RE: [John_Lit] Where did John baptise: Bethany or Bethabara? (Jn 1:28)
- Thanks, Stephen, for the contribution, and also for mentioning Pierson
Parker's essay. With Schackenburg, I find very little of Parker's essay
on the non-identity of the Beloved Disciple critically convincing, but I
also appreciate Parker's larger interest--given the impossibility of
authorship theory A (John the son of Zebedee), the plausibility of
authorship theory B (John Mark, companion of Paul) is forwarded.
Interestingly, Parker hangs a great deal of his argument (although it is
only one of 20+ other points) on the "mistake" of "Bethany beyond the
Jordan," which I'm coming to understand differently.
a) The first conclusion is that "beyond the Jordan" is actually
confirmed archaeologically and textually as at least one of the places
that John the Baptist had done some of his work. So, those connections
confirm the Johannine witness rather than disconfirm it.
b) The real problem is thus the naming of the site as "Bethany" when the
Bethany of the Lazarus family is explicitly mentioned as being near
Jerusalem. So, our present question of how Bethany got attached to the
site is of central interest, given that Bethabara may actually be the
name for the historical site, but Origen's addition of it may be later
than some of the references to Bethany.
c) I'm in the process of gathering Henry Cadbury's NT essays, so this is
something of a Cadburian question: is it possible that the later
addition by Origen (for whatever reason) might be the more
accurate--even if there is little or nor other textual evidence
suggesting a more primitive rendering of Bethabara? Put negatively
(versus Parker), given the likelihood that the redactor claims to have
edited the work of the Beloved Disciple (whoever he might have been),
not all "mistaken details or clarifications" (if
"Bethany-versus-Bethabara" might have been one) can be attributed to the
The implications here, though, seem to be the most important. If Bethany
might have been a mistaken clarification, even at some early stage of
the composition-transmission process, at least one problematic aspect of
John's historicity is elucidated.
[mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Stephen C.
Sent: Thursday, March 09, 2006 1:33 PM
Subject: RE: [John_Lit] Where did John baptise: Bethany or Bethabara?
At 11:20 AM 3/9/2006 -0800, Paul Anderson wrote:
>I can appreciate Origen's puzzlement over the 2nd C. codices and theirinvestigation
>inclusion of Bethany, but his trip to the site and primary
>seems significant. Whatever the name of the town was, the cross-Jordanwords
>site indeed seems historically correct. While it may be impossible to
>know whether "Bethabara" was in the original text, it does make me
>wonder if the change to "Bethany" might have even been added as a
>"clarification" by the redactor, just as he has "clarified" Jesus'
>to Peter in 6:71. Therefore, the place-name might not have been ananother,
>original "mistake" by the evangelist, but attributable to harmonizing
>editors or copyists down the line.
>If the Fourth Gospel were to have been finalized in a distant setting
>(Asia Minor or elsewhere), by someone preserving the witness of
>might such a "clarification" be understandable, even if it might haveIf the "Bethabara" reading at John 1:28 was original, the change to
>been a mistake? This is a highly speculative hunch, so I think I'll
>leave it as a question rather than putting it as a claim.
"Bethany" can easily be explained as an assimilation to the better
known Bethany (e.g. John 11:1, 18, 12:1). A similar assimilation is
found in Mark 8:22 where Codex Bexae (D) and various Old Latins
changed Bethsaida to Bethany. (The scribal error at Mark 8:22 must
have been fairly early.) This variant, as you note, is even more
understandable if the person who did it hailed from a distant setting.
Whether that person was a very early copyist or even the Johannine
redactor is a more difficult question to answer. Based on the MSS
that attest to the Bethabara reading, which includes the correctors
to 01, C, as well as fam. 1 (whence the TR's reading), fam. 13, and
fam. Pi, it seems plausible to me that their testimonies all stem from
Origen's commentary rather than an independent stream of textual
transmission. Thus, if a change from "Bethabara" to "Bethany" in
John 1:28 ever happened, it must have happened so early in the
transmission of the text that a Johannine redactor is as likely a
candidate as any other.
