🔼The name Bethel: Summary
- House Of God
- From (1) the noun בית (beth), house, and (2) the word אל ('el), God.
🔼The name Bethel in the Bible
There are two Bethels mentioned in the Bible. One is a town in Simeon (1 Samuel 30:27). The other is the town that would fall within the borders of Benjamin (Judges 21:19).
That Bethel was named so by Jacob after he sees his famous vision in which a ladder reaches into the heavens. Before that event this town was known as Luz (Genesis 28:19). Long before Jacob, Abraham dwelled there too (Genesis 12:8). And long after, the judge Samuel held court in Bethel (1 Samuel 7:15). Bethel is also the location of the gruesome scene in which two bears kill 42 boys after they mocked the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 2:23; see for a discussion of that scene our Biblical commentary).
The name Bethel is mostly spelled with a maqqep, but in Genesis 35:16, Joshua 8:17, 1 Kings 12:32 and Jeremiah 48:13 it's spelled without (בית אל). The ethnonym of the unfortunate Hiel the Bethelite is spelled בית האלי (1 Kings 16:34). And since the god of Shechem was called El-berith, its temple was known as בית אל ברית or Beth-El-berith (Judges 9:46).
🔼Etymology of the name Bethel
The name Bethel consists of two elements. The first part of the name is the 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 is אל (El), the common abbreviation of Elohim, the Hebrew word for God:
In names אל ('el) usually refers to אלהים ('elohim), that is Elohim, or God, also known as אלה ('eloah). In English, the words 'God' and 'god' exclusively refer to the deity but in Hebrew the words אל ('l) and אלה ('lh) are far more common and may express approach and negation, acts of wailing and pointing, and may even mean oak or terebinth.
The name Bethel means House Of God.