BAR 36:03, May/Jun 2010
More than Just Names
The myriad Jewish, Christian and pagan names carved into the marble ruins of ancient Aphrodisias, especially the “donors’ inscription,” tell us a lot about society in late antiquity in this part of the world.
First, the names tell us that religion was a central issue in the public and social life of the Aphrodisians. Jews tended to be named either after major prophets or figures from the Hebrew Bible, or in association with specific moral values connected with their religion. Similarly, Christians named their children after various apostles and angels from the New Testament, or as a reflection of a principal belief of their faith. Parents who worshiped in the Hellenic pagan sanctuaries of Aphrodisias continued the traditional name-giving practices, which reflected, among other things, civic values and the worship of Greek gods.
Second, the names, read in context, reflect the competition among religions at this time. As the religious nature of some of the names indicates, each religion was fostering homogeneity and solidarity in its ranks.