Bethany (Βηθανία) is recorded in the
New Testament as the home
of the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, as well as that of Simon
Jesus is reported to have lodged there after his entry into
Jerusalem, and it could be from Bethany that he parted from his
disciples at the Ascension.
3 Bethany and care of the poor and sick
New Testament references to Bethany
5 Bethany beyond the Jordan
6 See also
9 External links
Bethany has traditionally been identified with the present-day West
Bank city of al-Eizariya (Arabic العيزرية "place of Lazarus"),
site of the reputed Tomb of Lazarus, located about 1.5 miles
(2.4 km) to the east of Jerusalem on the south-eastern slope of
the Mount of Olives. The oldest house in present-day al-Eizariya, a
2,000-year-old dwelling reputed to have been (or which at least serves
as a reminder of) the House of
Martha and Mary, is also a popular
The tomb in al-Eizariya has been identified as the tomb of the gospel
account since at least the 4th century AD. Both the historian Eusebius
of Caesarea (c. 330) and the Itinerarium Burdigalense (c. 333)
mention the Tomb of Lazarus in this location.
Zanecchia (1899), however, argued that ancient Bethany may actually
have been located higher up the
Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives from al-Eizariya,
closer to Bethphage. Breen (1907) in
Catholic Encyclopedia reported
Zanecchia's hypothesis, and while conceding that the traditional site
of the tomb "has no strong intrinsic or extrinsic authority", but that
in view of the antiquity of the traditional identification of the tomb
of Lazarus, "there is every reason to believe that it was in this
The root meaning and origin of the name Bethany has been the subject
of much scholarship and debate.
William Hepworth Dixon
William Hepworth Dixon devotes a
multi-page footnote to it in his The Holy Land (1866), largely devoted
to debunking the meaning "house of dates", which is attributed to
Joseph Barber Lightfoot
Joseph Barber Lightfoot by way of a series of careless interpretative
mistakes. Dixon quotes at length a refutation of Lightfoot's thesis in
the form of a letter by
Emanuel Deutsch of the British Museum, who
notes that neither the name Bethany, nor any of the roots suggested by
Lightfoot, appear anywhere in the Talmud. Deutsch suggests a
non-Hebrew root, a word transcribed in Syriac script whose meaning he
gives as "House of Misery" or "Poor-house".
This theory as to Bethany's etymology, which was eventually also
Gustaf Dalman in 1905, is not without challengers. For
example, E. Nestle's Philologica Sacra (1896) suggests that Bethany is
derived from the personal name Anaiah, while others have suggested it
is a shortened version of Ananiah, a village of
Bethel mentioned in
Book of Nehemiah
Book of Nehemiah (11:32). Since Greek can neither reproduce an /h/
sound nor the harsh /ħ/ sound (Hebrew Ḥet) in the middle of a word,
a derivation from the personal name Chananya ("Yah has been gracious")
is also possible.
Another suggestion, arising from the presence of nearby Bethphage
("house of unripe figs"), is that its name comes from beit hini
Aramaic בית היני / ביתייני) , meaning "house of
figs". In the Talmud, there is mention of a village called Beit Hino
located near the Mount of Olives. Some translations suggest it as
Deutsch's thesis, however, seems to also be attested to by Jerome. In
his version of Eusebius' Onomasticon, the meaning of Bethany is
defined as domus adflictionis or "house of affliction". Brian J.
Capper writes that this is a Latin derivation from the Hebrew beth
'ani or more likely the
Aramaic beth 'anya, both of which mean "house
of the poor" or "house of affliction/poverty", also semantically
speaking "poor-house". Capper concludes, from historical sources as
well as this linguistic evidence, that Bethany may have been the site
of an almshouse.
According to Capper and Deutsch before him, there are also linguistic
difficulties that arise when the Anaiah/Ananiah, "house of figs" or
"house of dates" theses are compared against the bethania form used in
Greek versions of the New Testament. Additionally, the
'anya (בית עניא) is the form used for Bethany in Christian
Palestinian and Syriac versions of the New Testament. Given this, and
Jerome's familiarity with Semitic philology and the immediate region,
Capper concludes that the "house of affliction" / "poor-house" meaning
as documented by
Jerome and in the Syriac
New Testament usage is
correct, and that this meaning relates to the use of the village as a
centre for caring for the sick and aiding the destitute and pilgrims
It may be possible to combine the
Ananiah (as a personal name) and
"house of the poor" derivations, since the shortening of
has intervened") to Anya is conceivable though unattested (cf. the
common shortening of Yochanan [and perhaps also Chananyah?] to Choni),
whence a typical semitic wordplay might arise between Anya as a
shortening of the personal name within the name of the village and as
Aramaic for "poor". Such a wordplay may have served the choice of the
village as the location for an almshouse.
