🔼The name Alphaeus: Summary
- Traverse, Exchange
- From the verb חלף (halap), to traverse, exchange or renew.
🔼The name Alphaeus in the Bible
It's not clear what the name Alphaeus refers to and although it's always been assumed that Alphaeus is the name of two separate biological fathers of two famous Biblical characters, that's not sure at all. In fact, here at Abarim Publications we are pretty confident that most characters surrounding Jesus are not human individuals but rather schools of thought (male) and informal people movements (female). Read our riveting article on the name Mary for more details and argumentation on this. For now we'll look at the appearance of the name Alphaeus in the Bible:
- One of the Jameses is called James of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13), but nowhere it says that Alphaeus is James' biological father. The Greek doesn't use the word for son in any of these contexts and only employs the genitive form to indicate that James was "of" Alphaeus. Alphaeus in turn may have been his father, domineering brother, uncle or cousin, or even some distant patriarch or town of origin. The name Alphaeus is the same as Clopas (same name, different dialect) but while it's perfectly reasonable to assume that James of Alphaeus is also a son of Mary of Clopas (John 19:25), James' mother is more often assumed to have been Salome (Mark 16:1), who is then assumed to be the same as the mother of the sons of Zebedee, making James a brother of Joses or Joseph. None of this holds water.
- Only Mark mentions a tax collector named Levi of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14), who seems to be the same as the Matthew whom Jesus calls in a similar way in the gospel of Matthew (Matthew 9:9). Levi too isn't called a "son" of Alphaeus and, like James, is probably a practitioner of whatever Alphaeus stands for.
The name Alphaeus occurs 5 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
🔼Etymology of the name Alphaeus
Alphaeus' originally Semitic name is the same as Clopas (same name, different dialect), and both come from the verb חלף (halap), meaning to traverse, exchange or renew:
The verb חלף (halap) describes a swift transition: a hurried traversal or change or renewal. Nouns חלף (helep) and חליפה (halipa) mean change or exchange. Noun חלוף (halop) denotes someone or something that passes through or by. Noun מחלף (mahalap) refers to a kind of utensil. Its feminine equivalent, מחלפה (mahalapa), denotes a hair-related item (like a comb?).
A somewhat kindred verb is יסף (yasap), meaning to add, increase or do again, and this verb is the root of the name Joseph, belonging to the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus.
The Johannine author places the mother of Jesus, the sister of the mother of Jesus, Mary of Clopas and Mary Magdalene under the cross of Christ (John 19:25), and leaves the reader with a baffling symmetry to contemplate. Both the names Joseph and Clopas express a kind of change, growth or renewal. Both these men are married to women named Mary. And both have sons named James and Joses.
The solution to this conundrum is of course that the "other" Mary (other than the Magdalene; Matthew 27:61, 28:1) is the mother of Jesus, who thus in turn encompasses all righteous movements in Judea at that time (Matthew 12:50, John 14:20).
The Hebrew-origin name Alphaios (Alphaeus) means Traverse or Exchange, with an emphasis on a repetitive or constructive zig-zag motion. It brings to mind a network of repeated exchange, which is also what the name Abraham stands for (and also see our article on the name Arabia), as well as the act of learning by training.
The name Joseph, which this name Alphaeus appears to parallel, also describes a constructive repetition, but where Alphaeus appears to emphasize the repetition, Joseph emphasizes the growth as result of this repeating: the Practice that proverbially makes perfect.
Mere repetition without demonstrable gain is what sits at the ritualistic heart of many a religion, as well as the name Beelzebub, meaning Lord Of The Aimless Zig-Zaggers. Other words that have to do with a beneficial repetitive motion come with the שנן (shanan) group, from which also comes the word שן (shen) or tooth. What chewing does for the body is what cramming does for the mind.
🔼Rivers of living water
The Semitic name Clopas (Κλωπας) has a Greek look-alike in the name Cleopas (Κλεοπας). And sure enough, the variant Alphaios (Αλφαιος) also has a Greek look-alike, namely Alpheios (Αλφειος). This latter name, which in English is often spelled Alpheus, belonged to a fluvial deity, namely of the river now called Alfeois in southern Greece, in the Peloponnese or Achaia, close to Corinth.