On the other hand, Pierson Parker, "Bethany Beyond Jordan," JBL 74
(1955): 257-261, argued that Bethany is both original and correct, but
that John 1:28 should be understood to mean "These things took place
in Bethany, which is across from the Jordan where John had been
baptizing." Such a proposal also helps if the audience is not
Palestinian, because PERAN TOU IORDANOU in 1:28 would have more
likely understood by the local Judeans as "Beyond the Jordan" (i.e.
Thus, the internal evidence (instrinsic or transcription) does not
seem helpful to me in deciding between "Bethany" or "Bethabara."
Plausible reasons can be given for going from reading to the other
in either direction. The external evidence, on the other hand, for
"Bethany" is excellent, so the MSS evidence is going to be decisive.
If "Bethany" is original to the text of John as it was published, then
the Johannine redactor is a good candidate for the reading.
Yuri Kuchinsky wrote:
>Nevertheless, it is too bad that, in his book, Brown doesn't evenIf John 1:28 had originally read "Bethabara," not Bethany, then it
>mention the alternative reading "Bethabara" in Jn 1:28, and what it
>may indicate for us...
>Unfortunately, it is all too typical for modern biblical scholars to
>completely disregard textual criticism. In general, I liked Brown's
>MARK'S OTHER GOSPEL -- it's a great book overall, and he obviously
>spent many years of hard work researching this whole subject area in
>depth. So his disregard of this particular textual problem in his book
>is unfortunate. (Actually, he does mention the Bethabara reading
>briefly in his Revue Biblique article.)
indicates that the author of Secret Mark is dependent on a scribal
error in John. This would place the composition of Secret Mark
rather later's than Brown's own theory that it was written by no
one other than Mark himself. Nevertheless, Brown is in good company
with most scholars for accepting the Bethany reading based on the
strength of the external evidence.
>Still, in my view, it's not impossible that a late editor of John's"Not impossible" is one thing, but this suggestion is nonetheless
>gospel may have inserted "Bethany" into Jn 1:28 because he saw the
>mention of it in LGM in connection with baptism. Nevertheless, such an
>idea will remain speculative at this point.
highly unlikely. As Brown notes in his book on Secret Mark, "[t]here
is no mention of water or depiction of baptism" (p. 145), and that
"the text discourages every attempt to perceive Jesus literally
baptizing him" (p. 146). The baptismal interpretation is very subtle
and even the scholar who originally identified it (Cyril Richardson)
backed away from it.
Stephen C. Carlson
Author of: The Gospel Hoax,
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- Yuri, Paul and Stephen,
Thank you for engaging in this stimulating
discussion. I'm learning a great deal from it. Thank
you for teaching!
I was struck most of all by what may have been a
passing comment made by Yuri:
"Thus, the place name "Bethany" was probably added to
this passage ca 150-170 CE, during a later expansion
of John. And whoever added this name wasn't really
concerned all that much, it seems, with the matters
of geography. It's the symbolic/mythical geography
that they primarily cared about, most likely."
End Quote: *****************************************
I suggest that "Bethany" may not have been either a
mistake or an intentional editorial change, but that
it was used, as Yuri suspects, for the sake of
symbolism, though not, as Yuri suggests, by a later
I see evidence that the name "Bethany" was used
intentionally by the author or authors of the earliest
form of the Fourth Gospel. The symbolic meaning of
the place name "Bethany" is important to the
underlying structure of the Gospel. That symbolic
meaning is "Gateway."
The Fourth Gospel makes reference to a "near" Bethany.
Rainer Riesner, in his article on Bethany and Bethany
Beyond the Jordan in the Anchor Bible, vol. 1, pp.
702-705 suggests, among other theories, the theory
that the name "Bethany" may be derived from "the House
of Ananiah" (Beth Ananiah). This theory is grounded a
reference in Nehemiah 3:23, where Azariah, the
grandson of Ananiah, is identified as one who rebuilds
part of Jerusalem's walls that were adjacent to his
own house (the House of Ananiah?).
