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The Siege of Bethulia by Jacob van Swanenburg, c. 1615

Bethulia (Greek: Βαιτυλούᾳ, Baituloua; Hebrew: בתוליה) is a biblical "city whose deliverance by Judith, when besieged by Holofernes, forms the subject of the Book of Judith."[1]


The name "Bethulia" in Hebrew can be associated, in an allegorical sense, with "Beth-el" (house of God).[2] If treated as a real geographical name, it can be explained as a composite word built from "betulah", virgin, and "Jah", the proper name of God, so literally "YHWH's virgin".[2] This suits the portrayal of Judith as a chaste widow and the book's emphasis on following religious rules, chastity among them.[citation needed]

Hugo Willrich suggested in 1900 in his book "Judaica" that "Bethulia" is a corrupted form of "Bethalagan".[2]


The Jewish Encyclopedia suggests an original allegorical sense, later applied to a concrete place in the described region.[2] However, no place-name easily derivable from Bethulia could be identified there.[2]

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907–14) writes: "The view that Bethulia is merely a symbolic name for Jerusalem or a fictitious town, has met with little favor, even among those who deny the historical character of the book. Bethulia is clearly distinguished from Jerusalem (Judith 4:6; 11:14, 19; 15:5, 8; the references throughout the article being to the fuller Greek text), and the topographical details" show that "the story, even if it be only a pious romance, is connected with a definite place. Its site, however, is in dispute. Beside Sanur, Mithilîyeh or Misilîyeh, Tell Kheibar and Beit-Ilfa, which have divided opinion for some time, Haraiq el-Mallah, Khirbet Sheikh Shibel, el-Bârid and Sichem (Bethulia being considered a pseudonym) have [as of the beginning of the 20th century] recently been proposed as sites of Bethulia."[1] However, The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–1906) considers "fort Sânûr", Guérin's choice for Bethulia, to be too far south, which applies to a smaller degree also to Mithilîyeh (Misilyah), the only candidate with a name even slightly similar to that of the biblical town.[2] The Catholic Encyclopedia further writes: "The city was situated on a mountain overlooking the plain of Jezrael, or Esdrelon, and commanding narrow passes to the south (Judith 4:6-7; 6:11-13); at the foot of the mountain there was an important spring, and other springs were in the neighborhood (Judith 6:11; 7:3, 7, 12). Moreover it lay within investing lines which ran through Dothain, or Dothan, now Tell Dothân, to Belthem, or Belma, no doubt the same as the Belamon of Judith 8:3, and thence to Kyamon, or Chelmon, "which lies over against Esdrelon" (Judith 7:3).[1] These data point to a site on the heights west of Jenin (Engannim), between the plains of Esdrelon and Dothan, where Haraiq, Kh. Sheikh Shibel, and el-Bârid lie close together. Such a site best fulfills all requirements. It lies between lines drawn from Tell Dothân to Belʽema, probably Belma, or Belamon, and from the latter to el-Yâmûn, probably Kyamon; there are a number of springs and wells in the neighborhood, and nearby are the two passes of Kefr Adân and Burqîn, so narrow in places that two horsemen cannot ride abreast. One of the three above-named places is in all probability the site of ancient Bethulia. The other sites are all deficient in some essential requirement."[1] The Jewish Encyclopedia also finds el-Bârid, a place west of Jenin, as a quite plausible candidate on topographical grounds.[2]

Madaba Map[edit]

Reproduction of the Madaba Map

The Madaba Map mosaic from the 6th century shows a settlement named Betylium (Greek: Β[ΗΤ]ΥΛΙΟΝ, Bētylion) on the Mediterranean coast southwest of Rafah on the Egyptian border with Gaza. The site is tentatively identified with modern Sheikh Zuweid.[3] A late tract on the Holy Land, De Situ Terrae Sanctae ascribed to Archdeacon Theodosius, identified this as the biblical site despite its incompatibility with the description in the Book of Judith: "From Rafia to Betulia, where Holofernes died, 12 miles."[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainBechtel, Florentine Stanislaus (1907). "Bethulia". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Marcus Jastrow; Frants Buhl (1901–1906). "Bethulia (Bαιτουλοόα, Bαιτουλία, Bετυλοόα, Bαιτυλοόα; Vulgate, Bethulia)". The Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk & Wagnalls. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  3. ^ "Madaba Map Project, Franciscan Order in Jerusalem". Archived from the original on 2014-05-06. Retrieved 2013-04-24.
  4. ^ Latin text of Theodosius at "Theodosius de situ Terrae sanctae im ächten Text und der Breviarius de Hierosolyma vervollständigt", J. Gildemeister (editor), published by Adolph Marcus, Bonn (1882), p.17. Accessed 28 June 2019.