What does Middle English "bihiȝten" mean?

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Wycliffe's Bible (page 87)



"And thei herden, and ioyeden, and bihiyten to yyue hym money. And he souyt hou he schulde bitraye hym couenabli."

King James Bible:

"...And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him."

  • Pretty sure that says behei3ten (can’t type the yogh on my phone), with the e written on top of the i as was often done. Regardless, since yogh is the orthographic equivalent of gh, it should be rather straightforward to figure out what beh(e)i3ten corresponds to. Jul 7, 2019 at 19:40

2 Answers 2


behoten = to promise

I find that script hard to read so can't tell about how accurate the ascii is. I searched for a Middle English Dictionary and then tried your text on it and it gave no results. Then I tried other things for the 'y' in 'bihiyten': 'h', 'th', 'g', and then 'gh' which finally worked.

This is plausibly cognate with modern English 'behest'.

  • 1
    Looks to be not just a cognate but the etymon of "behest", according to Etym Online.
    – outis
    Nov 17, 2023 at 20:21

From my examination of the Wycliffe Facsimile New Testament published by CIY, which I think your photograph is from since it looks identical to my copy, I believe this word is the preterite plural (i.e. the same for 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons plural) from infinitive 'bihete' = to promise, which agrees with the Authorized Version that you quote. Other forms of this word that I have noted in this MS include:

  • 'biheten', 3rd person plural present, 'promise'. E.g. 'and biheten fredom to hem' (2 Peter 2:19, A.V. 'they promise them liberty')
  • 'bihighte', 3rd person singular preterite, and past participle, 'promised'. E.g. 'which lijf god that lyeth not bihighte bifore tymes of the world' (Titus 1:2, A.V. 'which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began');
  • 'biheeste', noun, 'promise', e.g. 'and this is the biheeste: that he bihighte to us, everlasting lijf' (I John 2:25, A.V. 'And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.')

For the scribe of this MS, infinitives end in -e (not -en as apparently used by other Middle Engish scribes), while -en is his verb ending for all plural persons in both present and past tenses.

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