Sunday, July 10, 2011

Magic numbers and the name game

So years ago I watched a show on The History Channel about who can be blamed for Jesus's execution, or something similar to that, and after watching that show I formed a new theory about Judas Iscariot. In all the gospels Jesus knew he was going to die ahead of time, and in at least one told Judas to go do what he had to do. So I formed a theory that Judas was actually the closest disciple to Jesus and the only one Jesus could trust to get the job done. And the other disciples didn't understand it and told the story different and that's where we get the idea that he betrayed Jesus. I have no proof for this theory so its just a matter of my personal opinion.

Then recently I bought a book all about Judas and how the way people have understood and portrayed him has changed over the centuries. I still haven't gotten past the first chapter so I can't say if its a good book yet or not. But it gave me an idea. The way I figure it Judas is the most important disciple of Jesus, because without him Jesus wouldn't have died and the whole Christian religion wouldn't be around today. I know people won't agree with that statement but that's how I see it. So I figured his name would be one of the most used through out the gospels, behind Peter whom I knew was most named.

So I set about to write down and count the number of times the names of the disciples were used through out the four gospels. Peter came in first of course with about 50% of the times a disciple is actually named. Most of the time the gospels just say the disciples after all and not their names. Judas came in fourth with about 7% of the time disciples names get used. I hadn't counted on James and John, the sons of Zebedee, to be mentioned as often as they were.

What really surprised me, though it shouldn't have had I stopped to think about it, was how the list of names for the disciples is not consistent between the gospels. Mark, Matthew, and Luke all list the twelve at one point, and for 6 of the disciples this is the only time there name is mentioned in that gospel. John on the other hand only lists seven of the disciples by name, then adds the sons of Zebedee without actually naming them, and says "and two others." But even more oddly three of the disciples named that get more face time in John are ones just mentioned within the list of the twelve in the other gospels and nothing more is said about them.

There is of course so debate about the actual names of the twelve. After all each gospel lists the name slightly differently. Is Levi, the tax collector; Levi, son of Alphaeus; and Matthew the tax collector all the same person or were their three different people the gospels were talking about. And how is he related to James, the son of Alphaeus? Wikipedia has a listing of the twelve with their various names and how tradition has reconciled the differences in the lists of the gospels.

Twelve was obviously an important number to Jews. There were twelve tribes of Israel originally after all. But considering how there seem to be no surviving stories about half the twelve in the bible I'm left wondering if these people actually existed at all, or if the names were just made up to fill out a list of twelve disciples just to reach that magic number twelve.

There are stories about them that aren't in the bible though apparently. I don't know any of these stories and can't judge how trustworthy any of them are. According to Wikipedia though eleven of the twelve were martyred before or during the time period that most scholars think the gospels were first being written. If the twelve were important to the early Christians, and they had just been martyred, don't you think someone would have written that down?

Anyway that's just my opinion. I doubt most of what's written in the bible anyway. This was just my most recent adventure at trying to dig for any truth in the bible.

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