An Onomastic History: What Can Philo Provide?

Sketching an onomastic history is no easy task. Since all our extant onomastica, like our MSS of Philo, Josephus, and most of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, are ecclesiastical, and it is clear that Christian hands reworked these surviving name lists, is an early history even possible? Philo is a prime contributor helping to answer this question. One can find multiple instances of him referring to his predecessors employing these “manuals of Hebrew etymology” in Greek (Folker Siegert). One passage in particular from the QE may have much to offer here, but the previously neglected background of a common Greek expression is needed to provide insight into the passage’s linguistic history, likely meaning, and role in an onomastic reconstruction. Another line of evidence, also hitherto neglected, is the importance of Philo’s several instances of offering alternative etymologies for the same Hebrew name that he elects to expound. The “technical term” (David Runia) that our Alexandrian employs to introduce his etymologies is a third line of evidence, one that, when combined with similar use by previous, roughly contemporary, and later authors, can provide further insight into helping establish a reconstruction of these early handbooks of Hebrew etymology in Greek, tools that played a significant role in Philo’s works.