Bethany and care of the poor and sick
Capper and others have concluded that ancient Bethany was the site of
an almshouse for the poor and a place of care for the sick. There is a
hint of association between Bethany and care for the unwell in the
Gospels: Mark tells of Simon the Leper's house there (Mark 14:3–10);
Jesus receives urgent word of Lazarus' illness from Bethany (John
According to the
Temple Scroll from Qumran, three places for the care
of the sick, including one for lepers, are to be located to the east
of Jerusalem. The passage also defines a (minimum) radius of three
thousand cubits (circa 1,800 yards) around the city within which
nothing unclean shall be seen (XLVI:13–18). Since Bethany was,
according to John, fifteen stadia (about 1.72 miles) from the holy
city, care for the sick there corresponded with the requirements
Temple Scroll (the stadion being ideally 600 feet (180 m)
or 400 cubits). Whereas
Bethphage is probably to be identified
with At-Tur, located on the peak of the
Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives with a
magnificent view of Jerusalem, Bethany lay below to the southeast, out
of view of the Temple Mount, which may have made its location suitable
as a place for care of the sick, "out of view" of the Temple.
From this it is possible to deduce that the mention of Simon the Leper
at Bethany in Mark's Gospel suggests that the Essenes, or pious
patrons from Jerusalem who held to a closely similar view of ideal
arrangements, settled lepers at Bethany. Such influence on the
planning of Jerusalem and its environs (and even its Temple) may have
been possible especially during the reign of
Herod the Great
Herod the Great (36–4
BC), whose favour towards the
Essenes was noted by Josephus
(Antiquities 15.10.5 [373–78]).
Reta Halteman Finger approves Capper's judgment that only in the
context of an almshouse at Bethany, where the poor were received and
Jesus remark that "The poor you will always have with
you" (Mark 14:7; Matthew 26:11) without sounding callous. Ling
follows Capper's thesis concerning the connection between then
place-name Bethany and the location there of an almshouse. Capper and
Ling note that it is only in Bethany we find mention of the poor on
the lips of the disciples, who object that the expensive perfumed oil
Jesus there might have been sold and the proceeds given to
the poor (Mark 14:5; Matthew 26:8–9; John 12:4–6 [where the
objection is made by Judas]); this objection may have been made in
embarrassment and may also suggest a special connection between
Bethany and care for the poor.
It has also been suggested, based on the names found carved on
thousands of ossuaries at the site, that Bethany in the time of Jesus
was settled by people from
Galilee who had come to live by Jerusalem.
This would explain why
Jesus and the disciples, as Galileans, would
find it convenient to stay here when visiting Jerusalem. As Capper
Galilean pilgrims avoided potential conflict with
travelling south on the eastern side of the Jordan. Bethany was the
last station on their route to Jerusalem after crossing the river and
taking the road through
Jericho up into the highlands. A respectful
distance from the city and Temple, and on the pilgrim route, Bethany
was a most suitable location for a charitable institution. It is not
surprising that an Essene hospice had been established at Bethany to
intercept and care for pilgrims at the end of the long and potentially
arduous journey from Galilee. The house combined this work with care
for the sick and destitute of the Jerusalem area. Thus Bethany
received its name because it was the Essene poorhouse par excellence,
the poorhouse which alleviated poverty closest to the holy city.
New Testament references to Bethany
New Testament places associated with Jesus
The village of Bethany is referenced in relation to five incidents in
the New Testament, in which the word Bethany appears 11 times:
The raising of Lazarus from the dead – John 11:1–46
The entry of
Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, which
near Bethany – Mark 11:1 and Luke 19:29
The lodging of
Jesus in Bethany during the following week – Matthew
21:17 and Mark 11:11–12
The dinner in the house of Simon the Leper, at which Mary anoints
Jesus – Matthew 26:6–13, Mark 14:3–9, and John 12:1–8
Before the Ascension of
Jesus into heaven – Luke 24:50
In Luke 10:38–42, a visit of
Jesus to the home of Mary and
described, but the village of Bethany is not named (nor whether Jesus
is even in the vicinity of Jerusalem).
Bethany beyond the Jordan
A second place named Bethany is mentioned in the
Gospel of John
Gospel of John 1:28
as being located on the east bank of the Jordan River. Its exact
location is unclear; in fact, the only mention of this “Bethany”
is to be found in that one verse. In the
King James Version
King James Version (following
Textus Receptus of the New Testament) the place where John the
Baptist was baptizing in John 1:28 was not called Bethany, but
Bethabara. The second place may also refer to the more northerly
territory of Batanaea.
King James Version
King James Version is the only English version of the New
Testament that refers to "Bethany on the east bank of the Jordan
River", as "Bethabara". Most other English versions (including the
Douay-Rheims, NIV, NASB, NLT, RSV, IBS, and Darby) call it "Bethany".
Tomb of Lazarus (al-Eizariya)
^ Shahin, 2005, p. 332.
^ The Onomastikon of Eusebius and the Madaba Map, By Leah Di Segni.
First published in: The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem, 1999, pp.
^ Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, translated by Arnold vander
^ D. Zanecchia La Palestine d'aujourd'hui, ses sanctuaires, ses
localités bibliques et historiiques (Paris, 1899), Vol. I, 445–46.
