Is Name Popularity a Good Test of Historicity? A Statistical Evaluation of Richard Bauckham’s Onomastic Argument

Document Type



Gospels-Acts; Palestinian Jews; statistical analysis; onomastic data; anonymous community transmission


Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus

Rights Management



In Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham argues that the popularity of personal names in Gospels-Acts corresponds remarkably well to name popularity among late ancient Palestinian Jews and that this can only be the case if Gospels-Acts characters are in most cases historical as opposed to invented in the process of ‘anonymous community transmission’. We re-examine Bauckham’s conclusions, asserted with a remarkably high level of confidence but almost entirely without an actual statistical evaluation of his onomastic data, and perform the appropriate statistical analysis on the most recent onomastic dataset. We show that Bauckham’s thesis offers no advantage in explaining the observed correspondence between name popularity in Gospels-Acts and in the contemporary Palestinian Jewish population over an alternative model of ‘anonymous community transmission’. Moreover, our statistical analysis identifies some, albeit weak, evidence against Bauckham’s thesis.