It is a crystalline solid, very soluble in water, and is strongly basic and very poisonous. Muscarine, C5H15NO3, is an exceedingly poisonous substance found in many fungi. It may be obtained synthetically by oxidizing choline with dilute nitric acid (O. Schmiedeberg, Jahresb., 1876, p. 804). The exact constitution has not yet been definitely determined.
BETEL NUT. The name betel is applied to two different plants, which in the East are very closely associated in the purposes to which they are applied. The betel nut is the fruit of the Areca or betel palm, Areca Catechu, and the betel leaf is the produce of the betel vine or pan, Chavica Betel, a plant allied to that which yields black pepper. The Areca palm is a native of the Malay Peninsula and Islands and is extensively cultivated over a wide area in the East, including southern India, Ceylon, Siam, the Malay Archipelago and the Philippine Islands. It is a graceful tree with a straight, slender, unbranched stem reaching 40 or 50 ft. in height and about 1½ ft. in circumference, and bearing a crown of 6-9 very large spreading pinnate fronds. The fruit is about the size of a small hen’s egg, and within its fibrous rind is the seed or so-called nut, the albumen of which is very hard and has a prettily mettled grey and brown appearance. The chief purpose for which betel nuts are cultivated and collected is for use as a masticatory,—their use in this form being so widespread among Oriental nations that it is estimated that one-tenth of the whole human family indulge in betel chewing. For this use the fruits are annually gathered between the months of August and November, before they are quite ripe, and deprived of their husks. They are prepared by boiling in water, cutting up into slices, and drying in the sun, by which treatment the slices assume a dark brown or black colour. When chewed a small piece is wrapped up in a leaf of the betel vine or pan, with a pellet of shell lime or chunam; and in some cases a little cardamom, turmeric or other aromatic is added. The mastication causes a copious flow of saliva of a brick-red colour, which dyes the mouth, lips and gums. The habit blackens the teeth, but it is asserted by those addicted to it that it strengthens the gums, sweetens the breath and stimulates the digestive organs. Among the Orientals betel is offered on ceremonial visits in the same manner as wine is produced on similar occasions by Europeans. Betel nuts are further used as a source of catechu, which is procured by boiling the nuts in water. The water of the first boiling becomes red and thick, and when this is inspissated after the removal of the nuts it forms a catechu of high astringency and dark colour called in Bombay “Kossa.” The nuts are again boiled, and the inspissated juice of the second decoction yields a weaker catechu of a brown or reddish colour. Betel nuts have been used by turners for ornamental purposes, and for coat buttons on account of the beauty of their structure. At one time they were supposed to be useful as a vermifuge. The nuts of other species of Areca are used by the poorer classes in the East as substitutes for the genuine betel nut.
The alkaloid arecaidine, C7H11NO2, occurs in areca or betel nuts, together with three other alkaloids: arecoline, C8H13NO2, guvacine, C6H9NO2, and arecaine, C7H11NO2. Arecaidine forms white crystals easily soluble in water, and difficultly soluble in alcohol. Chemically it is methyl-tetrahydro-nicotinic acid. Dehydration results in the formation of a “betaïne,” which is a tetrahydro-trigonelline (see Betaïne). Arecoline is an oil, and the physiological action of the betel nut is alone due to this substance. Chemically it is the methyl ester of arecaidine. Guvacine, named from “guvaca,” an Indian designation of the betel palm, forms white crystals. It is a secondary base, but its constitution is uncertain. Arecaine is n-methyl-guvacine.
BETHANY (mod. el-‘Azariyeh), a village nearly 2 m. E.S.E. from Jerusalem, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, 2208 ft. above the sea. It is interesting as the residence of Lazarus and his sisters, and a favourite retreat of Jesus (see especially John xi., which describes the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus at this place). From the 4th century down to the time of the Mahommedan invasion several ecclesiastical buildings were erected on the spot, but of these no distinct traces remain. El-‘Azariyeh is a poor village of about thirty families, with few marks of antiquity; there is no reason to believe that the houses of Mary and Martha and of Simon the Leper, or the sepulchre of Lazarus, still shown by the monks, have any claim to the names they bear. Another Bethany (with the alternative reading Bethabara) is mentioned in John i. 28, as “beyond Jordan”; it has not been identified.
