Fieldnotes from the Bible Lands : No. 1

Bethany: House of Affliction

A small town a short distance from Jerusalem, Bethany is mentioned several times in the Gospels and was the hometown of Jesus’ friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary.

Today, the ancient village of Bethany has been swallowed up by the Arab town of al-Eizariya (Arabic for Lazarus) on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives. Amongst the crowded streets, you can visit a location marked as Lazarus’ tomb. There is good reason to believe the location is fairly accurate: archaeology has uncovered a large first-century Jewish cemetery there; the Arabic language has preserved the historical significance of the place; and early Christians chose that particular site for a church to highlight the momentous events which took place there.

There is something about the town itself that gives insight into our Saviour. Bethany can be translated as “House of Affliction or Misery.” With a leper colony located just outside the town during Jesus’ time, such misery would have been hard to avoid. So near an unclean population, Bethany would not have been considered a desirable destination. Yet Jesus seemed to frequently stay there while in Jerusalem.

As our Great High Priest, Jesus could have rightly claimed quarters alongside the priests on Temple grounds in Jerusalem. As Coming King, Herod’s palace was his due. Instead, Jesus chose to stay in Bethany, the House of Misery, rubbing shoulders with the afflicted (Mt 26:6). Then he went a step further and became afflicted himself, bearing our punishment. Praise the Lord for his sacrifice!

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted … he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:4, 12

Real Places. Real History. You can know it’s true.

Fresh off a 3-week study trip in Israel and Jordan, we want to share some insights in the coming weeks to encourage you and strengthen your confidence in the Bible.

Increasingly, those who believe the Bible is true are subject to much mockery. Arnold Toynbee, an English historian in the mid-1900s, described those who accepted the Old Testament as reliable as people who “set a religious premium on an obstinate stupidity.” 1 His opinion continues to be popular, despite numerous discoveries that authenticate the Bible’s message.

But Bible-believers have every reason for confidence! As American archaeologist, Nelson Glueck, once stated: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference.” (Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev, 1959, p. 31)

Author John Cross states: “Though still prone to individual interpretation, whenever the shovel has gone into the ground, what has been uncovered has over and over again authenticated the reliability of the Bible’s message.” (No Ordinary Book, 2019, p. 19)

In the end, our trust in God and His Word is a matter of faith and should not depend on historical proof. However, we can be strengthened in our faith to know that, however it is tested, the Bible is shown to be true.

You will be able to follow this series here: