The pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5)

The pool at Bethesda was a familiar locale among the Jews of Jerusalem. It was mentioned, for example, in Qumran’s Copper Scroll as the “place of poured out water”. It was located near what are now the ruins of the basilica of Saint Anne to the north of the temple mount. The “pool” was actually two pools surrounded by four porticoes, with a fifth portico situated between them. Coupled with the elegant porticoes, the pools must have been an impressive sight. While the lavish complex of John’s day likely dated to the reign of Herod the Great, the pools were probably in use before that and may have been the site of an intermittent spring. The connection between the pool and the healing process is attested not only by the fourth Gospel but als by archaeological remains indicating that the Romans also sought healing there after taking over Jerusalem in approximately A.D. 135.

There is some controversy about the translation “Sheep Gate” in John 5:2. Early Christian tradition understands this to refer to the “Sheep Pool” rather than to the “Sheep Gate”; both translations are possible, but the historical evidence for the latter is not so strong. Eusebius noted that waters of the pool were reddish in colour and that some supposed this was because the entrails of the sacrificial animals, were washed there. It is more likely that the red colouring was a simple factor of geology and that the pools had been built to provide an opportunity for ritual cleansing for visitors to the temple.

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