Sites - Jerusalem: Pool of Bethesda
Ancient Jerusalem Sites
Pool of Bethesda
A trip to the Pool of Bethesda can enhance any pilgrimage to Israel. The site where Jesus healed the paralyzed man miraculously and Mary’s mother “Anne” was born as mentioned in the Gospel of John, This area has been extensively excavated, unearthing the five original pools and the remains of the Byzantine, medieval and Crusader churches that have been built over them along with a water run-off collection system that dates all the way back to the 8th century BCE that provided water for the temple. The largest find was the Crusader’s church St. Anne’s. Built on a site next to the Byzantine church that was destroyed by Hakim, the church was turned into an Islamic school in 1192. Ironically, the church went unused for some time, but was never destroyed as it was used as a dump. in 1856 the Ottoman government gave it to France to express their thankfulness for helping during the Crimean war. It is still run by French fathers to this day and makes a wonderful stop on any Israel trip.
John Chapter 5:2-18
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. 5 One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God.
(America Israel Travel)
Pool of Bethesda in Wikipedia
The Pool of Bethesda is a pool in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, on the path of the Beth Zeta Valley. 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. 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 meaning, rather than historical, significance. 
Then in the nineteenth century, archaeologists discovered the remains of a pool exactly matching the description in John’s
Gospel. Thus, archeology has confirmed the historical verisimilitude of John’s account.
The name of the pool is said to be derived from the Aramaic language beth hesda (בית חסדא), meaning either house of mercy or
house of grace. In the closely related Syriac branch of this ancient language, the cognate term hesdo has two opposite meanings
- grace and disgrace; this dual meaning may have been thought appropriate since the location was seen as a place of
disgrace due to the presence of invalids, and a place of grace, due to the granting of healing.
Alternative renderings of the name, appearing in manuscripts of the Gospel of John, include Beth-zatha and Bethsaida (not
to be confused with Bethsaida, a town in the Galilee), although the latter is considered to be a metathetical corruption by
Pool of Bethesda and the Historical Jesus --
The Pool of Bethesda has been an area of controversy for Christian historians and archaeologists alike. According to the Gospel
of John, Bethesda was a swimming bath (Greek: kolumbethra) with five porticos (translated as porches by older English bible
translations).  
Gospel of John --
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 first century 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 biblical narrative continues by describing a Shabbat visit to the site by Jesus, during which he heals a man who has been
bedridden for many years, and could not make his own way into the pool. Some scholars have suggested that the narrative is
actually part of a deliberate polemic against the Asclepius cult, an antagonism possibly partly brought on by the fact that
Asclepius was worshipped as Saviour (Greek: Soter), in reference to his healing attributes. The narrative uses the Greek
phrase hygies genesthai, which is not used anywhere in the Synoptic Gospels, but appears frequently in ancient testimonies
to the healing powers of Asclepius; the later narrative in the Gospel of John about Jesus washing Simon Peter's feet at the
Last Supper, similarly uses the Greek term goyein, which is a special term for washing in an Asclepieion, rather
than the Greek word used elsewhere in the Johannine text to describe washing - niptein.
Displayed in the west transept of St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee, this stone is part of one of the
columns of the balustrade that surrounded the Pool of Bethesda.
Prior to archaeological digs, the Pool of Bethesda was identified with the modern so-called Fountain of the Virgin, in the
Kidron Valley, not far from the Pool of Siloam, and alternately with the Birket Israel, a pool near the mouth of the valley
which runs into the Kidron south of St. Stephen's Gate. Others identified it with the twin pools then called the Souterrains
(French: Subterranean), under the Convent of the Sisters of Zion; subsequent archaeological investigation of the area has
determined these to actually be the Strouthion Pool.
In digs conducted in the 19th Century, Schick discovered a large tank situated about 100 feet north-west of St. Anne's Church,
which he contended was the Pool of Bethesda. 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. 
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
The history of the pool began in the eighth century BC, when a dam was built across the short Beth Zeta valley, turning it into
a reservoir for rain water; a sluice-gate in the dam allowed the height to be controlled, and a rock-cut channel
brought a steady stream of water from the reservoir into the city The reservoir became known as the Upper Pool (בריכה
העליונה). Around 200 BC, during the period in which Simon II was the Jewish High Priest, the channel was enclosed, and a second
pool was added on the south side of the dam; although popular legend argues that this pool was used for washing
sheep, this is very unlikely due to the pool's use as a water supply, and its extreme depth (13m).
In the first century BC, natural caves to the east of the two pools were turned into small baths, as part of an asclepieion;
 however, the Mishnah implies that at least one of these new pools was sacred to Fortuna, the goddess of fortune,
rather than Asclepius, the god of healing. Scholars think it likely that this development was founded by the Roman garrison
of the nearby Antonia Fortress;, who would also have been able to protect it from attack the location of the
asclepieion, outside the then city walls, would have made its presence tolerable to the Jews, who might otherwise have objected
to a non-Jewish religious presence in their holy city.
In the mid first century AD, Herod Agrippa expanded the city walls, bringing the asclepieion into the city. When Hadrian
rebuilt Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, he placed a roadway along the dam, and expanded the asclepieion into a large temple to
Asclepius and Serapis. In the Byzantine era, the asclepieion was converted to a church.
After the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem, the church buildings were rebuilt on a much smaller scale, but when Saladin regained
control of the city it was transformed into a school for Shafi`i fiqh. Gradually the buildings fell into ruin, becoming a
midden. In the early 19th century, the Ottoman Empire, as an act of gratitude, offered Queen Victoria the choice of the
possessing the Bethesda site or Cyprus; the Anglican church lobbied for the Bethesda site, but Victoria chose Cyprus, so in
1856, the Ottomans gifted the site to France instead. The French constructed the Church of Saint Anne, at the south east corner
of the site, leaving the ancient ruins untouched.
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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