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The Bethesda Pool

The Bethesda Pool – James Tissot (1836-1902)

“The pool known as the Bethesda Pool (piscina probatica), is situated to the north of the Temple Mount in the grounds of the Church of St. Anne, which is now under the custodianship of the Catholic White Fathers. The pool was situated outside the Sheep Gate, which was presumably at the north-eastern end of the the Second Wall close to the Antonia Fortress, and in the area just beyond the new domestic quarter mentioned by Josephus on the hill of Bezetha. Excavations were undertaken there with breaks from 1865 to 1967, but the results of this work are still largely unpublished.

According the Gospel of John, the Bethesda Pool (from the Aramaic Beth Hesda, i.e. “house of mercy”), was sorrounded by five porticoes and served as a place of purification for a multitude of people. It was the scene where Jesus healed a lame man:

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk (5:1-19)

There are a number of matters arising from this passage that, as we shall see, fit well with the archaeological remains of the pool as they exist today. First, the pool had two basin, which explains why there were five columned porticoes: one portico on each of the four sides and on additional portico on the barrier wall in the middle separating the twin basis. Second, the lame man was waiting for someone to take his bed down to the water of the pool, which suggests that one of the basin must have had broad steps with landings at intervals, otherwise invalids would have had difficulty in gaining access. Third, the man wanted to be put in the pool so that he could benefit from the water that on occasion became “stirred up”, indicating that some curative value was placed at that time on this phenomenon”. (Shimon Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus, Oxford 2009, 73-75)

Simone Venturini


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