Ἀντιπᾶς as symbolic name in Rev. 2.13?

I should preface this post – and probably lots of my others – by clarifying that I sometimes use this space to jot down thoughts that are wildly speculative, unlikely to be correct, and just a bit of fun. I’d hate for someone to form a picture of my work based simply on the bizarre musings here. But it’s fun now and then to ponder ideas that are too unformed or improbable to make it into print.

So here’s one such wildly speculative thought: might Antipas be a symbolic name in Rev. 2.13? Three points to consider:

1. The name Ἀντιπᾶς is grammatically odd in the context of Rev 2.12-13, apparently genitive in function but nominative in form. G. Mussies (‘Antipas’, Novum Testamentum 7 (1964): 242-44), in a learned note, had suggested that the name was being treated as indeclinable, but others have pointed out that the name is declined elsewhere. Moulton, Howard & Turner merely call it a Semitism, though this isn’t terribly enlightening. Greg Beale once made a study of ‘Solecisms in the Apocalypse as Signals for the Presence of Old Testament Allusions’, in which he suggested that solecisms in Revelation (and there are several) are authorial devices that arise from a desire not to obscure an important OT reference. In his commentary on Rev 2:13, Beale in fact suggests that this solecism is intended to point back to 1:4-5 (note v. 5 in particular: ἀπὸ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὁ μάρτυς, ὁ πιστός, ὁ πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν καὶ ὁ ἄρχων τῶν βασιλέων τῆς γῆς, where one would expect genitives following ἀπὸ). Beale writes, ‘Rather, like the solecisms in 1:4 and 5, where grammar also demands the genitive, the phrase here is kept in the nominative because it is part of the same OT allusion as 1:5….Again, the awkward nominative is a device directing attention to the OT allusion in order to make clear the identification of Antipas’s witness with that of Jesus’ (247).  Whether one wants to go all the way with Beale here or not, it does at least raise the question of whether there might be a rhetorical reason for the solecism of the name.

2. The name Antipas is of course a genuine name in Jewish antiquity (recall Herod Antipas, most obviously), though judging from the Duke Database of Documentary Papyri at least, Ἀντίπατρος was much more popular (and note the change of name from Antipas to Antipater noted in Josephus, Ant. 14.10, repeated later in Photius). The vast majority (though not all) of the literary references to an ‘Antipas’ are those in Josephus or later Christian authors referring to Rev 2:13. There is, however, enough inscriptional evidence to suggest the name was in common usage more broadly (e.g., IG II.2 2130; MAMA 9.57; 9.409; SEG 48:1260bis, etc.). So this could simply be the name of someone who lived and died in Pergamum in the first century. But it’s at least worth noting that all the other proper names in Rev 2-3 are chosen for their symbolic resonances: Satan, Balaam, Balak, Jezebel, David (though should one count the Nicolaitans in 2:6, 15?). These are names that connote larger stories, rather than specific historic individuals in the first century – even if they might stand for individuals. In this sense, it might be a bit odd, though not unimaginable, if Antipas is the only proper name  of a historical individual in these letters.

3. This leads me to the suggestion that Antipas might be a symbolic name, indicating in some sense the vicarious nature of the martyr’s death. In this understanding, it would be constructed as Ἀντι + πᾶς, that is, ‘on behalf of or in place of all’. It could then be analogous to the formation of the title, ἀντίχριστος (known at least in Johannine circles: 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7, as well as in other apocalyptic contexts, e.g., Apocalypse of Elijah, Apoc. Esdr., etc. ). That martyrdom can be seen as in some sense vicarious is well known from Jewish sources (2 and 4 Macc., T. Mos. 9-10, etc.) and above all from some of the earliest interpretations of the death of Jesus. But the idea of vicarious suffering doesn’t end in Christian circles after the death of Jesus. Rather, it continues on in various forms for some time. So, for example, Col 1:24 envisages a beneficial role for the sufferings of Paul toward the Colossians. And Ignatius – also from Asia Minor –  several times describes his suffering in vicarious terms (esp. his repeated use of the term ἀντίψυχον). So it’s entirely within the realm of theological possibility that this is a reference to vicarious martyrdom (though the word had probably μάρτυς not yet become a terminus technicus). That this suffering is already connected with that of Jesus is made obvious by the author from his use of the similar title (‘my faithful witness’).

So this may be a longshot, but putting this all together, one might suggest that John cast the death of a member of the community in Pergamum as a vicarious martyrdom by using a symbolic name (as all the names in these chapters are symbolic) and decided to preserve the nominal form in a solecism in order to call attention to the symbolism.

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  1. #1 by Richard Fellows on November 12, 2013 - 6:07 am

    Excellent, David. I am enjoying your blog. Your proposal is supported by the fact that Christians in NT times considered it appropriate that those who displayed exceptional commitment should be honoured with new names. We see this in the naming of Simon-Peter, Joseph-Barnabas and, I believe, Crispus-Sosthenes. Also note Phil 2:8-9 where Jesus is given a name for being obedient to the point of death. And what about Rev 2:17 where we are told that a new name is to be given to all those in Pergamum who overcome? Was Antipas the first of those? It may be no coincidence that most of the earliest martyrs had new names (Simon-Peter, Saul-Paul?, James and John Boanerges, James the Just-Oblias, Ignatius-Theophorus, and Jesus-Christ). Stephen is perhaps the only exception.

    I am not a specialist in Revelation, but I suspect that its symbolism served the purpose of protecting the believers in the event that the text fell into the hands of hostile Roman officials. If so, then was the omission of Antipas’s real name a protective silence? Would the Romans have taken offence if the text openly honoured one whom they had recently executed?

    • #2 by David Lincicum on November 12, 2013 - 7:06 am

      You raise some very interesting questions, Richard. I’ll need to think further about them.

    • #3 by fellowsrichard on November 13, 2013 - 4:36 am

      You can find the name frequencies of the names here: http://www.lgpn.ox.ac.uk/database/lgpn.php
      They give only 6 cases of Antipas and 477 cases of Antipatros, out of a total of 300,584 people. However, I do get the sense that hypocoristic name forms were more commonly used among early Christians than they were in the sources that comprise the LGPN database. Unfortunately no-one has produced a statistical study of NT hypocoristic names.

      One other thought: some seem to suppose that a name that would pass as a normal birth name would be unsuitable as an honorific name/title, but this is not the case. Furthermore, when the ancients ascribed meanings to names they were not constrained by scientific etymologies. “Barnabas” seems to be an example of this.

      I hope you can develop your Antipas idea further and find a way to bring to to a wider audience.

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