Nehemiah 3 is a record of the rebuilding of the walls
and especially the rebuilding of the gates of the City
of Jerusalem. If this theory as to the origin of the
name Bethany is correct, then it would explain the
location cited as a town outside of (near) Jerusalem
(Jn. 11: 1, 18; 12: 1) as just outside of Jerusalem's
In Nehemiah 11:32 where the House of Ananiah is
mentioned, it is mentioned in the same context as as
the abiding places of priests and Levites. Indeed, it
may even be the town (neighborhood?) where the priests
and Levites lived, because it was located close to the
In Jn. 1: 28 John the Baptist is acknowledging that he
is not worthy to untie the thongs of the sandals of
the one (that the priests and Levites do not know) who
"comes after me." John, and I submit his baptisms, is
the far gate to what the Gospel of John considers the
new temple (the body of Jesus - Jn. 2: 19-22.)
While John does not consider himself a disciple (a
student who follows after a teacher, one who WOULD be
worthy to untie the thong of The Teacher's sandals)
(See David Daube, The New Tesament and Rabbinic
Judaism, "Offices of a Disciple," pp. 267, 268), he
informs the priests and Levites that his (John's) role
has to do with preparing the way (opening a gateway?)
for the one who "comes after" him.
Bethany beyond Jordan, I submit, is the "far" Bethany.
It's location is beyond (on the far side of?) the
Jordan where John the Baptist baptizes. This far
location may be intentionally used to identify John's
baptism with the long reach of God's grace,
functioning as the Cities of Refuge did for sinners
(Nu 35: 9-12; Dt. 19: 1-13). This is the "far gate."
My theory is that the Gospel of John is written using
symbols (signs) borrowed, or as we would say it
"recycled" from the Septuagint version of the
Pentateuch. There is a near gate (the Nicanor Gate)
and a far gate (the Beautiful Gate) in the temple
itself, if proximity is defined from the perspective
of one who stands on the altar (a priest), looking
away from the Holy of Holies.
In the Fourth Gospel, upon re-defining The Temple as
the Body of Jesus, Bethany and Bethany beyond the
Jordan are seen symbolically as the new gateways to
In brief, I believe this pair of place names, Bethany
and Bethany Beyond Jordan, would have been understood
by the Johannine community to mean that baptism and
discipleship (defined by the faith of Mary and Martha
of Bethany in Jn. 11: 1 - 12: 8) are temple gates, the
gateways to Jesus. These names are, therefore, not
mistakes or editorial changes brought about by an
inability to locate a geographical location called
Bethany beyond the Jordan. They are symbolic names
whose function is important to the structure and theme
of the whole gospel.
<DIV><STRONG><EM><FONT face=system color=#0000ff>Yours in Christ's service,</FONT></EM></STRONG></DIV>
<DIV><STRONG><EM><FONT face=System color=#0000ff>Tom Butler</FONT></EM></STRONG></DIV>
- Without wishing to break the flow of discussion concerning 'Bethany beyond
can I be picky and insist that in John 1:27 the reference is to one thong
and not two.
Only trivial if we fail to recognise that John is not using the synoptic
saying but a saying that Luke finds in his source for Acts 13:25.
If John's reference to 'beyond the Jordan' comes from an early edition of
John and was written from and for a Jerusalem church that had taken flight
to Pella, then 'beyond the Jordan' would of course conform to Bethany
outside Jerusalem. This is a note of caution only.
The early oral and pilgimage tradition along with Origen's perspective and
the recent archaeological discoveries are nevertheless intriguing and the
political implications of John's evangel may have required the border
protection afforded by baptising East of the Jordan. The association of of
John the Baptist baptising at a traditional site for the 'chariot of fire
ascent' of Elijah would have profound implications for those of us who
consider the Fourth Gospel and its high christology brings us nearest to
both a pre-Christian merkavah tradition associated with the movement of the
Baptist and a pre-Christian messianic christology feeding disciples into
primitive Johannine Christianity with an early yet high christology. Are we
a little nearer the origin of the pre-gnostic phase of primitive Johannine
christology without wandering down the path of tales of the fisher king?
