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On Unknown Locations in the Bible

Throughout the Bible are a number of cites critics may cite for a certain reason. Here are the samples:

John 4:5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
John 3:23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized.
John 1:28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Mark 8:10 And straightway he entered into a ship with his disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha.

The problem? Error is claimed inasmuch as the places highlighted are regarded as "fictitious" and never having existed.

This reflects a standard argument that any place uniquely mentioned in the Bible and nowhere else must be a fiction - a line of reasoning that would render a great many geographical locations mentioned uniquely in single ancient authors "fictitious" (see examples below).

In response, critics may allege that if we allow for places like Aenon to exist based on such evidence, we may as well say that Atlantis or any other mythological kingdom existed because they are found in ancient literature.

But the matter of Atlantis is a far different one than that of any of the places listed above. There is no great mythology surrounding Aenon or Dalmanutha; they are simply mentioned as sidelights in the Biblical texts, and there is no valid reason to doubt their existence. (That they appear only in the Biblical record is not a valid reason.)

That said, the skepticism prevalant in some older sources has been replaced by a careful optimism that while a site may be difficult to determine or otherwise unknown, this does not permit us to assume it is fictitious. The examples of Belshazzar and the village of Bethsaida have served as due warning.

In terms of actual locations, here is what is now being said by scholars [John commentaries by Brown, Carson, and Lindars]:

  • "Bethany beyond Jordan" may be an otherwise unknown village, or it may be a variant spelling of a region called Batanea that is beyond the Jordan. John may be using a variant spelling (as Josephus used three different spellings for the same region) or making an intentional alteration to allude to the later Bethany, so that Jesus' ministry began and ended at a Bethany.
  • Aenon near Salim has been supposed to be at any one of three places; the likeliest candidate is a Salim near Shechem, which has a village now called Ainun nearby. However, since "Ainon" means "springs" and "Salim" means "peace", what we have here is a place name that would be very common in Israel (like our modern "Ridgewood").
  • Sychar is though to be either a corruption of Shechem or else a reference to a village called Askar.
  • For Dalmanutha, see the link above.

Now as an added point to this, we will consider an item (link below) which gives detailed information about various locations within the city of Rome. It was written in 1929, so no doubt some of the sites we reference have been found in the interim, but nevertheless, note that "it is not mentioned elsewhere" and "we are not sure where it is" are never taken to mean that the locales are "fictitious" or that the author is in "error":

CAMPUS BOARIUS: found on one inscription (CIL vi.9226) and possibly on another (Q. Brutius . . . mercator bova(rius) de campo; NS 1902, 54; BC 1902, 84; CIL i2.1259; ILS 7480), and probably another name for forum Boarium.
CAMPUS BRUTTIANUS: mentioned in Reg. and Pol. Silv. 545 in Region XIV, but otherwise unknown. (Cf. NS 1902, 54?)
CAMPUS CAELEMONTANUS (sic): mentioned only in one inscription (CIL vi.9475). From analogy with campus Esquilinus and campus Viminalis, this campus is probably to be located on the Caelian, outside the Servian wall and near the porta Caelimontana. It is possible that it may be identical with the CAMPUS MARTIALIS
CAMPUS FLAMINIUS: found only in Varro (LL v.154), and explained by him as the site on which the circus Flaminius was built and from which that structure took its name. The circus was named of course from its builder, but we must admit, probably, that this part of the campus Martius had derived its name from some earlier member of the same family - a strange coincidence. Campus Flaminius was probably synonymous with prata Flaminia (Liv. iii. 54, 63; cf. however, HJ 484).
CAMPUS IOVIS: mentioned only once (Hist. Aug. Pescenn. 12), with no indication of its location. It has been suggested that it might have been in Region VII, near the NYMPHAEUM IOVIS of Reg., and that this may have been built by Diocletian, who assumed the cognomen of Iovius as a sign of his devotion to the cult of Juppiter (Pr. Reg. 110, 136). It is, however, more likely that it is a mere invention on the analogy of campus Martius (SHA 1916, 7.A, 13).
CAMPUS LANATARIUS (perhaps LANARIUS): mentioned only in the Regionary Catalogue in Region XII. It was probably somewhere between the baths of Caracalla and the present church of S. Saba.
CAMPUS MINOR: * mentioned only in Catullus (lv.3). Its location is entirely unknown, although it has been identified with the a!llo pedi/on of Strabo (v.236), and with the campus Martialis (HJ 499; Ellis, Catullus ad loc.; BC 1906, 209-223; Pr. Reg. 159). See CAMPUS AGRIPPAE.
CAMPUS OCTAVIUS: mentioned only in Reg. app. and Pol. Silv. 545, and otherwise entirely unknown.
CAMPUS VIMINALIS: found only in Reg. in Region V, where it is followed by the word subager. This may be equivalent to sub aggere and belong to campus Viminalis (and in this case it may be contrasted with super aggerem; see AGGER), or it may conceal the name of another monument or locality. In any case the campus Viminalis was probably outside the agger and not far from the porta Viminalis (Pr. Reg. 132; Jord. ii.129; HJ 336, 370).


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