🔼The name Zebedee: Summary
- Gift Of Yah, Yah Has Given
- From (1) the verb זבד (zabad), to give, and (2) יה (yah), the shortened version of the name of the Lord.
🔼The name Zebedee in the Bible
The name Zebedee occurs in the Bible only in connection with the phrase "the sons of Zebedee," who in turn are identified as James and John, and "joint venturers" with Simon Peter (Luke 5:10) and thus Andrew his brother. In the story, Zebedee is a fisherman who works from his boat on the Sea of Galilee, but whose two sons leave their father's enterprise and follow Jesus (Matthew 4:21). Their associates Simon Peter and Andrew had just done likewise (Matthew 4:20).
In historical reality — and read for the difference between historical and narrative reality our extensive article on Mary — Zebedee is obviously some school of thought (see Jeremiah 16:16). There were quite many of those in first century Judea and the Greek word for son, υιος (huios), primarily means "member of a group" and only secondarily denotes biological offspring. Hence the "sons of Abraham", or "sons of Rechab" or even "sons of Belial" and "sons of God" are not the physical descendants of some eponymous ancestor but rather those who do the will of him (respectively: John 8:39, Jeremiah 35:6, Deuteronomy 13:13, Romans 8:14).
The "Sons of Light" who are spoken of in the Essene library found at Qumran also receive two congenial nods from the evangelists (Luke 16:8, John 12:36). The "sons of Zadok" (better known as the Sadducees) frequently engaged in light-saber duels with the "sons of Persia" (better known as the Pharisees), but the evangelists condemned the former and favored the latter: after all, the first evangelists came from Persia (Matthew 2:1) and Nicodemus, Gamaliel, Nathanael, Simon the Host (Luke 7:36), most probably Simon of Cyrene, the apostle Paul and even the historian Josephus were or had been Pharisees(for more on Josephus, see our article on Dalmanutha). Most spectacularly, the two criminals between whom Jesus was crucified on Golgotha obviously represented these two sects, with the Sadducees forever lost and the Pharisees at long last repentant (Luke 23:39-43).
Jesus appears to have head-hunted quite a few sects and schools; John the Baptist lost part of his disciples to Jesus (John 1:37; while some stayed: Matthew 11:2) and apparently even the Zealots (Matthew 10:4) and possible even the Sicarii (Simon and Judas Iscariot).
Zebedee also had a wife who in historical reality would correspond with the informal social response to whatever Zebedee was formally up to, as well as the informal social dynamic that brought forth whatever formal specialization James and John represented. She is not explicitly mentioned by name and while some commentators equate her with Salome or Mary of Clopas, these assertions come with little certainty.
She is also never called the wife of Zebedee but always the "mother of the sons of Zebedee" and she's the one who famously asked Jesus if he could possibly arrange to be sandwiched between her sons in the Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28). That caused a bit of a stir among the disciples, and Jesus' nickname of the two brothers — namely Boanerges or Sons Of Thunder — may quite possibly be partly due to their tempestuous mother. The evangelist Matthew nevertheless places her beneath the cross, together with Mary Magdalene and Mary "she of James and of Joses the mother" (Matthew 27:56).
The name Zebedee occurs 12 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
🔼Etymology of the name Zebedee
There's nothing in the Greek language that looks like the name Zebedee (or rather Zebedaios) and Zebedee is most probably a transliteration of the very popular Hebrew name Zebadiah, says Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary), or rather, the truncated version Zabdi, says BDB Theological Dictionary.
The name Zebadiah consists of two elements, the final one being יה (Yah) = יהו (Yahu) = יו (Yu), which in turn are abbreviated forms of the Tetragrammaton; the name of the Lord: YHWH.
The first part of the name Zebedee or Zebadiah comes from the verb זבד (zabad), meaning to give:
The whole name Zebadiah and thus Zebedee means Yahweh Has Bestowed (NOBSE Study Bible Name List), Yah Hath Bestowed (BDB Theological Dictionary), or Gift Of The Lord (Alfred Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names).
What precisely the "idea of Zebedee" might have entailed is hard to say, but it's clear that it played a part in Israel's theology since the birth of Zebulun, and judging from the amount of names that were derived from its root verb, and the amount of people endowed with such a name, it is clear that the core idea was increasingly popular. Note that John's gospel tells of a man named Nathanael, who is the first to proclaim Jesus "King of the Jews," and whose name could be considered a paraphrased equivalent of Zebedee. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus was declared King of the Jews by the Magi from Persia, and this very title was written in three languages on the Titulus Crucis (and see our article on Mary for the significance of this).
In historical reality, Zebedee probably stands for what Jesus talks about when he tells the Samaritan woman, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water" (John 4:10) or when he tells the disciples, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about" (Acts 1:4, see 2:38, 8:20, 10:45).
Here at Abarim Publications we're guessing that the "idea of Zebedee" had to do with the understanding that humanity progresses not because of the efforts of people but because humanity is part of the universe, which progresses by natural law. Human prosperity goes hand in hand with convention, and convention increases because of the mental equivalent of the second law of thermodynamics. The fruits of the efforts of people is a consequence and not a cause of progress. Humanity's science and technology progresses for the same reason why your cup of tea gets cold. In the words of Isaiah: in time, "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain" (40:4).