Absolutely intriguing stuff. Incidentally, do we have a translation for the
traditional name of the archaeological site East of the Jordan?
Bill Bullin (Private Student), England.
> In Jn. 1: 28 John the Baptist is acknowledging that heservice,</FONT></EM></STRONG></DIV>
> is not worthy to untie the thongs of the sandals of
> the one (that the priests and Levites do not know) who
> "comes after me." John, and I submit his baptisms, is
> the far gate to what the Gospel of John considers the
> new temple (the body of Jesus - Jn. 2: 19-22.)
> While John does not consider himself a disciple (a
> student who follows after a teacher, one who WOULD be
> worthy to untie the thong of The Teacher's sandals)
> (See David Daube, The New Tesament and Rabbinic
> Judaism, "Offices of a Disciple," pp. 267, 268), he
> informs the priests and Levites that his (John's) role
> has to do with preparing the way (opening a gateway?)
> for the one who "comes after" him.
> Bethany beyond Jordan, I submit, is the "far" Bethany.
> It's location is beyond (on the far side of?) the
> Jordan where John the Baptist baptizes. This far
> location may be intentionally used to identify John's
> baptism with the long reach of God's grace,
> functioning as the Cities of Refuge did for sinners
> (Nu 35: 9-12; Dt. 19: 1-13). This is the "far gate."
> My theory is that the Gospel of John is written using
> symbols (signs) borrowed, or as we would say it
> "recycled" from the Septuagint version of the
> Pentateuch. There is a near gate (the Nicanor Gate)
> and a far gate (the Beautiful Gate) in the temple
> itself, if proximity is defined from the perspective
> of one who stands on the altar (a priest), looking
> away from the Holy of Holies.
> In the Fourth Gospel, upon re-defining The Temple as
> the Body of Jesus, Bethany and Bethany beyond the
> Jordan are seen symbolically as the new gateways to
> The Temple.
> In brief, I believe this pair of place names, Bethany
> and Bethany Beyond Jordan, would have been understood
> by the Johannine community to mean that baptism and
> discipleship (defined by the faith of Mary and Martha
> of Bethany in Jn. 11: 1 - 12: 8) are temple gates, the
> gateways to Jesus. These names are, therefore, not
> mistakes or editorial changes brought about by an
> inability to locate a geographical location called
> Bethany beyond the Jordan. They are symbolic names
> whose function is important to the structure and theme
> of the whole gospel.
> <DIV><STRONG><EM><FONT face=system color=#0000ff>Yours in Christ's
> <DIV><STRONG><EM><FONT face=System color=#0000ff>TomButler</FONT></EM></STRONG></DIV>
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- Dear friends,
Thank you for all your valuable comments in regard to my article.
While researching about Bethabara, I came across an interesting note
in Eusebius' Onomasticon.
Here's what he said, according to the following website,
Eusebius of Caesarea, Onomasticon (1971) Translation. pp. 1-75.
Bethaabara (Bethabara). "Where John was baptizing" (the penitent)
"across the Jordan." The place is pointed out where many of the
brothers even now consider it an honor to wash. (Where today many of
the brothers, the believers, desiring a renewal of life are baptized
in the Depths.)
Now I'm not sure what are these words in parentheses, is it some
Does someone have the original Greek for this quote?
Eusebius' words seem to indicate that Bethabara was "across the
Jordan", and that this was a place for baptism. But I'm not quite sure
if the word "wash" means the same as "baptism" for Eusebius. I think
we need the Greek text to understand fully what he is saying.
Some clarification would be welcome.
All the best,
Baqqesh shalom verodpehu -- Seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:15)
Yuri Kuchinsky -- http://www.trends.ca/~yuku/bbl/bbl.htm -- Toronto