[b-hebrew] Bethesda

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Mon Nov 15 10:54:16 EST 2004

On 15/11/2004 15:23, Ken Penner wrote:

>>"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".
>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.

It is worth noting that even in the Masoretic Text the few words which 
end with a double consonant (only certain verb forms) are pointed with 
sheva under the final consonant as well as under the penultimate one. 
This final sheva could have been a silent one, but if so this is an 
exception to the rule that two silent shevas do not occur together. More 
probably, I would think, the final sheva indicates a short vowel sound 
at the end of the word, added because Hebrew speakers were not used to 
pronouncing word final consonant clusters. The result would have sounded 
like a short a or e, and could well have been transliterated into Greek 
as alpha.

>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.

It is worth noting that the Greek New Testament text from which the name 
Bethesda is taken, John 5:2, there is a considerable variety of 
spellings. The Nestle-Aland text prefers BHQZAQA (Bethzatha), as in 
Sinaiticus. Several MSS have BHQSAIDA (Bethsaida). Many MSS read BHQESDA 
(Bethesda) but these do not include the oldest ones. I would surmise 
that John actually wrote BHQZAQA, perhaps based on a colloquial 
pronunciation of the name, but that this was later corrected to the more 
probable and perhaps more accurate BHQESDA.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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