Does the author of the Acts of Paul conflate Hermogenes, Hymenaeus, Alexander, Demas, Phygelus, and Philetus into two people? By Richard G. Fellows

Note:  Richard Fellows is a specialist in personal names in the New Testament.  He has a website devoted to Name changes and aliases in the New Testament.  He has published the following articles:  “Was Titus Timothy?” JSNT 81 (2001): 33-58; “Renaming in Paul’s churches: the case of Crispus-Sosthenes revisited” (pdf), Tyndale Bulletin 56 (2005) 111-130; and “Protective silences in Acts and Paul’s letters” (as guest blogger at Chris Tilling’s Christendom), March 2007. I’m now happy to post his thoughts on Demas and Hermogenes in the Acts of Paul.  PWD

Does the author of the Acts of Paul conflate Hermogenes, Hymenaeus, Alexander, Demas, Phygelus, and Philetus into two people? By Richard G. Fellows

Here the the most important texts:

2 Timothy

2 Tim 1:15 “You are aware that all who are in Asia have turned away from me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.”

2 Tim 2:16-18 “Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some.”

2 Tim 4:10 “for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica”

2 Tim 4:14 “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds.”

Acts of Paul and Thecla:

“1 When Paul went up unto Iconium after he fled from Antioch, there journeyed with him Demas and Hermogenes the coppersmith, which were full of hypocrisy, and flattered Paul as though they loved him. But Paul, looking only unto the goodness of Christ, did them no evil, but loved them well, so that he assayed to make sweet unto them all the oracles of the Lord, and of the teaching and the interpretation (of the Gospel) and of the birth and resurrection of the Beloved, and related unto them word by word all the great works of Christ, how they were revealed unto him”

4 And when Paul saw Onesiphorus he smiled, and Onesiphorus said: Hail, thou servant of the blessed God. And he said: Grace be with thee and with thine house. But Demas and Hermogenes were envious, and stirred up their hypocrisy yet more, so that Demas said: Are we not servants of the Blessed, that thou didst not salute us so? And Onesiphorus said: I see not in you any fruit of righteousness, but if ye be such, come ye also into my house and refresh yourselves.”

“11 But Thamyris leapt up and went forth into the street and watched them that went in to Paul and came out. And he saw two men striving bitterly with one another, and said to them: Ye men, tell me who ye are, and who is he that is within with you, that maketh the souls of young men and maidens to err, deceiving them that there may be no marriages but they should live as they are. I promise therefore to give you much money if ye will tell me of him: for I am a chief man of the city.

12 And Demas and Hermogenes said unto him: Who this man is, we know not; but he defraudeth the young men of wives and the maidens of husbands, saying: Ye have no resurrection otherwise, except ye continue chaste, and defile not the flesh but keep it pure.

13 And Thamyris said to them: Come, ye men, into mine house and refresh yourselves with me. And they went to a costly banquet and much wine and great wealth and a brilliant table. And Thamyris made them drink, for he loved Thecla and desired to take her to wife: and at the dinner Thamyris said: Tell me, ye men, what is his teaching, that I also may know it: for I am not a little afflicted concerning Thecla because she so loveth the stranger, and I am defrauded of my marriage.

14 And Demas and Hermogenes said: Bring him before Castelius the governor as one that persuadeth the multitudes with the new doctrine of the Christians; and so will he destroy him and thou shalt have thy wife Thecla. And we will teach thee of that resurrection which he asserteth, that it is already come to pass in the children which we have, and we rise again when we have come to the knowledge of the true God.

15 But when Thamyris heard this of them, he was filled with envy and wrath, and rose up early and went to the house of Onesiphorus with the rulers and officers and a great crowd with staves, saying unto Paul: Thou hast destroyed the city of the Iconians and her that was espoused unto me, so that she will not have me: let us go unto Castelius the governor. And all the multitude said: Away with the wizard, for he hath corrupted all our wives. And the multitude rose up together against him.

16 And Thamyris, standing before the judgement seat, cried aloud and said: 0 proconsul, this is the man-we know not whence he is-who alloweth not maidens to marry: let him declare before thee wherefore he teacheth such things. And Demas and Hermogenes said to Thamyris: Say thou that he is a Christian, and so wilt thou destroy him. But the governor kept his mind steadfast and called Paul, saying unto him: Who art thou, and what teachest thou? for it is no light accusation that these bring against thee.”

Bauckham’s theory of conflation

The Acts of Paul mention “Demas” and “Hermogenes”. 2 Timothy also mentions them, but includes 4 other names of apostate Christians (Phygelus, Philetus, Hymenaeus and Alexander). Bauckham (The Book of Acts in its Ancient Literary Setting, p. 128-130) argues that the presbyter conflated the following three pairs of opponents: Phygelus and Hermogenes; Hymenaeus and Philetus; Demas and Alexander, to make two individuals (“Demas” and “Hermogenes”). Here is his main evidence:

In 2 Tim 4:14 Alexander is a coppersmith, but in the Acts of Paul “Hermogenes” is a coppersmith.

