Of this city there is a deep silence in the Holy Scriptures, but a most clamorous noise in the Talmudic writings. It is vulgarly written, Betar, and rendered by Christians, Bitter, or Bither: but I find it written in the Jerusalem Talmud pretty often in the same page, to be read, as it seems Beth-Tar; and casting away the first tau, which is very usual in the word, Be-Tar, 'the house of the inquirer.'--"Wherefore (say they) was Beth-Tar laid waste? Because it lighted candles after the destruction of the Temple. And why did it light candles? Because the counsellors at Jerusalem dwelt in the midst of the city. And when they saw any going up to Jerusalem, they said to him, 'We hear of you, that you are ambitious to be made a captain, or a counsellor': but he answered, 'There is no such thing in my mind.'--'We hear of you, that you are about to sell your wealth.' But he answered, 'Nor did this come into my mind.' Then would one of the company say, 'Whatsoever you ask of this man, write it, and I will seal it.' He therefore wrote, and his fellow sealed it: and they sent this feigned instrument to their friends, saying, 'If N. endeavours to come again to the possession of his wealth, suffer him not to do it, for he hath sold it among us.'"
The principal cause of the destruction of Beth-Tera was Ben-Cozba, and his rebellion against the Romans. The Babylonian writers assign another cause.
"For the foot of a chariot, was Bathara laid waste. It was a custom, that when an infant male was born, they planted a cedar; when an infant female, a pine; and, when the children contracted marriage, out of those trees they made the bride-chamber. On a certain day the daughter of the emperor passed by, and the foot of her chariot broke. They cut down such a cedar, and brought it to her. [The Jews] rose up against them, and beat them. It was told the emperor that the Jews rebelled. Being angry, he marched against them, and destroyed the whole horn of Israel," &c.
"Hadrian besieged Bether three years and a half.--And when they took it, they slew the men, the women, and the children, so that their blood flowed into the great sea. You will say, perhaps, that it was near the sea; but it was a mile distant. The tradition is, that R. Eliezer the Great saith, That there were two rivers in the valley of Jadaim, of which one flowed this way,--the other, that. And the Rabbins computed that the third part of them was blood, and two parts water. It was delivered also, that the heathen gathered the vintages, for the space of seven years, without dunging the land, because the vineyards were made fruitful enough by the blood of the Israelites."
The Jerusalem writers do hyperbolize enough concerning the distance of this city from the sea. "For if you say (say they) that it was near the sea, was it not distant forty miles? They say, that three hundred skulls of young children were found upon one stone: and that there were three chests of torn phylacteries, each chest containing nine bushels: but there are others that say, nine chests, each containing three bushels."
Josephus mentions "Betaris, and Cephartobas, two midland towns of Idumea":--where by Idumea he means the southern part of Judea, especially that that was mountainous: as appears by the context. He calls Idumea, properly so called, "Idumea the Great."