^ Breen, A.E. "Bethany". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York:
Robert Appleton Company, 1907. "Zanecchia places the site of the
ancient village of Bethany higher up on the southeastern slope of the
Mount of Olives, not far from the accepted site of Bethphage, and near
that of the Ascension. It is quite certain that the present village
formed about the traditional tomb of Lazarus, which is in a cave in
the village. The identification of this cave as the tomb of Lazarus is
merely possible; it has no strong intrinsic or extrinsic authority.
The site of the ancient village may not precisely coincide with the
present one, but there is every reason to believe that it was in this
general location. St.
Jerome testifies: 'Bethany is a village at the
second milestone from Aelia [Jerusalem], on the slope of the Mount of
Olives, where the Savior raised Lazarus to life, to which event the
church now built there bears witness' (Onom. ed. Lagarde 1008, 3). In
the early ages this church was called the "Lazarium" and held in great
veneration. Towards the close of the fourth century St. Silvia
declares that on the Saturday before
Palm Sunday the clergy of
Jerusalem and the people go out to the Lazarium at Bethany [...] The
sites of the house of
Martha and Mary, and of that of Simon the leper
are shown at Bethany; but it is evident that these localizations are
^ Dixon, 1866, pp. 214–19.
^ "Neubauer's Geography" (Adolphe Neubauer, La Géographie du Talmud,
Paris 1868, pp. 149–50), where he writes: “The
Talmud reports that
Beth Hini shops were destroyed three years before Jerusalem. These
shops were probably on the Mount of Olives, and Beth Hini would be
identical with Bethany of the Gospel. The
Talmud adds that the figs of
Beth Hini ripened earlier than elsewhere and that fig trees
disappeared as a result of the siege of Jerusalem. These fruits have
given the name to the place Beth-Phagi, a place according to the
Gospels near Bethany. We would identify Bethany with the present
village of el-Azarieh, inhabited by Muslims and Christians.” Klein,
Samuel (1910). "Remarks about the geography of ancient Palestine
(German)". Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des
Judentums. 54 (1/2): 18–19. JSTOR 23081701. (Registration
^ The Schottenstein Daf Yomi Edition Tractate Bava Kamma 88a2
^ a b Capper, in Charlesworth, 2006, pp. 497–98.
^ Cf. Capper, "John,
Qumran and Virtuoso Religion" in Paul Anderson,
Mary Coloe, and Tom Thatcher (eds.), John and
Qumran (Leuven: Peeters,
^ John 11:18.
^ Cf. Dieter Lelgemann, 'Recovery of the Ancient System of
Foot/Cubit/Stadion Length Units'
^ Matthias Delcor suggested that
Essenes familiar with the Temple
Scroll influenced the design of Herod's Temple, "Is the Temple Scroll
a Source of the Herodian Temple?" in G.J. Brooke, Temple Scroll
Studies (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), pp. 67–89
^ Reta Halteman Finger, Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the
Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008) p. 164, cf. Brian J.
Capper, "The Church as the New Covenant of Effective Economics",
International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 2, 1
(January 2002) pp. 83–102, see p. 95.
^ Timothy J. M. Ling, The Judaean Poor and the Fourth Gospel
(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 143–45,
Jesus in the City of Bethany Archived December 19, 2010, at the
Wayback Machine., Rev. the Hon. Dr. Gordon Moyes AC MLC.
^ Brian J. Capper, "The Church as the New Covenant of Effective
Economics", International Journal for the Study of the Christian
Church 2, 1 (January 2002) pp. 83–102. For further information, see
also "The New Covenant Network in Southern Palestine at the Arrest of
Jesus", in James R. Davila, The Dead Sea Scrolls as Background to
Postbiblical Judaism and Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2003), pp.
90–116, especially pp. 108–16 on Bethany and pp. 98–108 on the
social work of the Essene poorcare houses of Judaea in general.
^ Strong's Concordance
^ Sloyan, Gerard Stephen (1987). John. ISBN 0-8042-3125-7. p. 11.
^ Carson, D. A. (1991). Gospel According to John.
ISBN 978-0851117492. pp. 146–47.
Aburish, Said K.: Children of Bethany: The Story of a Palestinian
Family, Indiana University Press 1988. ISBN 0-253-30676-0
Capper, Brian J., "Essene Community Houses and Jesus' Early Community"
(2006), in James H. Charlesworth, ed.,
Jesus and Archaeology, Wm. B.
Eerdmans Publishing, pp. 474–502,
Dixon, William Hepworth (1866), The Holy Land, Chapman and Hall
Shahin, Mariam (2005), Palestine: A Guide, Interlink Books,
p. 332, ISBN 1-56656-557-X
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bethany (biblical village).
Catholic Encyclopedia: Bethany
Jewish Encyclopedia: Bethany
Pictures of Lazarus' reputed tomb at Bethany
New Testament places associated with Jesus
Mount of Transfiguration
Sea of Galilee
Mount of Olives
Road to Damascus
Coordinates: 31°46′17.08″N 35°15′40.77″E /
31.7714111°N 35.2613250°E / 31.7714111