3. Names in the Gospel Traditions
Names in the Gospels
Some characters in the Gospels are named while others are not. Bauckham proposes that those characters who are named were eyewitnesses who originated the traditions to which their names are attached and continued to tell their stories as authoritative guarantors of their traditions. The evangelists may have known these eyewitnesses in some cases.
Public figures (e.g., John the Baptist, Herod, Herodias, Caiaphas, Pilate) and the disciples of Jesus are usually named. Those who are healed by Jesus or encounter Jesus on only one occasion are usually unnamed. These facts are easily understood since public figures and disciples would have been well-known in early Christian circles, whereas those met on a single occasion were quite possibly anonymous even to the eyewitnesses. However, the exceptions to these rules need to be explained. This chapter will focus on the names other than the those of the Twelve or public persons.
On pages 65-66 Bauckham provides a table (Table 5) of names in the Four Gospels, excluding Jesus, Old Testament persons, non-human persons, names in the two genealogies of Jesus, public citizens, and the Twelve. By looking at this table and assuming Markan priority, we can see there is a tendency to eliminate names. Both Matthew and Luke retain the names of four characters from Mark: Simon of Cyrene, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses. Luke retains the name of Levi where Matthew changes the name to Matthew. Luke retains the name of Jairus whereas Matthew drops it. In four cases both Matthew and Luke drop the names mentioned by Mark: Bartimaeus, Alexander, Rufus, and Salome. In no case do Matthew or Luke give a name to an anonymous character from Mark. “There is one instance in which two disciples whom Mark leaves anonymous (14:13) are identified as Peter and John by Luke (22:8), but this phenonemonon of identifying unnamed persons in Mark with named characters already known from Mark should not be confused with giving characters anonymous in Mark new names not found at all in Mark” (p. 42).
The Q material does not contribute any names since it is mostly sayings of Jesus. Matthew’s special material only contributes the name of Joseph, Jesus’ father, which is independently given by Luke and John. On the other hand, Luke’s special material provides eleven named characters not mentioned in Mark: Zechariah (1:5ff), Elizabeth (1:5ff), Simeon (2:25), Anna (2:36), Simon the Pharisee (7:40, 43, 44), Joanna wife of Chuza (8:3), Susanna (8:3), Martha (10:38, 40-41), Mary (10:39, 42), Zacchaeus (19:2, 5, 8), and Cleopas (24:18). Martha and her sister Mary are also mentioned in John. “This evidence does not contradict the tendency toward elimination of names since there is no reason to think that Luke has added them to the traditions in which they occur” (p. 43).
Finally, John names four characters who do not appear at all in the Synoptics (Nathanael, Nicodemus, Lazarus, and Mary of Clopas) and also gives a name to one character who is anonymous in the other Gospels, the high priest’s slave Malchus. Even if we add that John identifies who cut off Malchus’s ear, anonymous in the Synoptics, with Peter, and the woman who anointed Jesus, unnamed in the other Gospels, with Mary of Bethany (12:3), herself known also in Luke, this does not provide strong evidence of a counter-tendency to invent names for characters who had been anonymous at earlier stages of the tradition. After all, John still has quite a number of unnamed characters. Why should he have been influenced by novelistic tendency to name unnamed characters in the case of Malchus but not in the case of the Samaritan woman, the paralyzed man, or the man born blind, all of whom are much more prominent characters than Malchus? (p. 43)
I would also add to Buackham’s argument that John was not literarily dependent on the Synoptics so we have no reason to think he was adding names to earlier traditions.
In surveying the early non-canonical traditions Bauckham could only find three possible texts written before the fourth century that name a previously unnamed character (Gospel of Peter 8:31; Papyrus Bodmer XVII on Luke 16:19; Origen, C. Cels. 2.62).