It may go against the sensitivities of certain students of the Bible but Greek mythology too reflects aspects of reality rather than pure fiction, and particularly the authors of the New Testament held Greek mythology in very high regard (read our article on the name Homer and our article on the word θεος, theos, meaning God). Both in Greek mythology and in the Bible, cultures are often reckoned for the rivers that support them (in the Bible most notably the Nile, Euphrates and Jordan). The Hebrews certainly had sense of what we now call Relativity Theory (the verb נהר, nahar means both to flow and to shine), and their primordial "Garden of Eden" with its signature four rivers, obviously covered the entire fertile crescent, from Ethiopia to India (see our article on the name Exodus).
The stories that tell of the deity Alpheios (in English often spelled Alpheus) reverberate with Biblical themes: he was originally a hunter who fell in love with a bathing nymph (reminding of how David met Bathsheba). She was turned into a well, and he into a river (which brings to mind Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well; see John 4:14). Through Telegone, daughter of Pharis, Alpheios became the father of Orsilochus, who became the father of Diocles, who became the father of Crethon and Orsilochus, who was thus named after his grandfather. A similar structure is found in Nahor, who became the father of Terah, who became the father of Nahor and Abraham (and Haran).
It is certainly striking that the Biblical Alphaios was the "father" of the duo James and Levi/Joses, whereas the Greek Alpheios was the father of the duo Orsilochus and Crethon. The twins Orsilochus and Crethon fought in the famous Trojan war and were killed by king Aeneas, who calls to mind the paralytic Aeneas whom Peter healed (Acts 9:32-35). He also reminds of king Aeneas (better known as Aretas) who persecuted Paul in Damascus, as well as high priest Ananias, who was incumbent during Paul's trials (Acts 23:2) and may even have had something to do with the execution of James (Acts 12:2).
In his Iliad, Homer obviously discusses the real-time evolution of Greek's wisdom tradition (science, technology and practical skills) rather than submit some wholly deceptive theogony. The battle over Helen is of course the battle for the very heart and soul of Greece, and by extension the whole of humanity, and the story of the Trojan War deals with the very same themes as the Bible does. As Homer tells in the Iliad's Book V:
"Then Aeneas killed two champions of the Danaans [i.e. Achaians], Crethon and Orsilochus. Their father was a rich man who lived in the strong city of Pherae and was descended from the river Alpheus, whose broad stream flows through the land of the Pylians.
The river begat Orsilochus, who ruled over much people and was father to Diocles, who in his turn begat twin sons, Crethon and Orsilochus, well skilled in all the arts of war. These, when they grew up, went to Ilius with the Argive fleet in the cause of Menelaus and Agamemnon, sons of Atreus, and there they both of them fell.
As two lions whom their dam has reared in the depths of some mountain forest to plunder homesteads and carry off sheep and cattle till they get killed by the hand of man so were these two vanquished by Aeneas and fell like high pine-trees to the ground."
The Greek name Alpheios (belonging to the river) derives from the verb αλφανω (alphano), which means to bring in, yield, fetch (a price). It's used very sporadically, and mostly in the Homeric corpus. But Liddell and Scott (A Greek-English Lexicon) equates it with εναλλασσω (enallasso), to change or exchange (even to cross). This particular word is not used in the Bible, but it is a common member of the widely attested verbal family of the word αλλος (allos), meaning "other" or "another" in the sense of "one more".
Jesus compared the days of his coming to the days of Noah (Matthew 27:34), and while Jesus' coming was preceded by a multi-facetted mother Mary, Noah's coming was preceded by a twofold father Lamech. Noah's own father was named Lamech, and in the parallel line of the descendants of Cain, the penultimate generation was also embodied by a Lamech. With his wife Adah, this Lamech had two sons, Jabal and Jubal, whose names derive from the verb יבל (yabal), meaning to carry or bring along. The derived noun יבל (yabal), means water course and the derived noun יובל (yubal) means stream.