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Rabbeinu Yonah in Bava Basra 39a talks about someone who does Teshuva and calls him a Ben Teshuva. What is the earliest reference in history to the words Baal Teshuva? And why did it change from Ben Teshuva to Baal Teshuva?

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Berahot 34b

Shabbat 65b

Yoma 86b

Sanhedrin 31b

There probably are more though.

As to why, the original is Baal Teshuva. So why did Rabenu Yona write Ben Teshuva is the real question, no?

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The term clearly occurs all over Rambam's Laws of Teshuva. For instance in 2:1

הוא בעל תשובה גמורה

I don't know about earlier usages.

But Rambam's code played a very strong influence on a lot of how we name things, so it doesn't surprise me that it won out. (Another interesting one is the phrase "Korban Pesach" ["Passover sacrifice."]) In the Talmud it's just "the Pesach" and you have to realize it means the sacrifice. It appears a small handful of times in various less-authoritative midrashim; then Rambam started using it in his Commentary on the Mishnah; then codified Laws of the Korban Pesach (vs. Laws of Chametz & Matza), and the term's popularity exploded ever since.

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    Berachos 34b: דא״ר אבהו מקום שבעלי תשובה עומדין צדיקים גמורים אינם עומדים. – jake Dec 19 '11 at 15:50
  • @Jake: Thanks! Why didn't I think of that ... – Shalom Dec 19 '11 at 15:59
  • @jake. Nice! You should consider adding that as its own answer. – HodofHod Dec 19 '11 at 16:51
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    I guess the question should be "Why does Rabbeinu Yonah use the term Ben Teshuva?" – Gershon Gold Dec 19 '11 at 18:33
  • Jake - Please turn your comment into an answer to get accepted. – Gershon Gold Dec 19 '11 at 18:34

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