Monday, February 12, 2018

What's fishy about the name Philologus?

The name Philologus occurs only once in the Bible, namely at the end of Paul's letter to the Romans (Romans 16:15). Since Christianity was pretty much illegal in Rome, it's unlikely that Paul would mention the real and traceable names of his friends in the capital. It's therefore more likely that Paul used a kind of code, referring to historical figures or scenes from "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16) to get his final (and perhaps politically incorrect or even illegal) points across.

The name Philologus is rather unusual. The only one named such, as far as we know, was Andromachus Philologus, the husband of a 3rd century BC poet named Moero, from whom no work is extant. But the meaning of the name Philologus is so strikingly fitting the husband of a poet that one may be forgiven entertaining the possibility that our "name" is jocular.

The "name" Philologus is the same as the word philologus, which is quite a common term in classical literature, and literally means "fond of words" or "talkative". Plato had Socrates use it for himself, when the latter was enticed by his rhetoric sparring partner to speak on an unfamiliar topic, by swearing upon not some god but rather a tree that he would (Plato Phaedrus.236e; see Galatians 3:13). Other writers used it to express a fondness of philosophical argument, or of learning, and as such as synonym for student or eager pupil.

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