04 September 2007

Who Were the Boethusians? II

A piece of scholarship on the Boethusians that was published two years after the one I quoted in my posting from last week, is Adiel Schremer's "The Name of the Boethusians: A Reconsideration of Suggested Explanations and Another One", Journal of Jewish Studies 48, number 2 (Autumn 1997): 290-299. After going through most of his article discussing textual variants, trying to refute the idea that the name Boethusians in Hebrew, ביתוסין/ביתסין is a compound of the words בית סין, making the name the Boethusians to be Essenes, he then proposes on the last page of his article the following interesting suggestion:
...perhaps ביתסים might be a pejorative term created by the distortion of a word. That is, originally, this group was connected to a person called בויתס/בייתס, but the sages created a distorted and corrupt form of the plural of the name in order to mock them; instead of בית בויתס (which, according to this conjecture, was apparently the group's own name for itself), they treated בויתס as a noun, and instead of constructing the plural as בויתסים, they distorted the name to ביתסים in order to express disdain for this group.
What is the source of the mockery in the distorted form? The Greek name "Boethos" is derived from an adjective meaning "helpful, supportive, of assistance", which in many places is used to describe God. The distortion of this name may therefore allude to the fact that the ביתסים are not as their name would indicate. We can understand the name of the Sadducees in a similar way: it is a distortion of צדיקים, and expresses disdain towards those who consider themselves righteous men, but are not. As we know, the scholarly literature has suggested that the term פרושים, which is used by the group's opponents, also serves as a pejorative appellation. The conjecture which I have proposed is in line with this train of thought.
As a disclaimer, I have omitted the footnotes, not to mention all of the supporting material and ideas with which he introduces this clever proposal ten years ago. For those who are interested, I have provided the location of his article and you can read this ten-page article.

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