What’s in a (personal) Name? Morphology and Identity in Jewish Greek Literature in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods

in Postclassical Greek


It has traditionally been taken to be the case that Hebrew personal names in literary Jewish Greek writers are regularly adapted to the morphology of Greek, and that non-nativization is a mark of low-level Greek. However, this view is only partly true: in fact most personal names are left unadapted also in the literary writers Philo of Alexandria and Ezekiel the Tragedian. Among writers of literary Greek, Flavius Josephus stands out by adapting in most cases. This treatment of personal names is not limited to literary registers: in documentary and epigraphic sources the norm before late antiquity is morphologically to adapt names of this kind. After surveying the various strategies employed for rendering Hebrew names in all these sources, the present study assesses the sociolinguistic reasons for the observed distribution. It is argued that the morphological adaptation of Hebrew names locates their referents in a Hebrew- or Semitic-speaking linguistic world, which has the effect of transporting the hearer/reader into the narrative and cultural world of the Bible. By the same token, Josephus’ decision to adapt personal names locates his characters in Greco-Roman society, an approach that can be understood as part of his broader strategy of transferring the Bible into a Greco-Roman context. Both are suggested to form part of a broader strategy of constructing Jewish identity in the Greco-Roman world, and of advancing particular identities beyond their initial boundaries. This has the secondary effect of creating a community of speakers who consciously choose to deviate from normal Greek inflection in the matter of Biblical Hebrew names, thereby generating a linguistic signature for themselves.

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