Re: Etymology of BEBHLOS

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Mar 14 1997 - 16:03:16 EST

At 12:47 PM -0600 3/14/97, H. Fred Nofer wrote:
>I am reading in II Timothy and came across TAS BEBHLOUS in 2:16. This is
>also found in I Timothy 1:9; 4:7; 6:20 and Heb. 12:16. Some of my
>sources suggest that this comes from BAINW via BEBAIOS; others from BAINW
>via BASIS.
>If the former (BEBAIOS) is correct, how do translations use such words as
>"profane," "worldly," and "godless" when BEBAIOS has reference to that
>which is "firm," "durable," and "unshakeable?"
>Following the other "route," though I see the relationship between BASIS
>and BAINW, I have difficulty in understanding what "foot" has to do with
>what we find in the passages listed above?
>And, in general, by what semantic route is BEBHLOS derived from BAINW?

Here for once I think a bit of etymology may clear up the confusion. The
root BA (actually it is Indo-European *GhWEM, the source for Latin VENIO
and even English WENT) seems most fundamentally (in Greek, that is) to mean
"set foot forward (onto)." BEBAIOS is an adjective referring to that upon
which one may tread securely. In religious language, a BHMA is what one can
stand on, an ABATON is a precinct that one may not enter with impunity,
sacred ground, while the adjective BEBHLOS may refer to ground outside the
precinct that is treadable and to persons outside the sacred precinct who
are profane and perhaps polluted. I think that all the questions raised
above can be resolved readily enough through this bit of etymology and
religious history of the word's usage.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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