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Bible Gem 1139 - The Geographical Background to the Entry to Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-35)

July 14, 2019


Take the time to examine the differences and similarities between the four accounts while paying special attention to the differences in Luke's account. In the meantime let's examine the answers to some of the questions I posed yesterday. 


Allow me to reverse the order of the questions in order to set the scene. 


The villages involved:


Βηθανία, Bēthanı́a:, Bethany (Source ISBE, E-Sword)

(1) A village, 15 furlongs from Jerusalem (Joh_11:18), on the road to Jericho, at the Mount of Olives (Mar_11:1;Luk_19:29), where lived “Simon the leper” (Mar_14:3) and Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Joh_11:18f). This village may justifiably be called the Judean home of Jesus, as He appears to have preferred to lodge there rather than in Jerusalem itself (Mat_21:17;Mar_11:11). Here occurred the incident of the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11) and the feast at the house of Simon (Mat_26:1-13;Mar_14:3-9;Luk_7:36-50;Joh_12:1-8). The Ascension as recorded inLuk_24:50-51is Thus described: “He led them out until they were over against Bethany: and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.”

Bethany is todayel ‛Azarēyeh(“the place of Lazarus” - the L being displaced to form the article). It is a miserably untidy and tumbled-down village facing east on the Southeast slope of the Mount of Olives, upon the carriage road to Jericho. A fair number of fig, almond and olive trees surround the houses. The traditional tomb of Lazarus is shown and there are some remains of medieval buildings, besides rock-cut tombs of much earlier date.


 Βηθφαγή, BēthphagḗBethphage 

 In Aramaic “place of young figs”: Near the Mount of Olives and to the road from Jerusalem to Jericho; mentioned together with Bethany (Mat_21:1;Mar_11:1;Luk_19:29). The place occurs in several Talmudic passages where it may be inferred that it was near but outside Jerusalem; it was at the Sabbatical distance limit east of Jerusalem, and was surrounded by some kind of wall. The medieval Bethphage was between the summit and Bethany. The site is now enclosed by the Roman Catholics. As regards the Bethphage of the New Testament, the most probable suggestion was that it occupied the summit itself whereKefr et Tûrstands today. This village certainly occupies an ancient site and no other name is known. This is much more probable than the suggestion that the modernAbu Dı̂sis on the site of Bethphage.


These two villages are on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives. The Mountain is called Olivet because it is covered in olive groves. The assumption is that these two villages are close to one another. The problem is the name Bethphage is only found in all three Synoptic Gospels in this place in Scripture. Thus, we don't know all that much about it. Bethany is located three kilometres east of Jerusalem around the mountain. Some feel Bethphage was the furthest of the two villages east and therefore the first one encountered on a trip from Jericho to Jerusalem. Others feel that Bethphage was closer to Jerusalem than Bethany. Some have suggested that Bethphage was a satellite town of Jerusalem back in Jesus day, which with the growth of the city, was taken over to become a suburb. If that is the case, then there is a strange order to these villages. Bethphage is mentioned first and then Bethany which reverses the order of the villages on the transect line of a journey from Jericho to Jerusalem. There are those who think Bethphage was so little known that Mark and Luke linked Bethany to it in order to locate it better. 


The term "going up to Jerusalem" is an interesting one. Although Jerusalem is indeed located at altitude, the sense is more than the geographic position of the city at a higher altitude. The sense is also the importance of the city for cultural and religious purposes in particular. Going UP to the feasts, going UP to worship at the temple carries another level of connotation. Going UP to the place of power or going UP to meet with God. For many, they went south to Jerusalem. It is a perspective we encounter world wide that we moveupnorth anddownsouth. This relates to our geographic north point on the planet. With our globe positioned upright, we assume the orientation of north is up and south is down. But living in Indonesian villages, we have encountered interesting switches in this global geographic orientation. In the area we lived, the major city was on the coastal plain. I found it fascinating when the local people would say they were going UP to the regional capital, when in fact they lived in the hills and actually descended to the capital. The geographer in me could harmonize it if they were traveling north once they were on the coastal plain. But no, it didn’t matter if they were north of the city, they would still be going UP to the capital. It made no sense geographically. But it does if you consider they are going UP to the place of power; they were going UP to their cultural and religious centre. These Jews were going UP to God. That makes sense. That connotation is tied up with this reference to Jerusalem as well. 


What village over there / opposite? Is this one of those mentioned (Bethany or Bethphage) or is it an as-yet-unnamed village? It is hard for us to tell. Origen wrote that Bethany and Bethphage were close together and separated by a ravine. If that is true, then Jesus was waiting in Bethphage while the two disciples went to Bethany to get the donkey colt. Now that makes sense, to get a donkey from Bethany, a short distance away, so they can leave it there when they have finished using it.'Mule Pool' doesn’t return the "vehicle" to its point of origin and requires you as the hirer to return it yourself it seems.So they get the mule from Bethany so it is easier to return. Others believe the village opposite is Bethphage and they are in Bethany. Luke doesn’t comment on the fact that Jesus visited Bethany before the Triumphal entry. (See my coverage of this in Gemz 80 - 84) He misses it out altogether and makes no reference to time spent in Bethany. Instead he lumps the two villages together andcommentson Jesus general movements in and around there, not the specifics. 


Tradition and most Biblical maps show the furthest village as being Bethany, which then leaves us with the curious mention of Bethphage first. 



There is no normal reason for mentioning Bethphage first.  1. It was smaller and less significant.  2. It was not the first village encountered being closer to Jerusalem.  3. It was not the most significant to Jesus personally; that was Bethany, where Mary, Martha and Lazarus were. 


I will leave you to ponder the reason Bethphage is mentioned first. 



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