The Bethesda Pool, Site of One of Jesus’ Miracles

Where Jesus heals the paralytic

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in June 2013. It has been updated.—Ed.


 
Among the most famous of Jesus’ miracles is recounted in the Gospel of John, where Jesus heals the paralytic at the Bethesda Pool (John 5:2-9). It is not the only one of Jesus’ miracles of healing to take place at a pool in Jerusalem, however. In addition to the Bethesda Pool, the Gospel of John also says that Jesus healed the blind man at the Siloam Pool. The Siloam Pool was discovered in 2005 and was quickly identified with the pool mentioned in John. The Bethesda Pool, on the other hand, was excavated in the late 19th century, but it has taken more than 100 years for archaeologists to accurately identify and interpret the site. The Siloam Pool has been identified as a mikveh. Is it possible that the Bethesda Pool was also a mikveh, meaning that both of Jesus’ miracles were performed at Jewish ritual baths? This is what author Urban C. von Wahlde proposes in “The Puzzling Pool of Bethesda.”

bethesda

The Bethesda Pool, where Jesus heals the paralytic man in the Gospel of John, is a complex site. It appears to have been a mikveh, or ritual bath. As the spot of one of Jesus’ miracles, the Bethesda Pool was built over in subsequent periods with chapels and churches that are still visible today.

When Jesus heals the paralytic in the Gospel of John, the Bethesda Pool is described as having five porticoes—a puzzling feature suggesting an unusual five-sided pool, which most scholars dismissed as an unhistorical literary creation. Yet when this site was excavated, it revealed a rectangular pool with two basins separated by a wall—thus a five-sided pool—and each side had a portico.
 


 
In the free ebook Who Was Jesus? Exploring the History of Jesus’ Life, examine fundamental questions about Jesus of Nazareth. Where was he really born—Bethlehem or Nazareth? Did he marry? Is there evidence outside of the Bible that proves he actually walked the earth?
 

 
The Jesus miracle story also tells how many people sought the Bethesda Pool’s healing powers. The first person to enter the pool when the waters were stirred up would supposedly be cured of his or her ailment. But, the paralytic tells Jesus, he can never get into the water quickly enough. So Jesus immediately cures him, and he is able to get up and walk.

This story about Jesus’ miracle suggests a long history of healing at the site. Roman medicinal baths constructed at the Bethesda Pool only a century or two later reflect this continued tradition. When Christians controlled Jerusalem in the Byzantine and Crusader periods, they liked to mark the sites of Jesus’ miracles and other important events in his life, so they added a chapel and churches that now cover the Bethesda Pool complex.

So why a pool with two basins? The archaeological evidence shows that the southern basin had broad steps with landings, indicating that it was indeed a mikveh. The northern basin provided a reservoir, or otzer, to continually replenish and repurify the mikveh with fresh water flowing south through the dam between them. Jerusalem’s pilgrims would flock to the Bethesda Pool and Siloam Pool to purify themselves in these public mikva’ot and, at times, to seek healing.

 


 

Read more about the site of one of Jesus’ miracles in Urban C. von Wahlde’s “The Puzzling Pool of Bethesda,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2011.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible: Lawrence Mykytiuk’s full article from the January/February 2015 issue of BAR with voluminous endnotes

How December 25 Became Christmas: Andrew McGowan’s full article from the December 2002 issue of Bible Review

Where Did Jesus Turn Water into Wine?

Mikveh Discovery Highlights Ritual Bathing in Second Temple Period Jerusalem

Has the Childhood Home of Jesus Been Found?

Who Was Jesus’ Biological Father?

Where Was Jesus Born?
 


 

Posted in Jerusalem, Jesus/Historical Jesus, New Testament.

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  1. alan says

    god is good

  2. C.Frazier says

    As I was preparing the Lesson for the Sunday School Class (this week the story of the Paralytic) It came to mind I had never studied the place of the Pool of Bethesda. Reading commentaries on this subject has given me new insight to share with my class. Thank you for the information provided on the inter-net, the pictures, etc. I read an interesting theory about Angels entering the Pool, they did so only at the time God instructed them to do so. Only one person, the FIRST person to inter the Pool during the time the water was disturbed by the Angels would be healed. It was a surprise when the Angels disturbed the waters, and people would wait long periods of time for a chance to be healed. The man, the Paralytic who was healed in John 5:2 is not shown to be a man of Faith, yet Jesus healed this man. An interesting lesson to teach this Sunday. C.F.