It was common Jewish practice, in retelling or commenting on the biblical narratives to give names to characters not named in Scripture [e.g., Biblical Antiquities 2:1-2; 31:8; 40:1; 42:1; 64:3] . . . [s]o it would not have been surprising to find Christians doing the same with the Gospel narratives from an early date. But the evidence suggests that this did not happen. Certainly there is no ground for postulating that it occurred in the transmission of the Gospel traditions behind and in the Synoptic Gospels. (p. 45)
Bauckham believes the names in Table 5 need to be explained. He proposes that all the names in Table 5, except for Joseph father of Jesus and those mentioned in Luke’s infancy narrative, can be best explained by proposing that “these people joined the early Christian movement and were well known at least in the circles in which these traditions were first transmitted” (p. 45). We know that Jesus’ four brothers, named in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3, were leaders in the early church (1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19). When Luke, in Acts 1:14, records that some women were with the Twelve and Jesus’ brothers he probably wants his readers to think of the women named in Luke 24:10. There is nothing improbable about other named persons becoming members of early Christian communities. It is also striking to note that Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Simon the leper, Lazarus, Martha, Mary, Bartimaeus, Malchus, Simon of Cyrene and his sons, Zacchaeus, and Jesus’ brother James are all associated with Jerusalem and thus would be easily known by the Jerusalem church.
The tendency of Matthew and Luke to omit some names mentioned in Mark can be explained by positing that these people had become too obscure for the audiences of Matthew and Luke. However, the naming of certain individuals is best explained by positing that they were known to the early Christian movement and that they were eyewitnesses to the events that bear their names.
As an example, Bauckham notes that Cleopas is named in Luke 24:18 even though the story does not require him to be named and his partner is anonymous. This Cleopas is almost certainly the Clopas, husband of Mary, mentioned in John 19:25. Clopas is so rare a Semitic form for the Greek Cleopas that we can know that this figure is the brother of Jesus’ father Joseph and the father of Simon, the successor of his cousin James as leader of the Jerusalem church (mentioned by Hegesippus and preserved in Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.11; 4.22.4). Thus Cleopas was a relative of Jesus and a prominent figure in the Jerusalem church whose story could have made its way into the Gospel of Luke.
The Women at the Cross and the Tomb
The Synoptics name the women who saw Jesus’ death and burial and the empty tomb. Their repeated use of the verb “to see” appeals to the women’s role as eyewitnesses (Matthew 27:55; 28:1, 6; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:4, 5, 6; Luke 23:49, 55). All four Gospels name some of the women and either state or imply that there were others (Matthew 27:55; 28:1, 5; Mark 15:41, 47; 16:6; Luke 24:10; John 20:2). Bauckham believes these women were named because, as the only witnesses in the Synoptics to the burial and empty tomb, they played an important role in the telling of the Jesus story. Mary Magdalene is the only woman named in all four Gospels and Mary the mother of James is mentioned in all three Synoptics. There is some divergence when it comes to the other named women.
The divergences among the lists have often been taken as grounds for not taking them seriously as naming eyewitnesses of the events. In fact, the opposite is the case: these divergences, properly understood, demonstrate the scrupulous care with which the Gospels present the women as witnesses. Mark names three women at the cross and the same three women as those who go to the tomb [Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James the little and Joses, and Salome], but only two of the three are said to observe the burial of Jesus [Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of Joses]. The explanation must be that in the known testimony of these three women the two Marys were known to be witnesses of the burial but Salome was not. Similar care is perhaps even more impressive in Matthew. For Matthew Salome was evidently not a well-known witness and he omits her from the lists. At the cross he substitutes the mother of the sons of Zebedee, who has appeared earlier in his narrative (Matt 20:20) and is unique to his Gospel. He does not, however, add her to the two Marys at the burial or the empty tomb, surely because she was not known as an eyewitness of these events. Matthew could so easily have used her to make up the number at the tomb but instead he is scrupulously content with the only two women well known to him as witnesses. Luke, who names the women only at the end of his account of their visit to the tomb, lists, besides the indispensable Mary Magdalene, Joanna, who is peculiar to his Gospel and has already been introduced at 8:3, and Mary the mother of James. This third name may be Luke’s only borrowing from Mark in his narrative of the empty tomb. Like Matthew Luke omits Mark’s Salome, but he does not simply reproduce the lists of women followers of Jesus he has employed earlier in his Gospel (8:2-3: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna). Mary Magdalene and Joanna he knew to be witnesses of the empty tomb, Susanna he evidently did not. In this way my proposal that the Evangelists were careful to name precisely the women who were well known to them as witnesses to these crucial events in the origins of the Christian movement explains the variations among their lists of women as no other proposal has succeeded in doing.