In 2 Tim 2:18 Hymenaeus and Philetus were claiming that the resurrection had already taken place. In the Acts of Paul “Demas” and “Hermogenes” do the same thing.

In 2 Tim 4:10 Demas “has deserted me” and in 2 Tim 1:5 Phygelus and Hermogenes “have turned away from me”. This may have encouraged the presbyter to equate Demas with Phygelus.

Further evidence

The following arguments were not given by Bauckham, but support his hypothesis:

The “Lexicon of Greek Personal Names” provides statistics for 6 volumes. Volume 5a covers coastal Asia Minor from Pontus to Ionia and includes Ephesus. The proportion of people in this volume that are called “Demas” is 5.8 times higher than it is in the other 5 volumes. The corresponding figure for Hermogenes is 7.7 and for both “Alexander” and “Philetus” it is 2.1. For Hymenaeus the number is 0.9. So, at least until we get further volumes of the Lexicon, the names “Demas” and “Hermogenes” seems characteristically from the province of Asia. This may have encouraged the presbyter to conflate Demas with Phygelus, who was from Asia according to 2 Tim 1:15. The Asian character of the names Demas and Hermogenes would have convinced the presbyter that these were their birth names, and this may explain why he uses them.

It was common in the ancient world for philosophers and public religious figures to be given new names in keeping with their role. Sometimes two new names were given (e.g. James-the Just-Oblias, Peregrinus-Proteus-Phoenix, Sames-Theosebes-Dikaios, Ptolemy-Euergetes-Physcon, Ptolemy-Soter-Lathyros, Demosthenes-Batalus-Argas, Ammonius-Saccas-Theodidaktos, Malchus-Basileus-Porphyrius). There the presbyter might have hypothesized that Phygelus, Philetus, Hymenaeus and Alexander were new names given to Hermogenes and Demas. Let us examine each of these four names in turn.

“Phygelus” is almost unattested as a name. It means “fugitive”, which would be a strange birth name, but could work as a new name/epithet for a Christian who had had to flee persecution.

The name “Philetus” means “amiable, beloved” and in the ‘Acts of Paul’ Paul loved Demas and Hermogenes. This may be the presbyter’s explanation for the name Philetus.

In the Acts of Paul Demas and Hermogenes value marriage and child bearing and oppose Paul’s support for chastity. The name “Hymenaeus”comes from “Hymenaios”, the god of marriage ceremonies. Thus the presbyter may have imagined that Hymenaios was a nickname given to Hermogenes in keeping with his philosophy. The presbyter calls Thecla’s fiance “Thamyris”, which was a very rare name and that of a figure in Greek mythology who schemed to have sex with all the Muses (according to one version) or of marrying one of them (according to another).

The name “Alexander” means “defender of men” or something similar. It was common for names in this semantic field to be given to leading believers in the church. Thus Simon is named “Cephas/Peter” because he was to be rock on which the church would be built; James the Just was named “Oblias” (bulwark of the people); Crispus was names “Sosthenes” (saving strength); and a Mary was probably named “Magdelene” (fortress). The presbyter may therefore have seen “Alexander” as an honorary new name rather than as a birth name.

In the ancient world new names often had a phonetic resemblance to the original name. Philetus sounds like Phygelus; and Hymenaeus like Hermogenes. This may have encouraged the presbyter to (rightly or wrongly) conflate these persons.

The presbyter’s awareness of multiple naming and his interest in the meaning of names is further demonstrated by the case of Timotheos-Strataeas, discovered by Peter Dunn [see dissertation, p. 26-27]. Given his awareness of the meanings of names, it is understandable that he called them “Demas” and “Hermogenes”. He would not have wanted to honor them by calling them “Philetus” or “Alexander”.

2 Tim 4:14 says that Alexander did Paul great harm, and this role is taken by Demas and Hermogenes in the Acts of Paul. In 2 Tim 4:14 Alexander appears to be in Ephesus since 2 Timothy hints that Timothy is in Ephesus. This may have further encouraged the presbyter (rightly or wrongly) to equate Alexander with Hermogenes.

In conclusion, the presbyter seems to have (correctly or incorrectly) conflated Phygelus, Hermogenes, Philetus, Hymenaeus, Demas and Alexander into as few as two people. He probably saw Hermogenes-Hymenaeus-Alexander as one person, and he may have seen Demas-Phygelus-Phelitus as another.

Richard Fellows


One Response to Does the author of the Acts of Paul conflate Hermogenes, Hymenaeus, Alexander, Demas, Phygelus, and Philetus into two people? By Richard G. Fellows

  1. C.van Dam says:

    Dear sir,What was philosophy of this þamyris?

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