There is very frequent mention of this place in the Talmudists: and, certainly, a more careful comparison of the maps with those things which are said by them of the situation of this place is worthy to be made; when they place it in mount Olivet, these make it contiguous to the buildings of Jerusalem.
I. In the place cited in the margin, the case "of a stubborn judge" (or elder) is handling. For when, by the prescript of the law, difficult matters, and such things as concerning which the lower councils could not judge, were to be brought unto the chief council, unto the place which God should choose, Deuteronomy 17:8;--and when that judge of the lower council, who, after the determination and sentence pronounced in that cause, which he propounded, shall refuse to obey, and shall deny to behave himself according to their sentence,--is guilty of death, verse 12, inquiry is made, "Whether if he shall find the Sanhedrim sitting in Bethphage, and shall rebel against the sentence pronounced by them there, that stubbornness be to be judged for rebellion," which, according to the law, is to be punished with death: and it is answered, "The text saith, 'Thou shalt arise, and go up to the place,' &c. Whence it is taught, that the place itself" (the chamber Gazith only) "adds force to the sentence."--The Gloss writes thus, "Bethphage was a place within the walls of the city, and was reckoned as Jerusalem itself, in respect of all things." Observe, 'Bethphage was within the walls of Jerusalem': so that if the sentence of the Sanhedrim, pronounced at Jerusalem (out of the chamber Gazith), obtained in the case propounded,--it had obtained, when pronounced in Bethphage.
II. "He that kills a sacrifice of thanksgiving within the wall, and the bread of it is without the wall, the bread is not holy. What is without the wall? R. Jochanan saith, Without the wall of Bethphage; but without the wall of the court, it is holy."--The Gloss thus; "Bethphage is the outmost place in Jerusalem: and whosoever is without the walls of Bethphage, is without Jerusalem, where is no place to eat the holy things."
III. It is disputed, whether the passover be to be slain in the name of a person in prison singly; and, among other things, it is thus determined: "If he be within the walls of Bethphage, let them kill it for him singly. Why? Because it is possible, to come to him, and he may eat it."--The Gloss; "Bethphage is the outmost place in Jerusalem: and thither they carry the passover to the person imprisoned, that he may eat it, because he is there within Jerusalem." For it was by no means lawful to eat the passover without Jerusalem.
IV. "The two loaves" (daily offered by the chief priest) "and the show-bread are baked aright either in the court or in Bethphage."
V. That which we produced first concerning the cause "of the stubborn elder," is recited also elsewhere; and these words are added, "He found the council sitting in Bethphage: for example's sake, if he betook himself thither to measure for the beheading of the cow, or to add to the space of the city, or the courts."
VI. "He thrashes within the walls of Bethphage."--The Gloss; "Bethphage is the outmost circuit of Jerusalem." The Aruch;--"The wall of Bethphage is the wall of Jerusalem."
Now consult the maps and the commentaries of Christians, and you have Bethphage seated far from the walls of the city, not very far from the top of mount Olivet: where, also, the footsteps of it (even at this day) are falsely shown to travellers. So our countryman Sandys, an eyewitness, writes concerning it: "We now ascend mount Olivet (saith he), another way bending more northwards" (for before, he had described the ascent to Bethany). "On the right hand, not far from the top, was Bethphage seated, whose very foundations are confounded; from whence Christ, sitting upon the foal of an ass, went in triumph to Jerusalem: the father-guardian every Palm Sunday now superstitiously imitating him."
They took their resolutions concerning the situation of this place not elsewhere certainly than from the gospel history, which seems openly to delineate Bethphage at the mount Olivet. True, indeed; and yet nothing hinders, but we may believe the Jews, asserting it to be within the walls of Jerusalem, since they illustrate the thing with so many examples; nor is there any reason, why they should either feign or dissemble any thing in this matter.
To the determining, therefore, of the business, we must have recourse, first, to the derivation of the word: Bethphage is rendered by some a 'house or place of a fountain,' from the Greek "a fountain": but this is something hard: by the Glosser in Bava Mezia, in the place last cited, it is rendered, a paved 'causeway'; "The outmost compass of Jerusalem (saith he), which they added to it, is called Bethphage, and seems to me to denote a beaten way." To which that of the Targumists seems to agree, who render "At the valley of Shaveh," Genesis 14:17. But what needs is there of wandering abroad either into a strange or more unusual dialect,--when the word Phagi most vulgarly, and in all men's mouths, denotes "green figs," which mount Olivet was not a little famous for? For although it took its name from 'Olives' yet it produced both 'fig' trees and 'palms'; and according to the variety of these, growing in divers tracts of the mount, so various names were imposed upon those tracts, which we note elsewhere. That lowest part, therefore, of the mountain, which runs out next the city, is called, from the green figs, "Bethphage": by which name also that part of Jerusalem, next adjacent, is called, by reason of the vicinity of that place. And from these things, well regarded, one may, more rightly and plainly, understand the story of Christ coming this way.
He had lodged in Bethany, the town of Lazarus, John 12:1. From thence, in the morning, going onward, he is said to come to Bethphage, and Bethany, Mark 11:1; that is, to that place, where those tracts of the mountain, known by those names, did touch upon one another. And when he was about to ascend into heaven, he is said to lead out his disciples, "as far as Bethany," Luke 24:50; but not farther than a sabbath-day's journey, Acts 1:12; whereas the town, where Lazarus dwelt, was almost twice as far, John 11:18. He went, therefore, out of Jerusalem through Bethphage within the walls, and Bethphage without the walls,--and measuring a sabbath-day's journey, or thereabouts, arrived at that place and tract of Olivet, where the name of Bethphage ceased, and the name of Bethany began; and there he ascended. I doubt, therefore, whether there was any town in Olivet called Bethphage; but rather a great tract of the mountain was so called; and the outermost street of Jerusalem within the walls was called by the same name, by reason of its nearness to that tract.