It is natural to suppose that these women were well known not just for having once told their stories but as people who remained accessible and authoritative sources of these traditions as long as they lived. Which women were well known to each Evangelist may have depended on the circles in which that Evangelist collected traditions and the circles in which each woman moved during her lifetime. The differences among the Gospel narratives of the women’s visit to the tomb may well reflect rather directly the different ways in which the story was told by the different women. These women were not all already obscure figures by the time the Synoptic Evangelists wrote. The omission of Salome by both Matthew and Luke shows that the Evangelists did not retain names of women who had become obscure. Those named by each Evangelist were, like their stories, still fresh in the memories of that Evangelist’s informants, if not in the Evangelist’s own memory. (pp. 49-51)
Simon of Cyrene and His Sons
Mark names Simon of Cyrene as well as his two sons Alexander and Rufus (15:21) while both Matthew (27:32) and Luke (23:26) omit the names of the sons. Mark’s readers may have presupposed that most of Mark’s sources were among the Twelve since they are almost the only named disciples in his Gospel before the women are mentioned in 15:40. However, the disciples never appear in person after 14:72. Simon of Cyrene appears in 15:21, after the Twelve have left the picture but before the women enter the picture.
The description of Simon as “Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus” needs explanation. The names of the sons are not mentioned to distinguish this Simon from other Simons since the mention of Cyrene does that. Matthew and Luke, who omit the names of the sons, realize this. It is doubtful that Mark names the sons solely because they are known to some of his readers for Mark does not mention a lot of names. Bauckham suggests that they are named because it was through them that Simon’s eyewitness testimony was known. Perhaps Simon did not join the Christian movement or perhaps he died shortly after the events described. Matthew and Luke do not mention the names of Simon’s sons because, by the time they wrote, the sons were no longer well-known figures.
Recipients of Healing
Only three people are named in the Gospel stories as receiving miraculous help from Jesus: Jairus, Bartimaeus, and Lazarus. Luke 8:2-3 says that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna were cured by Jesus but their miracle stories are not told. Simon the leper must have been cured to entertain visitors at his house, but it is not clear whether or not Jesus healed him. This data shows that naming the recipients of Jesus’ miracles did not belong to the genre of miracle stories, meaning we have to explain the names that do occur.
Mark names Bartimaeus and Jairus while Matthew omits both names and Luke omits the name of Bartimaeus. Once again Bauckham suggests that this is because the individuals were not as well known to Matthew and Luke. Quadratus, writing around 117 CE, says (preserved in Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 4.3.2):
[T]he works of our Savior were always present, for they were true: those who were healed, those who rose from the dead, those who were not only seen in the act of being healed or raised, but were also always present, not merely when the Savior was living on earth, but also for a considerable time after his departure, so that some of them survived even to our own times.
“Our own times” does not need to refer to the time when Quadratus wrote, but could refer to a period earlier in his life. Therefore, like Papias, Quadratus thought that eyewitnesses were active throughout their entire lives in telling their stories. Quadratus is talking about the time when the Gospels were being composed, so it is not at all improbable for the evangelists to have had access to eyewitnesses of Jesus’ miracles. However, these witnesses would have passed away and been scattered by the fall of Jerusalem and thus they would become, over time, less well known figures whose names would be omitted by the evangelists.
Vivid Detail of Eyewitness Recollections?
Vivid details or details not integral to the story are sometimes thought to be evidence of an eyewitness account. However, they could also be products of good story telling. It is also possible for eyewitness accounts not to contain vivid detail. Thus, Bauckham does not believe vivid details provide an argument for or against eyewitness testimony. However, he does note that the stories of Jarius’ daughter (Mark 5:22-24a, 35-43), Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10), and Cleopas (Luke 24:13-35) contain vivid details.