Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IX/Origen on John/Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John/Book VI/Chapter 24
24. The Name of the Place Where John Baptized is Not Bethany, as in Most Copies, But Bethabara. Proof of This. Similarly “Gergesa” Should Be Read for “Gerasa,” In the Story of the Swine. Attention is to Be Paid to the Proper Names in Scripture, Which are Often Written Inaccurately, and are of Importance for Interpretation.
“These things were done in Bethabara, beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.” We are aware of the reading which is found in almost all the copies, “These things were done in Bethany.” This appears, moreover, to have been the reading at an earlier time; and in Heracleon we read “Bethany.” We are convinced, however, that we should not read “Bethany,” but “Bethabara.” We have visited the places to enquire as to the footsteps of Jesus and His disciples, and of the prophets. Now, Bethany, as the same evangelist tells us, was the town of Lazarus, and of Martha and Mary; it is fifteen stadia from Jerusalem, and the river Jordan is about a hundred and eighty stadia distant from it. Nor is there any other place of the same name in the neighbourhood of the Jordan, but they say that Bethabara is pointed out on the banks of the Jordan, and that John is said to have baptized there. The etymology of the name, too, corresponds with the baptism of him who made ready for the Lord a people prepared for Him; for it yields the meaning “House of preparation,” while Bethany means “House of obedience.” Where else was it fitting that he should baptize, who was sent as a messenger before the face of the Christ, to prepare His way before Him, but at the House of preparation? And what more fitting home for Mary, who chose the good part, which was not taken away from her, and for Martha, who was cumbered for the reception of Jesus, and for their brother, who is called the friend of the Saviour, than Bethany, the House of obedience? Thus we see that he who aims at a complete understanding of the Holy Scriptures must not neglect the careful examination of the proper names in it. In the matter of proper names the Greek copies are often incorrect, and in the Gospels one might be misled by their authority. The transaction about the swine, which were driven down a steep place by the demons and drowned in the sea, is said to have taken place in the country of the Gerasenes. Now, Gerasa is a town of Arabia, and has near it neither sea nor lake. And the Evangelists would not have made a statement so obviously and demonstrably false; for they were men who informed themselves carefully of all matters connected with Judæa. But in a few copies we have found, “into the country of the Gadarenes;” and, on this reading, it is to be stated that Gadara is a town of Judæa, in the neighbourhood of which are the well-known hot springs, and that there is no lake there with overhanging banks, nor any sea. But Gergesa, from which the name Gergesenes is taken, is an old town in the neighbourhood of the lake now called Tiberias, and on the edge of it there is a steep place abutting on the lake, from which it is pointed out that the swine were cast down by the demons. Now, the meaning of Gergesa is “dwelling of the casters-out,” and it contains a prophetic reference to the conduct towards the Saviour of the citizens of those places, who “besought Him to depart out of their coasts.” The same inaccuracy with regard to proper names is also to be observed in many passages of the law and the prophets, as we have been at pains to learn from the Hebrews, comparing our own copies with theirs which have the confirmation of the versions, never subjected to corruption, of Aquila and Theodotion and Symmachus. We add a few instances to encourage students to pay more attention to such points. One of the sons of Levi, the first, is called Geson in most copies, instead of Gerson. His name is the same as that of the first-born of Moses; it was given appropriately in each case, both children being born, because of the sojourn in Egypt, in a strange land. The second son of Juda, again, has with us the name Annan, but with the Hebrews Onan, “their labour.” Once more, in the departures of the children of Israel in Numbers, we find, “They departed from Sochoth and pitched in Buthan;” but the Hebrew, instead of Buthan, reads Aiman. And why should I add more points like these, when any one who desires it can examine into the proper names and find out for himself how they stand? The place-names of Scripture are specially to be suspected where many of them occur in a catalogue, as in the account of the partition of the country in Joshua, and in the first Book of Chronicles from the beginning down to, say, the passage about Dan, and similarly in Ezra. Names are not to be neglected, since indications may be gathered from them which help in the interpretation of the passages where they occur. We cannot, however, leave our proper subject to examine in this place into the philosophy of names.
- John i. 28.
- John xi. 1, 18.
- Luke x. 41, 43.
- Matt. viii. 28, 32; Mark v. 1, 13; Luke viii. 26–37.
- Gen. xlvi. 11; Ex. vi. 16.
- Ex. ii. 22.
- Gen. xxxviii. 4.
- xxxiii. 6.
- The name “Saul” or “David” should probably stand here. 1 Chron. x., where the genealogies give place to narrative.