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νικάω ... 1. intr. be victor, prevail, conquer... 2. trans. conquer, overcome, vanquish... -- Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (p. 539). University of Chicago Press.

δῆμος, ου, ὁ (...) people, populace, crowd gathered for any purpose -- Ibid., p. 179.

Pharisee and ruler of the Jews seems to indicate that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Thus, you would think he would have a Hebrew name.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus [Νικόδημος, ου, ὁ ], a ruler of the Jews. (John 3:1, ESV)

Νικόδημος βουλευτής) Nicodemus (in rabb. ךַקְדֵּימוֹן), a member of the Sanhedrin who was favorable to Jesus and his cause, mentioned only in the Fourth Gospel. Little is known about him, and the connection w. the Talmudic Nicodemus, whose real name is said to have been Buni ben Gorion, and who was held to be a disciple of Jesus (Billerb. II 413f), is questionable. J 3:1, 4, 9; 7:50; 19:39.—BZimolong, D. Nikod. perikope (J 2:23-3:22) nach d. syrosinait. Text, Diss. Bresl. ’19; SMendner, JBL 77, ’58, 293-323. M-M.* -- Ibid., p. 539.

It was common for Jews to sometimes have a Hebrew name and Greek name. Does John's use of his Greek name Νικόδημος suggest that he was better known by than name in the Christian community?

P.S. Another remote possibility is Νικόδημος is Hebrew grandchildren נכדים with the Greek inflection ος added. The vowels don't exactly match, and the meaning is off. The Greek meaning is far more likely.

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    Consider Acts 4:6 "Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family". - The greek name "Alexander" was used even in high priest's family
    – HoRn
    Aug 29, 2022 at 6:55
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  • Question is based on the opinion that Hebrew and Greek two names were common for the same man.
    – Michael16
    Aug 30, 2022 at 3:33
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    @HoRn The Sadducees were different than the Pharisees. They were politically in league with Roman and used that to capture the high priesthood.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 30, 2022 at 12:47

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That Nicodemus was known by a Greek name is hardly surprising - he was in good company with many other such as:

  • Peter (also known by his Aramaic name, Kephas and his Hebrew name, Simon)
  • Paul (also known by his Hebrew name Saul). Paul, depending on how it is spelled can be both Latin (Paulus) and Greek (Paulos).
  • Stephen
  • Philip
  • Andrew
  • Justus (a Latin name) also known by his Hebrew name, Joseph and his Aramaic name Barsabbas (Acts 1:23)
  • Dorcas (also known by her Aramaic name, Tabitha)
  • Mark (also known by his Hebrew name, John)
  • Timothy
  • Silas/Silvanos - Latin names
  • Lidia
  • Eunice
  • Sapphira

... and many more. Many had several names depending on their company and their language. It is entirely possible that Nicodemus (by which he was best known to John's readership) had a Hebrew name; however, if he did, it has not been recorded.

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  • It makes practical sense, too. Even today, many Chinese professionals who work with western counterparts choose western nicknames to facilitate easier communication and compatibility with a different culture. In reciprocation, I chose a Chinese homonym as my "Chinese name," to the great amusement of my Chinese colleagues.
    – Dieter
    Aug 29, 2022 at 18:37
  • After reflecting on your answer, I realized my initial question wasn't well worded for what I wanted to ask.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 29, 2022 at 19:48
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As far as the Gospel of John goes, the idea makes sense that Nicodemus was best known by that name in John's community. The Johannine community was probably located in Asia minor. Although it may have included Jews who fled Jerusalem after 70 c.e., John's audience was obviously Greek-speaking, since his gospel was written in Greek.

As far as the "historical Nicodemus" goes, we should be aware that the Pharisees were by no means limited to Judea and the Galilee, although this is where they are located when we read about them in the Gospels. We have evidence that the Pharisees themselves were often fluent in Greek, interacted freely with Greeks and used Greek names. The Jewish Encyclopedia states that "the Pharisees made the Torah a power for the education of the Jewish people all over the world, a power whose influence, in fact, was felt even outside of the Jewish race." Their means of doing so was the synagogue, a institution largely of their creation. Thus, when we hear in Acts about apostles speaking in numerous synagogues in the Greek-speaking cities, we can safely presume that Pharisees were often involved in their leadership.

In addition, we should consider that Pharisees often travelled (Matthew 23:15). Many of them, like Paul, grew up outside of Judea with their families in Greek-speaking cities. Hillel the Elder, the grandfather of Paul's mentor Gamaliel, was raised in Babylon, where Greek was one of the official languages at the time. He became famous for his willingness to teach Gentiles, probably speaking in Greek.

Paul himself, of course, was fluent in Greek and used a Greek name when writing to churches. But in Acts 13, he is still called "Saul" long after his conversion.

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon... and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” ... When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus... But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?

Although they resisted Hellenization, the Pharisees would likely use Greek names when appropriate, just as the Pharisee Saul did when he signed his letters "Paulos," or when Joseph Ben Matthias, who lived around the time that the Gospel of John was composed, wrote as "Josephus."

