Pool of Bethesda
The Pool of Bethesda was a pool in Jerusalem known from the New Testament story of Jesus miraculously healing a paralysed man, from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John, where it is described as being near the Sheep Gate, surrounded by five covered colonnades or porticoes. It is now associated with the site of a pool in the current Muslim Quarter of the city, near the gate now called the Lions' Gate or St. Stephen's Gate and the Church of St. Anne, that was excavated in the late 19th century.
The name of the pool is said to be derived from the Hebrew and/or Aramaic language. Beth hesda (בית חסד/חסדא), means either house of mercy or house of grace. In both Hebrew and Aramaic the word hesda could also mean "shame, 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 as a place of grace due to the granting of healing.
Alternative renderings to the name Βηθεσδά (Bethesda), appearing in manuscripts of the Gospel of John, include Βηθζαθά (Beth-zatha = בית חדתא), a derivative of Bezetha, and Bethsaida (not to be confused with Bethsaida, a town in Galilee), although the latter is considered to be a metathetical corruption by Biblical scholars.
Franz Delitzsch (“Talmudische Studien, X. Bethesda”, Zeitschrift für die gesamte lutherische Theologie und Kirche, 1856) suggested that the name comes from a mishnaic Hebrew loanword from Greek, estiv/estava, that appropriately referred to stoa (στοά).
Identification of the Biblical siteEdit
Until the 19th century, there was no clear archaeological evidence for the existence of such a pool, which prompted some Western scholars to argue 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. The Pool of Bethesda was sometimes identified by commentators with the modern so-called Fountain of the Virgin, in the Kidron Valley, not far from the Pool of Siloam, or alternatively 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 for "subterranean"), under the Convent of the Sisters of Zion; subsequent archaeological investigation has identified these with the later Struthion Pool.
However, as early as the fifth century, there was a Byzantine church in what became the precincts of the Church of St. Anne, called the Church of the Probatike (the Church at the Probatic Pool, or the Pool of the Sheep) or the Church of the Lame Man. This site, as subsequently excavated by archaeologists, seems plausibly to fit the description in John's Gospel.
In archaeological digs conducted in the 19th century, Conrad Schick discovered a large tank situated about 100 feet (30 m) north-west of St. Anne's Church, which he contended was the Pool of Bethesda. Further archaeological excavation in the area, in 1964, uncovered the remains of the Byzantine and Crusader churches, Hadrian's Temple of Asclepius and Serapis, the small healing pools of an Asclepeion, the second 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.
The Johannine text (chapter 5) describes the porticoes as being a place in which large numbers of infirm people were waiting, which corresponds well with the site's apparent use in the 1st century AD as an Asclepeion. 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. The healing, and Jesus' instruction to the man to take up his mat, prompts a protest that the religious customs of the Sabbath have been broken.
First (northern) poolEdit
The history of the pool began in the 8th 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).
Second (southern) poolEdit
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). There has been some scholarly debate about whether the pool may have been a mikveh (Jewish ritual bathing pool)
Hellenistic and Roman templesEdit
In the 1st 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. Also, the asclepieion's location 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 1st 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.
By the fifth century, at least part of the asclepieion had been converted into, or replaced by, a Byzantine church, known as the Church of the Probatike (literally, the Church of the Sheep, the pool being called the Probatic or Sheep Pool) and initially dedicated to the Healing of the Paralytic, though from the sixth century associated with the Virgin Mary (the pilgrim Theodosios wrote in De Situ Terrae Sanctae (c. 530) that "next to the Sheep-pool is the church of my Lady Mary"). This reflects a more general movement which appropriated the healing sites of pagan religion and rededicated them to the Virgin Mary. The theory that this church was built by the Empress Eudocia (c. 401–460) is uncertain. It seems more likely to be associated with Juvenal, bishop of Jerusalem in the mid 5th century. This church was destroyed in 614 by the Persians.
After the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, a much smaller church was built among the Byzantine-period ruins on the stone dyke separating the two pools, known as the Church of the Paralytic or the Moustier ('the Monastery'). It was followed by a larger new church erected nearby. This larger church, completed in 1138, was built over the site of a grotto which had (from the fifth or sixth century onwards) been traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Mary, mother of Jesus and was named for Mary's mother, Saint Anne. After the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187 it was transformed into a Shafi`i fiqh (Islamic law school). Gradually the buildings fell into ruin, becoming a midden (waste dump).
In 1856, the area including the Church of St. Anne and the pool site was presented by the Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid I to Napoleon III of France. The French renovated and rededicated the church (under the administration of the White Fathers), at the southeast corner of the pools, leaving the other ruins untouched. There is a tale that the site was originally offered to Queen Victoria as part of the negotiations which led ultimately to the Cyprus Convention of 1878.
- Easton's Bible Dictionary.
- "Bethsaida (the pool)". Catholic Encyclopedia.
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1995), on sheep gate and on sheep market.
- D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (1991), p. 241.
- Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The Gospel of John (1994), p. 121–122.
- Textus Receptus.
- Tischendorf and WH.
- Revised Standard Version marginal note to John 5:2.
- "Bethsaida". newadvent.org. Retrieved 6 October 2010.
- John 5:2
- Peake's commentary on the Bible (1962), on John 5:1–18.
- David Couchman, The Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem Archived 25 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Focus Pub, 2010 p. 1.
- Pierre Benoit, The Archaeological Reconstruction of the Antonia Fortress, in Jerusalem Revealed (edited by Yigael Yadin), (1976).
- Eirini Panou (2015) in Patristic Studies in the Twenty-First Century: Proceedings of an International Conference to Mark the 50th Anniversary of the International Association of Patristic Studies, Brepolis Publishers, January 2015.
- W. Harold Mare "The Archaeology of the Jerusalem Area", Wipf & Stock, 1987
- Urban C. von Wahlde, "Archaeology and John's Gospel" in James H. Charlesworth, Jesus and archaeology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006. p. 560–566.
- An archaeological diagram of the layout – the diagram displayed at the location itself – is visible at this link.
- James H. Charlesworth, Jesus and archaeology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006. p. 560–566.
- John 5:1-18.
- Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Holy Land, (2008), page 29
- Maureen W. Yeung, Faith in Jesus and Paul, page 76
- Dave Winter, Israel handbook, page 121
- Gibson, S. (2005). "The Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem and Jewish Purification Practices of the Second Temple Period". Proche-Orient Chretien. 55: 270–293.
- von Wahlde, U.C. (2009). "The Pool(s) of Bethesda and the Healing in John 5: A Reappraisal of Research and of the Johannine Text". Revue Biblique. 116 (1): 111–136.
- André Duprez, Jesus and the god of Healing, as according to John (1970), page 97
- Zabim 1:5
- Maureen W. Yeung, Faith in Jesus and Paul, page 78
- Panou, Eirini (2018). The Cult of St Anna in Byzantium. Routledge. p. 5-11. ISBN 978-1-409-470229.
- Pools of Bethesda at See the Holy Land
- Yudin, Joe. "Off the Beaten Track: The Church of St. Anne", Jerusalem Post, 17 November 2011
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