  3. David says

    “which most scholars dismissed as an unhistorical literary creation.” I suppose someone could make a career out of writing about the pronouncements of “Bible Scholars”, who don’t believe the Bible, and how they have been proven wrong again and again. I like to keep copies of articles like this to remind my friends about the reliability of the Bible over that of ‘scholars.’. Thanks for the help!

  4. Beverly says

    Why hasn’t it been rebuilt to its original design and used by the people again? It seems to me that id rebuilt, the Lord would use its waters for healing as in days of old. Remember, we serve a God of Miracles, they don’t just stop!

  5. alice says

    Thank you for all this wonderful info, and pictures

  6. alice says

    Thank you for all the great info and photos.

  7. Nicodemus says

    I am an ailing individual who has visited many Medical Doctors regarding what I presume to be chronical diseases that eats some parts of my flesh,especially the buttocks. Normally it starts as boils which ultimately grow into ulcers. I have of recent started praying asking God to bless my bath tabs and give me miracle healing as it has happened to those who has deepen themselves in the pool of Bethesda in the Christ Jesus era. This through the faith that I have, usually give me hope that one day my prayers will be answered.

  8. Nicodemus says

    It is quite interesting that indeed the site does exist.

  9. W says

    The pagan (gods) medicinal baths were stired not by an angle but by by Romans when they opened the gate to let more water in. They manipulated it to “heal” whomever they wanted aka fake faith healing.
    Jesus stood in direct defiance of these pagan ways when He healed the invalid. And the word “invalid” can be applied either as sickly or unauthorized, for the Romans wouldn’t, couldn’t heal him.

  10. tapani says

    Beth esda means “The gate of grace”. Some one places it near the sheep market gate. Baths in common mikveh was then means to get ritual purity. It gave justice to go to the temple. Sickness was obstacle to do so. Going to pool was competition – same like as in our time. Jesus moved allthing. He is the health pool and the temple himself. Grace does not demand speed from sick ones, but it works with the word of Jesus. This cured Jew became a witness of Jesus.

  11. Mary says

    This tradition is carried on in Lourdes where pilgrims immerse themselves in a cold bath in the hopes of being healed.

  12. ROGERS CLAGGETT says

    We were in Israel a few months ago and when we came to Bethesda I recognized it from my readings in BAR but also found the real thing much easier to understand. It is a complicated site and for once the church building associated with it (St. Anne’s) was worth the visit too. It had the finest acoustics I have ever heard. It turned our tour group into a world- class choir! Also you need to appreciate how you are right outside the north walls of the Temple Mount. They told us this is where the sheep were washed which then went through the sheep gate to the temple.

  13. jay says

    thanks for sharing Jeremih, there’s a lot of cool stuff in there, that can help us cling to our faith and hold on tight during the storms in our lives….jane

  14. Wade says

    The whole story.
    Troubled waters, the pool of Bethesda.

    There is, in the Epistle of John, an account that speaks of the healing of an ailing man at the pool of Bethesda. (Ch5: 1-15) This account is not cited in any other writing. John did not include extensive particulars about the pool or the traditions, since this would have been common knowledge. Subsequently the pool’s features were changed through the centuries, even to the point of being completely lost until the late nineteenth century, the porches being rediscovered during archeological excavations as late as 1956.

    This is a curious account, in that the pool is not identified by its Greek name, an angel or messenger participates, the prescription for curing is not in accord to Levitical methods, and other ways that will be discussed herein. There is also an issue with the various sources used for interpretation, in that the end of verse 3 and all of verse 4 are included in some Bibles but not in others.

    So the Biblical scholars and expositors have had a challenge in making this account come into alignment with interpretative methods, and many volumes have been written to apply man-made explanations. In many cases the relatively recent archeological evidence and the history that has been made evident connected with those discoveries does not support the expositors accounts, or at least leads us to reevaluate the conclusions.

