Monday, April 2, 2012

Biblical Names

I finished volume 3 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. On page 616, Meier states:

"One cannot help but notice how every name in Jesus' family harks back to the beginnings of Israel's history: the patriarch Jacob (=James), who received the name Israel; the twelve sons (and tribes) of Israel (including Judah, Joseph, and Simeon); Miriam, the sister of Moses; and finally Joshua/Jesus, the successor of Moses and leader of Israel into the promised land. It may not be totally by accident that the adult Jesus saw himself called, as the Elijah-like prophet, to begin the regathering and renewal of the twelve tribes of Israel in the end time...One is tempted to speculate----and it can be nothing more than speculation----that Jesus' intensely Jewish way of conceiving of his religious mission may reflect his rearing in a pious northern-Israel family, a family that shared the reawakening of Jewish national and religious identity in Galilee in the wake of the Hasmonean conquest of the north in the late 2d and early 1st centuries B.C."

Meier's point appears to be that people in Jesus' family had biblical names because Jesus was raised in a devoutly (and perhaps even nationalistically) Jewish family in Galilee, which named people using names in the Hebrew Bible. At first, I wondered what exactly Meier's point was in discussing how people in Jesus' family had biblical names. People who maintain that Jesus was made up could say that his family having biblical names is obviously an artificial construct and shows that Jesus himself was an artificial construct. Others may think that Jesus was a historical figure, while holding that the biblical names of his family members were an artificial construct. Devout Christians, on the other hand, could say that there was some divine providence in (say) Jesus being named Joshua, for Jesus (like Joshua) would deliver people from sin and lead them into a sort of Promised Land.

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