Suppose, one day, you’re reading a historical account of life in Alaska in the 1920s and one of the main characters in the account is named Sting.
“That’s surprising,” you think.
Suppose that Sting is portrayed as married to a woman named Oprah.
“That’s improbable,” you recognize.
Then you read that Sting has a brother named Spock.
You say to yourself: “Okay. Something is wrong here.”
What is it? And what does all this have to do with the gospels?
You might be surprised, but the names of the figures mentioned in the gospels actually provide evidence that they’re true.
Here’s the story . . .
The basic problem
Fundamentally, the problem in our starting example is that the names “Sting,” “Oprah,” and “Spock” do not sound like they come from Alaska in the 1920s.
They sound like the names of pop culture figures from the second half of the 20th century (the 1960s and after, certainly).
There is no way that these names would be plausible in an account of what life was like in Alaska between 1920 and 1929.
Your recognition of this fact shows that you know something about the names that were common at this time–and that you can spot false reports of them.
So what about the gospels?
Linguists have devoted a lot of study to the question of how parents choose the names of their babies.
It’s a regular feature of textbooks on linguistics.
There are definite–but usually unnoticed–patterns to how babies are named.
But the actual ways they are named reveal what is on their parents’ minds–or at least what’s going on in their subconsciouses.
Now here’s the thing: Recently scholars have been looking at the frequencies with which names occurred in ancient Jewish sources, both inside and outside of Palestine, in the centuries before and after Christ.
What did they find?