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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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BETHPHAGE (βηθφαγή).—A place unknown to the OT, the Apocrypha, or Josephus, and mentioned in the NT only once—on the occasion of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem five days before His death. It was certainly situated upon the slope of the Mt. of Olives, on or near the road from Jericho to Jerusalem (Mark 10:46; Mark 11:1, Luke 19:1; Luke 19:29), and in the immediate neighbourhood of Bethany. The site of the latter being accurately determined as the modern el-ʽAzariyeh (see art. Bethany, 1), it might be expected that there would be little difficulty in locating Bethphage. Unfortunately, however, the texts of the three Synoptists [St. John does not mention Bethphage] are obscure on two points—

(1) As to the relation between Bethphage and Bethany, St. Luke (Luke 19:29) alone mentions both places (‘as he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany’). His language seems to imply that a traveller coming from Jericho would come first to Bethphage, then to Bethany, and finally to Jerusalem. St. Matthew (Matthew 21:1) mentions only Bethphage. As for St. Mark, his original text (Mark 11:1) probably contained no reference to Bethphage, but this name has been inserted, and in the majority of MSS [Note: SS Manuscripts.] stands between Jerusalem and Bethany in such a way that, if this reading were accepted as the original one, we should have to place Bethphage in a different position in relation to Bethany from what is implied in the text of St. Luke.

To reconcile these divergent statements, a hypothesis has been started to the effect that Bethany may have lain a little off the direct route from Jericho to Jerusalem, upon a side road, and Bethphage at the point where this joined the main road. It would thus have been necessary to pass Bethphage both in going to Bethany and in returning from it. Support for this conjecture has been sought in the use of the word ἀμφοδον in Mark 11:4.

(2) In all three Synoptics, Jesus sends two of His disciples to a village (κώμη) to bring the ass on which He was to ride. Is this village, which is ‘over against’ (κατέναντι), to be identified with Bethphage, or with Bethany, or with some third locality? Each of these views is capable of defence; the traditional identification of the village of the ass’s colt with Bethphage is at least questionable, especially in view of Matthew 21:1 ‘When they had reached Bethphage … then Jesus sent two disciples to the village over against.’ A site for the village of the colt might be suggested at Siloë, or rather at Kefr et-Tur, on the top of the Mt. of Olives. [It is known that in the time of Jesus Christ there were houses on its summit]. In the circumstances of the case it would be hazardous to offer any opinion as to the probable situation of Bethphage.

Etymologically the name Bethphage appears to mean ‘house (or place) of unripe fruits,’ more especially ‘of unripe figs’ (cf. Ca 2:13, and see Dalman, Grammatik des jud. pal.-Aramäisch, 1894, p. 152, and Arnold Meyer, Jesu Muttersprache, 1896, p. 166). Recently a connexion has been suggested by Nestle (‘Etymologische Legenden?’ in ZWTh xl. [1897], p. 148) between this etymology of the name Bethphage and the story of the barren fig-tree. But it may be noted that the latter is associated in the Gospels (Matthew 21:17-22, Mark 11:11-14; Mark 11:20-26) with Bethany, not Bethphage. Formerly Nestle (SK [Note: K Studien und Kritiken.] , 1896, p. 323 ff., and in his Philologiea Saera, 1896, p. 16 f.) had pointed to the possibility of connecting, from the point of view of popular etymology, Bethphage (= בֵּית פֵגִעִא ‘place of meeting’) and the ἄμφοδον of Mark 11:4. Finally, another explanation of Bethphage, viewed as a dwelling-place of priests (?), is furnished by Origen, and rests upon a curious combination of the Aramaic word פגא ‘jaw,’ with Deuteronomy 18:3, which assigns to the priests the jaws of sacrificial victims as part of their portion.

In the Middle Ages, Bethphage was shown to the north of Bethany, higher up the slope of the Mt. of Olives. The site of this medieval Bethphage (which proves nothing for the Bethphage of Scripture) was recovered nearly thirty years ago, thanks to the discovery made by the Franciscan Fathers, control led and described by Guillemot and Clermont-Gannean, of a stone (the fragment of an altar?) bearing inscriptions and pictures relating to Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.

Literature.—PEFSt [Note: EFSt Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1874, p. 173; 1878, pp. 51–61, 146–149: PEF [Note: EF Palestine Exploration Fund.] , ‘Jerusalem,’ pp. 331–340; Revue Archéologique, Dec. 1877, p. 366 ff.; Revue Biblique, 1892, p. 105 f. Sec also the discussion in Andrews, Life of our Lord2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , 429–432.

Lucien Gautier.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Bethphage'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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