The city of Jerusalem was center stage for many significant miracles during Jesus’ ministry. One of the most significant of Jesus’ miracles occurred at the Pools of Bethesda where He healed the paralytic (John 5:2-9).
In the time of Jesus, these pools were believed to possess healing powers. According to John’s Gospel, an angel would periodically stir the water, but the paralytic wasn’t able to enter the water quickly enough to be healed. With just a simple divine command to “rise, take up thy bed, and walk,” Jesus healed the man instantly.
Historically, the pools in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Bethesda (Hebrew for “house of mercy” and sometimes referred to as “Beth-zatha”) were vital to the bustling city. Believed to have been constructed in the 8th century BC during the reign of King Hezekiah, the upper pool is likely referenced twice in the Old Testament (2 Kings 18:17, Isaiah 36:2). Sheep brought to the Temple for sacrifice may have been washed in these pools in preparation for sacrifice.
John’s Gospel also provides an unusual description of the pool having “five porticoes.” Archaeological excavations have revealed a rectangular-shaped pool bounded by porticoes on all four sides, with the fifth portico acting as a dividing wall between the upper and lower sections. Further excavations have uncovered that the porticoes have been built in layers over the centuries, with those from the time of Jesus among the lower-most levels.
The pools were discovered in 1888 by Konrad Schick, a German archaeologist and authority on the water systems of Jerusalem. Prior to this, scholars did not think the Pools of Bethesda existed. Today, visitors to Bethesda can view the below-ground-level ruins of the two ancient pools, which are accessed by a stairway.
Located in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter near the Crusader-era Church of St. Anne and the Lions’ Gate (known in Jesus’ time as the Sheep Gate, where the sacrificial lambs were prepared), the pools are not far from the starting point of the Via Dolorosa and the Stations of the Cross.
More than just a simple tourist attraction or fascinating stop on your Holy Land tour, the Pools of Bethesda offer visitors and pilgrims a unique portrait in time of a miraculous event and an ideal place for reflection and prayer.