🔼The name Patrobas in the Bible
The name Patrobas occurs only once in the Bible. Near the conclusion of his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul sends his greetings to a number of people, among whom Patrobas (Romans 16:14). This Patrobas is mentioned no more, but there are several curiosities surrounding this name, none of which need to mean anything but they do add up to reasons to ponder.
Patrobas was not a common name. In fact, no other Patrobas is mentioned in all of Greek and Roman literature. Paul flanks his salute to Patrobas with the similar and very common names Hermes (just prior) and Hermas (just after), and both these names have to do with a sign or (border) marker. Perhaps this is all a mere coincidence, but "Hermes - Patrobas - Hermas" reads like "Attention - Weird Name - Attention".
Scholars assume that the name Patrobas is a contracted form of Patrobius, and that name comes to us via the writing of Pliny and Suetonius. Both authors tell of clearly the same Patrobius, who was a freedman of emperor Nero. Pliny reports that Patrobius imported a fine sand that Roman athletes used to rub their bodies with (Nat.35.47). Suetonius has us know that this same Patrobius was executed by order of Galba, who was the emperor directly after Nero (Lives.Galba.20). It is not clear what this Patrobius had been found guilty of, but an intriguing possibility is that Paul's Patrobas and Nero's Patrobius had been the same man, who was executed on account of his atheism (and in this sense, atheism was equal to a rejecting of Roman state deities, which is what Christians did; see Cassius Dio 67.14).
Since it was illegal to be an atheist (and thus to be a Christian), Paul almost certainly refrained from revealing Roman Christians' true names. Paul's letter to the Romans is today celebrated as a masterpiece of theology, but when Paul wrote it, it was a manifest of the underground resistance movement. Whoever in Nero's Rome had been found in possession of Paul's letter, let alone those mentioned in it, would probably have been as swiftly executed as Paul himself would be. If Paul had been even slightly sensitive to the danger his Roman friends were in, he would not have mentioned their real names in his letter.
🔼Etymology of the name Patrobas
The first part of our name Patrobas comes from the familiar noun πατηρ (pater), meaning father:
If our name Patrobas is indeed an inconsequential contraction of the name Patrobius, the second part of our name comes from the word βιος (bios), meaning life:
However, it seems that if Paul would have wanted to covertly greet his friend Patrobius, he would have found a less obvious way to conceal his name. This in turn means that Patrobas is probably not the same as Patrobius, and the second part of our name derives probably not from βιος (bios). Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that the final part of our name is a truncation of βασιλευς (basileus), meaning king:
Most (or all) commentators interpret the name Patrobas to be a contraction of Patrobius, which in turn is interpreted as The Life Of The Father.
Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that Patrobas was not a common Greek name, but Paul's literal translation of the name Abimelech, the Philistine king who heisted first Sarah and then Rebekah, only to give them back to their rightful husbands Abraham and Isaac. The name Patrobas means Father (Is) King.