Let me pursue this place name a bit. James and Levi (Matthew) are known in the New Testament as sons of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3 and Mark 2:14). This name is ordinarily understood as derived from Aramaic h.alaf (plj), “to be smooth, glistening, or sharp edged.” It also means “to replace, to exchange, to barter, and to pass by.” Pointed as h.elef it means “a shoot” and even “substitute.” A variant of the name is H.alafta (“willow”), which is the name of the father of a famous early rabbi of Sepphoris. H.alef (Aphaeus) was found in a sixth century Aramaic inscription on a column at Capernaum in the form “Halfu bar Zebida” (Alphaeus son of Zebedee.) I would conclude that the place name gave rise to personal names derived from h.elef (a common practice), much as a form of Magdala became Mary Magdalene’s “family name.” But Tabor says that Clopas (John 19:25) is Chalaf in Hebrew (not Aramaic), but he prefers the meaning “substitute.” This allows him to assert that Joseph had died and Clopas (his nickname) took Mary as his own in levirate marriage.

Ordinarily we prefer simple explanations for personal names or for family names based on place names. Tabor’s argument amounts to a hypothesis, but how in the world would we test it?