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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

BETHESDA. — John 5:2 ‘Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep- gate (ἐπὶ τῇ προβατικῇ) a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having live porches’ (RV). Instead of Βηθεσδά (TR), the most ancient authorities have other spellings, as א Βηθζαθά, L and Eus. Βηζαθά (? for Βηθζαιθά = בֵּיתזַיִחָא ‘house of the olive’), B Βηθσαιδά, D Βελζεθά. As to the derivation, Delitzsch suggests בֵּיתאָסְטִין ‘house of pillars,’ and Calvin בֵּיתאָשְׁדָּא ‘house of outpouring’; but the most natural etymology is בֵּיתחָסְרָּא ‘house of mercy,’ possibly in allusion to the munificence of some charitable person who had these porches built to shelter the sick, or to the goodness of God in providing this healing spring.

As the adjective προβατικῇ, ‘ pertaining to sheep ,’ requires some substantive to be introduced, the Authorized Version supplies ‘market,’ the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘gate.’ Since there is no reference to any sheep-market in the OT, while the sheep-gate is repeatedly referred to ( Nehemiah 3:1;  Nehemiah 3:32;  Nehemiah 12:39), the latter method of supplying the sense is the more probable one. Now the sheep-gate is known to have been north of the Temple, and, as Bovet says, ‘the small cattle which entered Jerusalem came there certainly by the east; for it is on this side that the immense pastures of the wilderness of Judaea lie.’ The modern St. Stephen’s Gate answers to these data. It is at the north-east angle of the Temple area, and is the gate through which the Bedawîn still lead their flocks to Jerusalem for sale. We must therefore look for the Pool of Bethesda in this vicinity, and may at once eliminate several proposed identifications elsewhere, such as the Hammâm csh-Shifâ , near the ‘Gate of the Cotton Merchants,’ about the middle of the west side of the Temple area, where there is a pool with pillars and masonry, some sixty feet below the present surface, the waters of which are still supposed to possess healing properties (Furrer); and the Pool of Siloam, where the remains of four columns in the east wall, with four others in the centre, ‘show that a structure with five openings or porches might easily have been erected’ (Alford); and the Fountain of the Virgin, the intermittent spring at the bottom of a deep cavern at the foot of the Ophel slope south-east of the Temple (Robinson). These are all too far from the sheep-gate as probably identified above.

Conder, who adopts the suggestion of Robinson that Bethesda was at the present Fountain of the Virgin, says, ‘This answers the requirements that it still presents the phenomenon of intermittent “troubling of the water,’ which overflows from a natural syphon under the cave, and that it is still the custom of the Jews to bathe in the waters of the cave, when this overflow occurs, for the cure of rheumatism and of other disorders.’ Against this view Grove (Smith’s D B [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] art. ‘Bethesda’) and Barclay ( City of the Great King , 325) urge the inaccessibility of the deep subterranean water to invalids, the confined size of the pool, and the difficulty of finding room for the five porches capable of accommodating ‘a multitude’; and to the present writer, examining the cave in person, these objections seemed conclusive, apart from the difficulty of the locality.

Turning now to the neighbourhood of the sheep-gate, we find three proposed identifications. (1) Modern tradition identifies Bethesda with the Birket Israil , an empty reservoir, 360 feet long, 120 feet wide, and 80 feet deep, half filled with rubbish, which lies close to St. Stephen’s Gate and under the north-east wall of the Haram area. (2) Warren and others would place Bethesda at the so-called Twin Pools, in the ditch at the northwest angle of Antonia, under the convent of the Sisters of Zion. Neither of these can be the true site, as both the Birket Israil and the Twin Pools were constructed after the events narrated in John 5. (3) In 1872 it was pointed out by M. Clermont-Ganneau that ‘the Pool of Bethesda should be sought near the Church of St. Anne, where an old tradition has placed the house of the mother of Mary, calling it Bcit Hanna , “House of Anne.” This expression is exactly identical with Bethesda , both expressions signifying “house of mercy, or compassion.” ’ Sixteen years later this anticipation was verified by the discovery of what is now very generally conceded to be the ancient Pool of Bethesda, a short distance north-west of the present Church of St. Anne. In the autumn of 1888, ‘certain works carried on by the Algerian monks laid bare a large tank or cistern cut in the rock to a depth of 30 feet, and Herr Schick recognized this as the Pool of Bethesda. It is 55 feet long from east to west, and measures 12½ feet in breadth. A flight of twenty-four steps leads down into the pool from the eastern scarp of rock. Herr Schick, who at once saw the great interest of this discovery, soon found a sister-pool, lying end to end, 60 feet long, and of the same breadth as the first. The first pool was arched in by five arches, while five corresponding porches ran along the side of the pool. At a later period a church was built over the pool by the Crusaders, and they seem to have been so far impressed by the fact of five arches below that they shaped their crypt into five arches in imitation. They left an opening for getting down to the water; and further, as the crowning proof that they regarded the pool as Bethesda, they painted on the wall of the crypt a fresco representing the angel troubling the water of the pool.’ (Geo. St. Clair, Buried Cities and Bible Countries , 327–328. See also PEFS t [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , July 1888 and Jan. 1891).

