1 Nephi 10:9. John the Baptist at Bethabara

1 Nephi 10:9. John the Baptist at Bethabara

The Book of Mormon has John the Baptism performing baptisms in Bethabara beyond Jordan” (1 Nephi 10:9), which agrees with the King James version (KJV) of John 1:28. But the best Greek manuscripts place the events in Bethany rather than Bethabara.

John Baptist Baptism Jesus MormonIronically, this criticism is usually raised by critics who believe the Bible is inerrant. Variants such as this are common in ancient Bible manuscripts. In this case, the reading Bethany (Greek Bethania) is found in more manuscripts than Bethabara, but the latter is known in a fair number of Greek manuscripts and in early versions such as the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Georgian. It is also the name cited by several of the early Church Fathers.

But the real question is how plausible is the Book of Mormon’s use of Bethabara. There is, in fact, such a place on the Jordan River mentioned in other parts of the Bible. In Judges 7:24, we read of a place called Bethbarah in connection with the Jordan River. A metathesized form, Betharabah, is listed with the Jordan River in Joshua 15:5-6 as marking the border of the tribe of Benjamin. This was apparently where that tribe’s border met that of Judah (Joshua 18:21), on whose border it is listed in Joshua 15:61.

 The name Beth-abarah means “house of the crossing,” and evidently denotes the ford near Jericho where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Holy Land. The traditional baptismal site of Jesus is also shown in that region.[i]

 It seems logical that some early manuscript of the gospel of John accidentally replaced the name Beth-abara with the more familiar Beth-aniah, known as the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, and the Pharisee Simon with whom Christ dined. Subsequent scribes copied the error. Bethany is situated on the eastern slope of the mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem.

[i] For a discussion, see John A. Tvedtnes, “Baptismal Symbolism of the Crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan River,” posted on the Meridian magazine web site at http://www.ldsmag.com/gospeldoctrine/nt/070124nt5sf.html.