Regarding the Talmudic Nicodemus, he is not called Buni but "Nakdimon," which is basically the same Greek name as Nicodemus. Taanit 19b states

The Sages taught: Once all the Jewish people ascended for the pilgrimage Festival to Jerusalem and there was not enough water for them to drink. Nakdimon ben Guryon, one of the wealthy citizens of Jerusalem, went to a certain gentile officer [hegemon] and said to him: 'Lend me twelve wells of water for the pilgrims, and I will give back to you twelve wells of water. And if I do not give them to you, I will give you twelve talents of silver. And the officer set him a time limit for returning the water.'

So whatever his Hebrew name might have been, Nakdimon ben Guryon was accustomed to speaking to Gentiles and used a Greek name.

Thus the historical Nicodemus may have used both his Hebrew and his Greek name, as Saul/Paul did. The most likely reason he is called only "Nicodemus" in the Gospel of John is that John's audience was Greek speaking and the historical Nicodemus lived far away, two generations in past.


Further reading: Jewish First Names Through the Ages

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Jews were undergoing a process of Hellenisation since the conquests of Alexander and establishment of post-Alexander empires like Seleucid, Attalid, Pergamum etc. Even if this process, or better, more oppressive and humiliating aspects of it, were resisted like during the Maccabean revolution, still even the post-Maccabean Hasmonean dynasty of Jewish kings (140-37 BC) were quite influenced by Hellenisation. Two of the Hasmonean kings were called Greek name “Aristobulos“. So, why should one be surprised at all that some aristocrat Jews were given by parents Greek popular names, and Nicodemus was such an aristocrat. Sometimes Jews had two names: one traditional, Jewish and other - Greek or Roman, like Paul was appealed as Romanized “Paul” but also as Jewish “Saul”, it is just a religious folklore that “Saul became Paul”, for before and after conversion he held both names.

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I recently came across this page looking for the name of Nicodemus after having watched the episode of The Chosen in which the story of John 3 was retold. I started to wonder why would an important member of Sanhedrin have a Latin/Greek name. From the Babylonian Talmud, we know that his name was Buni ben Gurion, which name has in no way any likeness with Nicodemus, nor the original Greek of Nicodemus (see the other messages above). What then was the reason that his own name was supplanted by a name that is supposed to mean something like "defeater of the people"? Wayne vanWeerthuizen (last writer above) wrote: An alternative conjecture could be that they may represent nicknames given to the characters subsequent to the reported events having happened. I would like to go that way: From John 3 we know that Buni ben Gurion was interested in Jesus’ teachings, but didn’t quite understand it. Suppose now that he became a (hidden) follower of Jesus and was at the Sanhedrin trial not in favor of Jesus being handed over to Pilate to be killed. Suppose that he in doing so referred to several Biblical texts in which ‘innocent blood’ is mentioned, and the laying of violent hands against innocent blood will be punished by God (for instance Psalms 94:21 and 106:38; Jeremiah 26:15), and people mockingly ended up giving him a nickname, something like Naqi Dam in Hebrew, which is kind of close to Nicodemus too, as we know that in Hebrew vowels were not written originally. Wouldn’t that be making a lot more sense?

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    How is it explained that innocent blood in the MT is written דם נקי rather than נקי דם?
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 5, 2023 at 11:56
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First off, sorry if I offend anyone here with this, but we have zero reasons to presume the existence of an historical Nicodemus. One might profess, simply as a doctrine of faith, that every narrative in the Bible must have really happened, but we lack any objective reasons to assume that and we shouldn't let it influence us when doing actual scholarship.

Second, we have the example of John rewriting the character of Lazarus, found earlier within a parable in Luke. John keeps enough elements of the Lukan Lazarus for scholars to be able to recognize that it served as John's source, but John changes many details for his own theological purposes. John's Lazarus is more-likely-than-not fictional. This, in turn, gives us reason to suspect that John may have also invented other characters, including Nicodemus, to likewise fit his literary purposes.

With Nicodemus, nico comes from a Greek root meaning conquest or victory, and demos means people, such as in the word democracy. From this, one might conjecture, that John himself simply made up the name Nicodemus, to mean something like "defeater of the people". (This is very similar to the word Nicolaitan in Revelation, which also appears made up by the author of that text.) We find the Nicodemus functions within John's narrative to personify naïve and literalist thinking, which John presents Jesus as repeatedly try to correct. So, John's purpose in giving Nicodemus that name may have been to highlight how literalist thinking harms the people.

Throughout the four canonical gospels and Acts there are many other characters given names with meanings all too fitting for the context in which they are found. In Acts 20 where we find a character named, "Eutychus", meaning fortunate or lucky. Within the narrative, Eutychus is lucky not to die, maybe even lucky to have had Paul there to miraculously revive him. Some scholars have suggested this as evidence for those characters having been invented by the authors of those narratives. (In particular, Dennis R. MacDonald argues that Eutychus is a fictional character based on Homer's Elpenor in Odyssey 10-12.) An alternative conjecture could be that they may represent nicknames given to the characters subsequent to the reported events having happened, but that the characters are wholly fictional seems more likely, given the prevalence of this way of naming fictional characters within ancient literature. The New Testament is not the only ancient text that does this.

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