    New King James Version

    1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

    2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.

    3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.

    4 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.

    5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.

    6 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?”

    7 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.”

    8 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

    9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.

    When we look at the history of the pool during the time of Jesus we discover that its purpose and use was not for Jewish cleansing but for pagan worship, particularly Greco-Roman deities of healing, Asclepius, and the Egyptian god Serappis.

    After Herod the Great re-built the temple, the pool water had been used in the holy temple.
    In the year 44 BC, Herod Agrippa built near Bethesda a new wall, which stopped the water supply for the pool. Few years later, the Romans built near it a pagan temple, dedicated to the god Asclepius, a Greek hero – the god of medicine and healing, and to the Egyptian god Serapes. Romans reconfigured the pool as healing baths for Roman soldiers and officials.

    But the biblical scholars and expositors have tried to reconcile the account as being at a Jewish controlled site under the watch of God and his angels, for the purpose of divine healing. Some of the Biblical interpretations even go so far as to add words after angel or messenger of the Lord in verse 4.

    When one realizes that this is a pagan god worshiping pool one can easily reason that the angel or messenger would not be of God but would be of the fallen angel, or a demon conjured by a satanic inspired pagan priest. That is, if it the water was troubled(stirred) by an divine source at all, because there is evidence that it could have been under the direct control of pool management, there being ducts to channel water from the upper pool to the lower pool.

    Key points to ponder:

    Why would God make for a way of healing that was contrary to Levitical law?

    Why would God entice people to be healed and then withhold the healing to all but the swiftest?

    How would people have come to be informed of the tradition and to believe the tradition of the stirred or troubled waters and subsequent healing?

    Did you ever wonder how the ill man was able to get to the pool and carry his mat or bedroll?

    If he arrived on the Sabbath why was he not intercepted by the Pharisees?

    Did he live there?

    Was he an active adherent to the pagan practices and god Asclepius?

    What price did the ill man have to pay to gain entrance to the pool?

    If it were a healing pool why were ill people staying out of it?

    Wouldn’t it be pure torture to be in pain, and to be constantly watching for the first sign of a stirring, perhaps for months at a time, and then not be swift enough?

    Wouldn’t it be likely that a person could be waiting for 38 years?

    Wouldn’t a person’s life be totally consumed by the false promise of healing?

    Why were Pharisees apparently present in the immediate vicinity of the pool?

    Were they partaking in the pagan practices or were they lying in wait to catch someone being healed on the Sabbath?

    Should they have been present on the Sabbath?

    In this account Jesus entered the pagan worship area in direct confrontation to the Roman officials and priests. Jesus addressed the most long standing case, the man who had been ill for 38 years. Jesus confronted the man, “Do you want to be made well?” The man didn’t say yes, but rather came up with an excuse as to why he couldn’t be made well. Perhaps it was an appeal that Jesus might help him into the pool. The account does not unequivocally state that Jesus healed the man, rather in spite of the mans lack of an affirmative answer Jesus commanded the man, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” The man did so immediately, which makes one wonder if he was actually ill. Certainly, Jesus has the ability to heal, but did he have to heal in this instance. What followed this incident is the more important part of scripture.

    This incident served as the introduction to the revealing of Jesus’ divine nature on earth. This is not found in any other epistle, only in John’s.

    10 The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”

    11 He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’ ”

    12 Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”

    13 But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.

    14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”

    15 The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

    16 For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.

    17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”

    18 Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.

    19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.

    20 “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.

    21 “For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.

    22 “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son,

    23 “that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

    24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

    25 “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.

    26 “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself,

    27 “and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.

    28 “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice

    29 “and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

    30 “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

    31 “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.

    32 “There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.

    33 “You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.

    34 “Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.

    35 “He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.

    36 “But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.

    37 “And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.

    38 “But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.

    39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.

    40 “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

    41 “I do not receive honor from men.

    42 “But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you.

    43 “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.

    44 “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?

    45 “Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust.

    46 “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.

    47 “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

  15. Leeanne says

    A learned man is decieved by the shallowness of the books he recites, the lessons are in the spaces between the words and pages.

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