BETHEL (Heb. “House of God”), originally called Luz, an ancient city of Palestine, on the N.W. border of the tribe of Benjamin, 11 m. N. of Jerusalem and nearly 2900 ft. above sea-level. From very early times it was a holy place, a circumstance probably due primarily to a very extraordinary group of boulders and rock-outcrops north of the town. Abraham recognized its sanctity (Gen. xii. 8); Jacob, in ignorance, slept in the sacred enclosure and was granted a vision (“Jacob’s ladder,” Gen. xxviii). For a while the ark seems to have been deposited here (Judg. xx. 27), and it was a place for consulting the oracle (Judg. xx. 18). At the secession of the northern kingdom under Jeroboam, Bethel became a royal residence and a national shrine (1 Kings xii. 29-31, Amos vii. 13), for which its position at the junction of main roads from N. to S. and E. to W. well fitted it. It was taken from Jeroboam by Abijah, king of Judah (2 Chr. xiii. 19). It seems to have continued to flourish down into the Christian era; remains of its ecclesiastical buildings still exist. The present village, which bears the name of Beitin, occupies about three or four acres, and has a population of 2000.
BÉTHENCOURT, JEAN DE (c. 1360-1422), French explorer, belonged to a noble family of Normandy, and held important offices at the court of Charles VI., king of France. His spirit was fired by hearing of the deeds of explorers and adventurers, and having formed a plan to conquer the Canary Islands he raised some money by pledging his Norman estates, and sailed from La Rochelle on the 1st of May 1402 with two ships, commanded by himself and Gadifer de la Salle. He was delayed by a mutiny off the coast of Spain, but reached the island of Lanzarote in July. Unable to carry out his project of conquest, he left his men at the Canaries and went to seek help at the court of Castile. He obtained men and provisions from Henry III. king of Castile, through the good offices of his uncle, Robert de Braquemont, who had considerable influence with Henry; he also received the title of king, and did homage to Henry for his future conquests. Returning to the Canaries in 1404 he found that Gadifer de la Salle had conquered Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, and explored other islands. La Salle, unwilling to accept a position of inferiority, left the Canaries and appealed unsuccessfully for redress at the court of Castile. Béthencourt was unable to complete his work of conquest and exploration. In 1405 he visited Normandy, and returned with fresh colonists who occupied Hierro. In December 1406 he left the islands to the government of his nephew, Maciot de Béthencourt, reserving for himself the royal title and a share in any profits obtained. He returned to Normandy, where he appears to have spent the remainder of his days. He died in 1422, and was buried in the church of Grainville-la-Teinturière. Béthencourt wrote a very untrustworthy account of his “conquest of the Canary Islands,” Le Canarien, livre de la conquête et conversion ses Canaries. This has been published with introduction and notes by G. Gravier (Rouen, 1874), and an English translation was edited by R. H. Major for the Hakluyt Society (London, 1872).
See also Canary Islands, for the controversy as to the relations between Béthencourt and La Salle.
BETHESDA (i.e. “House of Mercy,” John v. 2), better perhaps Bethzatha or Bethsaida, a pool or public bath in Jerusalem, where miraculous cures were believed to be performed. The following identifications have been suggested: Birket Isra’il, near St Stephen’s gate; a large cistern, near St Anne’s church; the “Twin Pools,” north of the Haram (the ancient Temple area); the Hammam esh-Shifa‘ or pool of healing, west of the Haram; the Virgin’s fountain, south of the Haram; and the “Pool of Siloam.” Which, if any, of these identifications is correct, it is impossible to say.
BETHESDA, an urban district of Carnarvonshire, N. Wales, 5 m. from Bangor, by a branch of the London & North-Western railway. Pop. (1901) 5281. It lies near the lower end of the