himself to Felix in Judea.

The similarity in sound between "Atomus" and "Elymas" makes the identification more likely. The western text of Acts has "Etoimos", which may be a form of the name "Atomus". There are many examples of cases where Jews were given a new name, in part, because of its phonetic resemblance to the original name (Baucham, Gospel Women 182-4, lists Silvanus-Silas, Joseph-Justus-Barsabbas, Jesus-Justus, Saul-Paul, Symeon-Simon, Alkimos-Jakim/Eliakim, Aster-Esther, Cleopas-Clopas, Jason-Jesus, Mnason/Mnaseas-Manasseh, Mousaios-Moses, Annia-Hannah, Annianus-Hanina/Hananiah, Julius/Julanus-Judah, Lea-Leah, Maria-Mary, Rufus-Reuben and I would add BarKosiba/BarKokhba/BarKoziba, Titus-Timothy and Mary-Magdalene).