Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Pools of Bethesda

JN 5:1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie--the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" JN 5:7 "Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." JN 5:8 Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. 

What happened to verse 4?


The Johannine narrative describes the porticos as being a place in which large numbers of infirm people were waiting, which corresponds well with the site's 1st century CE use as an asclepieion. Some ancient biblical manuscripts argue that these people were waiting for the troubling of the water; a few such manuscripts also move the setting away from Roman rituals into something more appropriate to Judaism, by adding that an angel would occasionally stir the waters, which would then cure the first person to enter. Although the Vulgate does not include the troubling of the water or the 'angel tradition', these were present in many of the manuscripts used by early English translations of the Bible, who therefore included it in their translations. Modern textual scholarship views these extra details as unreliable and unlikely to have been part of the original text; many modern translations do not include the troubling of the water or the 'angel tradition', but leave the earlier numbering system, so that they skip from verse 3a straight to verse 5.



The location of the Pools of Bethesda — actually a series of reservoirs and medicinal pools — is in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City



The Gospel of John describes such a pool in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. It is associated with healing. Until the 19th century, there was no evidence outside of John’s Gospel for the existence of this pool; therefore, scholars argued that the gospel was written later, probably by someone without first-hand knowledge of the city of Jerusalem, and that the ‘pool’ had only a metaphorical, rather than historical, significance. In the 19th century, archaeologists discovered the remains of a pool fitting the description in John’s Gospel.





In digs conducted in the 19th century, a large tank situated about 100 feet north-west of St. Anne's Church, which was suggested to be the Pool of Bethesda. This archaeological discovery proved beyond a doubt that the description of this pool in the Gospel of John was not the creation of the Evangelist. It reflected an accurate and detailed knowledge of the site. The Gospel speaks of (a) the name of the pool as Bethesda; (b) its location near the Sheep Gate; (c) the fact that it has five porticos; with rushing water. All these details are corroborated through literary and archaeological evidence affirming the historical accuracy of the Johannine account

Further archaeological excavation in the area, in 1964, discovered the remains of the Byzantine and Crusader churches, Hadrian's Temple of Asclepius and Serapis, the small healing pools of the Asclepieion, the other of the two large pools, and the dam between them. It was discovered that the Byzantine construction was built in the very heart of Hadrian's construction, and contained the healing pools.


ruins of a Byzanthine church over the pools



More interesting facts about the pools. 

The Upper Pool is mentioned in the Book of Kings (in a passage also repeated by the Book of Isaiah):

 And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rab-saris and Rab-shakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah with a great army unto Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fullers' field.

It is also mentioned in an earlier part of the Book of Isaiah:


Then said the LORD unto Isaiah: 'Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shear-jashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the highway of the fullers' field.

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