[b-hebrew] Bethesda (was: Hebrew and Welsh?)

Ken Penner pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
Mon Nov 15 10:23:27 EST 2004

> "Bethesda", of
> course, is not Hebrew per se, it's the Latin spelling of the Greek
> pronunciation of the Aramaic name Beth-Hisda. In Hebrew it 
> would have been
> "Beth-Hessed" or "Beth Hahessed".

I wanted to soften a bit of the confidence of the above statement. "Of
course" is overstating the case. The three reasons for thinking Bethesda is
Aramaic are the alpha ending, the vocalization, and the etymology. None of
these certainly indicate the word is an Aramaic name.

First, the Greek alpha ending on Semitic words ending in a consonant does
not always indicate the word is from Aramaic (reflecting the Aramaic
determined state). Consider Sabbata and Pascha, which are from Hebrew roots
$BT and PSX; these roots are not otherwise attested in Aramaic (which would
use NWX for rest). Blass-Debrunner-Funk's Greek grammar says the Alpha is
added to help pronunciation.

Second, the vocalization of a Hebrew word later pointed as a
retracted-stress segolate noun (XESED) is variable in the 1st century.
Sometimes such words are monosyllables (again, consider PASXA, which is from
an a-class base (pausal form is PFSAX with a Qamets)). Origen has numerous
such examples of monosyllabic "segolates": GABR for GEBER; SABT for $EBET).
Other times, the such words do appear disyllabic in Greek (Beth-leem).

Third, regarding the etymology, Randall Buth suggests five possibilities,
any of which could result in the Greek Bethesda: Hebrew beth-eshed (house of
a waterfall) or Hebrew/Aramaic bet-Hesed/Hesda (house of grace) or a Greek
loanword, bet-estyav (house of pillars) or bet-za'atha (house of the
movement) or bet-zayta (house of the olive). Note that the (Hebrew) Copper
Scroll does list a place possibly named BYT  )$DTYN; this could be an
Aramaic name in a Hebrew text.

Ken Penner, M.C.S. (Biblical Languages, Greek Focus), M.A. (Hebrew Poetry)
Ph.D. (cand.), McMaster University
pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
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