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The Pool of Bethesda

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Here Jesus Healed a Paralytic

Location – The Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem

Map Coordinates - 31.781531, 35.235971

Merged Gospels story - 95


For all of our Octagon Tour groups, this is one of the locations in the city of Jerusalem where we can pinpoint Jesus’ footprints down to a very tight circle. This is the place where Jesus healed a man who had been paralyzed for almost his entire adult life. 


The History of the Site.

As we walk through this archeological site let’s also visit a little bit of history. In the first century, there were actually two very large rectangular reservoirs here. The first of these pools was built around 800 BC. It was the northern pool, and it was built to provide water, mostly for use at the Temple, which was close by. Then, around the year 200 BC, the southern pool was constructed, and a dam was built between the reservoirs. Both pools had a depth of about 43 feet.


Today the southern pool is completely covered up, and the northern pool has only been slightly exposed. There was a roofed porch going around both pools, with a central porch running down the middle over the dam that was between them. These five porches are mentioned in John 5:2. 


The Roman Influence.

When the Romans took over the Holy Land starting in 64 BC they started to import their own pagan culture into Jerusalem. Just to the east of these two large reservoir pools were some natural shallow pools. During this Roman occupation some people in this city started to combine their traditional religious beliefs with Roman paganism, and as a result many of those who were sick became convinced that if they dipped themselves into one of these shallow pagan healing pools at the right time they would be cured of their ailments.

A Roman temple to Asclepius.

The waters are stirred at the Asclepion Pools near the Pool of Bethesda.

Asclepion Pools.

These are called the Asclepion pools. Asclepius was the Roman god of healing, and instead of going to doctors or hospitals, Romans would typically visit a shrine to the god Asclepius, hoping for their healing. The Romans had imported this belief into this Jewish city.

Why did the Jews of Jesus’ day believe that the pagan healing pools in this area had any power at all? It seems that after not having seen a prophet in the land for about 400 years, and then being occupied by a religiously aggressive pagan Roman empire, the Jews of Jerusalem had become quite weary. When God’s voice goes silent, the seeds of mythology often begin to germinate. 

The Biblical Story.

Jesus meets the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda.

The story is found in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus came to this spot, probably during the Feast of Tabernacles, and He noticed a paralytic who had been in that condition for 38 years. And as you would expect, the man was instantly healed by Jesus.  


The Pools of Bethesda in the first century. Note the five porticos referenced in the Gospel of John.

Saint Mary of the Sheep Pool


Sometime between the second and the fifth centuries the water in these two large reservoirs had dried up, and because Christianity was now a legal religion a large church was built here. This church covered small parts of both reservoirs, as well as all of the Asclepion pools. 


During the Byzantine era churches in the Holy Land weren’t built simply to be places where people met on Sunday mornings. In this country most churches were built on sites where important events occurred. In other words, they were shrines. 

While the Biblical name of this pool is the Pool of Bethesda, which probably means House of Mercy, in the first century it was also called the Sheep Pool, since it was near a place called the Sheep Gate. When this first church was built here, it was called Saint Mary of the Probatic, which in Latin means Saint Mary of the Sheep Pool.

This Byzantine church was destroyed almost two hundred years later in 614 during the Persian invasion of Jerusalem. However, there is one surviving image of it.  56 kilometers away in the Jordanian town of Madaba there is a mosaic - a map on the floor of the Church of Saint George. This mosaic was laid here about 100 years after the church in Jerusalem was built. On this map you can see the image of the Church of Saint Mary of the Sheep Pool.

Here is a model of the Church of Saint Mary of the Sheep Pool. As you can see it straddles the two dried-up pools of Bethesda.

Here is also a model maker’s recreation of what this church probably looked like, and you can see it here straddling the dam between the two reservoirs.

The Crusader Church.


This Byzantine church, now destroyed, stayed in ruins until the Crusaders came to Jerusalem. In 1138 AD they built a small chapel over the northern reservoir, and they used one of the walls of the previous Byzantine church to build their new church. This Crusader church was called the Church of the Paralytic. The main entrance and the back wall, or the apse of this Crusader chapel can be seen by standing high over it, giving a clear example of the practice of building one church over another.

Anne and Joachim.

Next door to the Asclepion healing pools was the home of Anne and Joachim, just beyond the Church of Saint Anne. They were the maternal grandparents of Jesus Christ. Little did they know that at these pagan pools right outside their door the Son of their daughter Mary would stand here and perform a healing miracle about fifty years later. At the very spot where this elderly couple witnessed the desperation of their weakest and infirmed countrymen, their Grandson would one day step onto these porches, and bring the light of the Gospel to the city of Jerusalem.

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