🔼The name Bethany: Summary
- House Of Answer, Business, Affliction, Singing
- From (1) the noun בית (beth), house, and (2) the verb ענה ('ana), to answer, be busy, afflict or sing.
🔼The name Bethany in the Bible
It's not clear how many towns named Bethany there are in the Bible, but it's one or two — the name Bethany is used 12 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
The most famous Bethany was a village on the eastern slope of Mount Olivet, about three kilometers from Jerusalem (Luke 19:29, John 11:1). It's where Jesus' three friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived (Matthew 21:17, Mark 11:1), and where the latter was raised from the dead (John 11:18).
Bethany was also the hometown of Simon the leper, in whose house a certain woman anointed Jesus' feet with costly oil (Matthew 26:6, Mark 14:3; some enthusiasts identify this woman as Mary Magdalene, but that is speculation).
Bethany number two is a bit of a troubler. If it existed, it was where John the Baptist worked, east of the Jordan, and thus quite far away from the better known Bethany (John 1:28). According to Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary), "some of the best manuscripts read Bethany," whereas others speak of Bethabara as the place where John baptized. Consequently, the King James Version, the Young Translation, as well as the leading German and Dutch translations speak of Bethabara in John 1:28, whereas more modern versions (the American Standard, the New American Standard, the New International Version and the Darby Translation) read Bethany.
🔼Etymology of the name Bethany
The name Bethany is the English transliteration of the Greek name Bethania, which in turn comes from the Hebrew (not occurring) name Beth-aniah, which consists of two elements. The first part is identical to the common Hebrew word בית (bayit) meaning house:
The noun בית (bayit) means house. It sometimes merely denotes a domestic building, but mostly it denotes the realm of authority of the house-father, or אב (ab). This ab is commonly the living alpha male of a household, but may very well be a founding ancestor (as in the familiar term the "house of Israel"). The אב (ab) may also be a deity, in which case the בית (bayit) is that which we know as a temple.
In the larger economy, a house interacts with other houses. These interactions are governed by the אב (ab), or "father" and executed by the בנים (benim), or "sons": those people living in the house, irrespective of any biological relation with the אב (ab). The "sons" combined add up to אם ('em), which means both "mother" and "tribe".
The second part of our name comes from the extensive root cluster ענה ('ana):
There are four verbs of the form ענה ('nh), or perhaps one verb with four distinct usages:
Verb ענה ('ana I) means to answer, respond or correspond, and since in the old world time was considered a cycle, noun עת ('et) means time. Temporal adverb עתה ('atta) means now; adjective עתי ('itti) means timely or ready, and conjunction יען (ya'an) means on account of. Noun מענה (ma'aneh) means an answer and noun ענה ('ona) means cohabitation.
Verb ענה ('ana II) means to be busy or occupied with. Noun ענין ('inyan) means occupation or task, and noun מענה (ma'ana) means place for or agent of a task.
Verb ענה ('ana III) means to afflict, oppress or humble. Noun ענו ('anaw) refers to the poor, afflicted or needy. Noun ענוה ('anawa) means humility. Noun ענות ('enut) means affliction. Adjective עני ('ani) means poor or afflicted. Noun עני ('oni) means affliction or poverty, and noun תענית (ta'anit) means humiliation.
Verb ענה ('ana IV) means to sing.
The second part of our name can be interpreted in all kinds of way. Bethany may mean House Of Answering, House Of Now, House Of Cohabitation, etcetera. But for some reason scholars appear to draw to the dramatic rather than the consolatory:
For a meaning of the name Bethany, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads House Of Poverty, and Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary) proposes House Of Depression or Misery.