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Bethany was a village on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives, less than two miles from Jerusalem, remembered by Christians as the home of Mary, sister of Lazarus, Martha and Lazarus in the New Testament. Bethany was the home of Simon the Leper. Jesus lodged there after his entry into Jerusalem, and it was from Bethany that he parted from his disciples. Christian sources give a meaning to the toponym, "house of dates", or "house of misery", but the Jewish Encyclopedia states: "The figs (Hebr., "te'enah"), which are also mentioned in the Talmud, probably gave the place its name."
Jerome asserts: "Bethany is a village at the second milestone from Aelia [Jerusalem], on the slope of the Mount of Olives, where the Savior raised Lazarus to life, to which event the church now built there bears witness" (Onomasticon, ccviii). The church Jerome mentions was the Lazarium. Bethany is not mentioned in the Old Testament but is frequently mentioned in connection with memorable incidents in the life of Jesus. (Matt. 21:17; 26:6; Mark 11:11, 12; 14:3; Luke 24:50; John 11:1; 12:1). John (xi. 18), in which the topography of Palestine is imperfect, places Bethany "nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off".
The place is today the place of the village El Azariyeh, the name meaning "Place of Lazarus" (Lazarium) in Arabic. The Catholic Encyclopedia reported in 1908 that the modern village was centered on the cave that was associated with the raising of Lazarus, which had become an early pilgrimage site, and that the site of the village mentioned in the New Testament was a little distance away, higher up on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives. For centuries nevertheless, visitors have been shown the house of Mary and Matha and of Simon the leper in the present location.
In 1138 Queen Melisende of Jerusalem, wife of King Fulk of Jerusalem, founded a cloister of nuns at Bethany, ruled by her sister, Ioveta, thenceforward "of Bethany". Sibylla, later Queen of Jerusalem was raised in the abbey, whose ruins have not been identified. Melisende died there in 1163.
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