So is there any degree of probability that the tradition known to the Protevangelium of James, the Gospel of Philip and the source used by Epiphanius correctly preserved the actual names of two sisters of Jesus? A recent study of the recorded names of Jewish women in Palestine in the period 330 BCE-200 CE finds that, although the 247 women whose names are known bore 68 different names in all, 61 of these 247 women were called Salome (including its longer version Salomezion) and 58 were called Mary (Mariamme or Maria). In other words, these two names account for 47.7% of the women. Every second Palestinian Jewish woman must have been called either Salome or Mary. Individual sources for the names also show high percentages of these two names, making it likely that the sample is in this respect representative . . .But surely the inference Bauckham makes here is incorrect. Assuming the accuracy of the statistics, and assuming two sisters (about which more anon), there is only a (nearly) 50% chance of at least ONE of the sisters being called Mary OR Salome. Assuming only two sisters, and assuming the accuracy of the data, the chance of their being called Mary AND Salome is more like 5.8% (i.e. 61/247 x 58/247), isn't it?** Or am I forgetting something?
In the light of this statistical finding, it seems that the tradition which gives the names Mary and Salome to Jesus' sisters has a 50% chance of being correct, even if it was not based on historical memory!
* Richard Bauckham, "Salome the Sister of Jesus, Salome the Disciple of Jesus, and the Secret Gospel of Mark", Novum Testamentum 33/3 (Jul., 1991): 245-275 (253-4)
* Richard Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1990; 3rd edition: London & New York, T & T Clark, 2004): 43
* Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002): 233-4.
** It occurs to me that if the first sister is named Mary, the second is unlikely also to be called Mary, so we should perhaps reduce the pool to 186 names, in which case the calculation would be 61/247 x 58/186 = 7.7%. is that right?
Update: After a useful discussion in the comments thread (see below), we have consensus that the correct figure is in fact 15.3%. What I had forgotten was that the first child, in these calculations, could be called *either* Mary *or* Salome. So it is still a much lower figure than Bauckham's 50% figure, but it's a bit higher than the 7.7% I was thinking about before.