Pool of Bethesda – Israel

Bethesda’s name is derived from the Aramaic meaning “House of Mercy” or “House of Grace”. It was located near the Sheep Gate associated with the Temple Mount (not too far from where the present Lion’s Gate resides).  From such a gate, sheep would be taken onto the Temple Mount for sacrifice.

The pool may date to the 8th Century BC, when damning works were built across the Beth Zeta Valley.  The Beth Zeta Valley lies on the north side of the Old City. It flows east – west and serves as a tributary to the north – south running Kidron Valley. During the rainy season, water would flow here down to the Kidron Brook.

The reservoir created by the dam became known as the “Upper Pool.” During the 3rd Century BC, a second pool was constructed adjacent to the first on the south side.  Within a century, caves nearby were converted into small baths. These caves seem to have been used as an Asclepieion (healing temple used in ritualistic worship of the Greek god Asclepus).  

In 35BC, Herod the Great built the Antonia Fortress to overlook and protect the Temple complex. This was very near to the site of the pools. As many as 600 Roman soldiers would bivouac here. They seem to have brought cultic worship of the goddess Fortuna and associated it with one of the pools.

The Jews apparently tolerated these pagan practices outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Later on though (@ 50AD), Herod Agrippa expanded Jerusalem’s northern walls and brought the Bethesda Pool and Asclepieion within the exterior.

Around 130 AD, Hadrian turned the area into a large temple to Asclepus. The picture below is of a model of 1st Century Jerusalem. It depicts how the Bethesda Pool would have looked in Christ’s Day. The “Upper Pool” and its associated second pool taken together consisted of “Five Porticos” or “Five Porches”.

Scriptural Significance

Today, the remains of the Pool of Bethesda and its 5 Porches are readily seen. For years skeptics thought the account of John 5 was symbolic at best. Critics would argue that John was using an allegory here.  

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.

John 5:1-9

While there is something to be said for the symbolism at play,  this by no means suggests that John 5 is anything but straight on history. The 5 porches could symbolically represent the Pentateuch.  The paralytic’s age of 38 years could represent the Children of Israel’s wanderings in the desert for 38 years. Whether that is the case or not, there was a paralytic healed here.  The uncovering of this Pool of Five Porticos shows the Bible to be reliable!