Yesterday’s Gospel was Mark’s pericope of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho (Mk 10.46–52; synoptic parallels Mt 9.27–31, 20.29–34, Lk 18.35–43). It struck me that passing characters in the gospels, especially recipients of healing, are anonymous (Luke’s version does not name the blind man, and Matthew makes him two anonymous men). Most of us treat ‘Bartimaeus’ as a straightforward name, but I think it’s unusual for a couple of reasons.
He is introduced as “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus” (ὁ υἱὸς Τιμαίου Βαρτιμαῖος, ho huiòs Timaíou Bartimaîos). This is often read as if Bartimaeus is his name, and his father is Timaeus. However, the simple fact that ‘bar’ is the Aramaic for ‘son of’ suggests that ‘son of Timaeus’ is the partial translation of ‘Bartimaeus’. It’s always interesting to see what the Syriac Peshitta does with such translations of Aramaic, seeing as there is usually no need for a gloss on Aramaic (Syriac being a variety of Aramaic). The Peshitta translates the name as ܛܝܡܝ ܒܪ ܛܝܡܝ (Ṭimai bar Ṭimai). Although this suggests once again a proper name ‘Timai bar Timai’, this still does not make a great deal of sense.
The pericope uses the title ‘Son of David‘ twice to refer to Jesus, which has messianic connotations. I believe that reading ‘Son of Timai’ as a counterpart to ‘Son of David’ might help us find meaning in the name.
The essential question is what does ‘Timaeus’ or ‘Timai’ mean? There are two ways we can translate it:
- The Peshitta spelling supports an understanding that the root is the Aramaic word טימא or ܛܝܡܐ (ṭimē), which is itself borrowed from the Greek τιμή (timē), meaning ‘honour’, ‘worth’ or ‘price’. It might then be able to translate ‘Bartimaeus’ as ‘the honoured one’, ‘the worthy one’ or even ‘the ransomed one’ (bought at a price). This last understanding of the term suggests a type of Israel, which would fit well with the prophetic thrust of Jesus’ blindness signs: that the Son of Israel is a blind beggar crying out for the Son of David.
- The alternative lexical root could be the pure Aramaic word טמא or ܛܡܐ (ṭmā), meaning ‘unclean’, ‘impure’, ‘unchaste’ or ‘abominable’. In this sense, ‘Bartimaeus’ could mean ‘son of my impure ones’, which is in keeping with the general bigotry against those with disabilities that they inherited a parental fault or sin.
I think the first interpretation is slightly stronger, having the backing of the Peshitta and involving interplay with the only similar name in the pericope, ‘Son of David’. However, it might be possible, although more complex, to understand Bartimaeus as a type of Israel as an unclean people. Perhaps one could relate the injunction against the blind sacrificing as priests (Lev. 21.18-20). The Book of Isaiah also has a number of references to blindness indicating a lack of spiritual understanding. However, forming a coherent argument about the meaning of the name in this way seems somewhat awkward.
An easier answer would be that ‘Timaeus’ is a proper name, which is shared by the Platonic character Timaeus of Locri and by Timaeus the historian. However, this connection does not seem meaningful either. There is always the nagging chance that ‘Bartimaeus’ was a historical person with a meaningless name all along.
All thoughts welcome below.