This site is thus supported not only by the mediaeval tradition, but by the early tradition as well. The Bordeaux pilgrim, who visited Jerusalem in a.d. 333, after mentioning two large fish-pools by the side of the temple, one at the right hand, the other at the left, says in another place ( Itin. Hierosol . 589): ‘But farther in the city are twin fish-pools having five porches which are called Bethsaida. There the sick of many years were wont to be healed. But these pools have water which, when agitated, is of a kind of red colour.’ This is evidently the same place described by Eusebius ( Onomasticon , 240. 15) in the same century and called by him Bezatha, though he gives no other clue to the situation—‘a pool at Jerusalem, which is the Piscina Probatica , and had formerly five porches, and now is pointed out at the twin pools there, of which one is filled by the rains of the year, but the other exhibits its water tinged in an extraordinary manner with red, retaining a trace, they say, of the victims that were formerly cleansed in it.’ Clearly, too, it is of the same place that Eucherius speaks in the 5th cent.: ‘Bethsaida, peculiar for being a double lake, of which one pool is for the most part filled by winter rains, the other is discoloured by reddish waters.’ It has been commonly assumed of late that the two tunnels under the convent of the Sisters of Zion are the twin pools mentioned by these writers; but the traditions of the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries, to be presently quoted, place the pool with the five porches and the church called Probatiea (cf. προβατικῇ,  John 5:2) at or near the traditional birthplace of Mary, which is undoubtedly under the present Church of St. Anne. Thus Antoninus Martyr (a.d. 570) says: ‘Returning into the city we come to the Piscina Natatoria , which has five porches; and in one of these is the basilica of St. Mary, in which many miraculous cures are wrought.’ Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem (a.d. 632), says: ‘I will enter the holy Probatica , where the illustrious Anna brought forth Mary.’ John of Damascus (about a.d. 750) says: ‘May all things be propitious to thee, O Probation , the most holy temple of the Mother of God! May all things be propitious to thee, O Probatica , ancestral domicile of a queen! May all things be propitious to thee, O Probatica , formerly the fold of Joachim’s flocks, but now a church, heaven-resembling, of the rational flock of Christ!’ Brocardus also speaks (a.d. 1283) of a large reservoir near St. Anne’s Church, called Piscina Interior , just opposite Birket Israil .

Early tradition, therefore, as well as mediaeval, seems to favour the site discovered in 1888. This is the site now generally accepted, though some recent writers are still unconvinced, such as Sanday ( Sacred Sites of the Gospels , 55), who rejects Schick’s identification but reaches no positive conclusion of his own, and Conder (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, article ‘Bethesda’), who argues for the Virgin’s Pool. The intermittent troubling of the water at the Fountain of the Virgin is, indeed, a point in its favour; but this phenomenon is not uncommon in the springs of Palestine (Thomson, land and Book , iii. 288; Barclay, City of Great King , 560), and, while nothing of the kind is now seen at the pool under the Crusaders’ church, it is not, perhaps, a too violent supposition that the same intermittence now observed in the Virgin’s Fountain may have characterized this pool also in that early time of more copious ‘rains of the year,’ as Eusebius calls them, especially if, as some think, they both lie upon the same concealed watercourse.

The last clause of  John 5:3 and the whole of  John 5:4, containing the account of the troubling of the water by an angel and the miraculous healing that followed, are relegated to the margin in Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885, on the ground of their omission by the ancient manuscripts אBD, and the exceptional number of variants in the other MSS [Note: SS Manuscripts.] . Popular superstition seems to have attributed the periodic bubbling of the water to the action of an invisible angel. These passages were probably at first written on the margin as an expression of that opinion, and later were introduced into the body of the text.

W. W. Moore.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

This word signifies the house of mercy, and was the name of a pool, or public bath, at Jerusalem, which had five porticos, piazzas, or covered walks around it. This bath was called Bethesda, because, as some observe, the erecting of baths was an act of great kindness to the common people, whose infirmities in hot countries required frequent bathing; but the generality of expositors think it had this name rather from the great goodness of God manifested to his people, in bestowing healing virtues upon its waters. The account of the evangelist is, "Now there was at Jerusalem, by the sheep market, a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel went down at a certain season into the pool: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had,"   John 5:2-4 . The genuineness of the fourth verse has been disputed, because it is wanting in some ancient MSS, and is written in the margin of another as a scholion; but even were the spuriousness of this verse allowed, for which, however, the evidence is by no means satisfactory, the supernatural character of the account, as it is indicated by the other parts of the narrative, remains unaffected. The agitation of the water: its suddenly healing virtue as to all diseases; and the limitation to the first that should go in, are all miraculous circumstances. Commentators have however resorted to various hypotheses to account for the whole without divine agency. Dr. Hammond says, "The sacrifices were exceedingly numerous at the passover, κατακαιρον , (once a year, Chrysostom,) when the pool being warm from the immediate washing of the blood and entrails, and thus adapted to the cure of the blind, the withered, the lame, and perhaps the paralytic, was yet farther troubled, and the congelations and grosser parts stirred up by an officer or messenger, αγγελος , to give it the full effect." To this hypothesis Whitby acutely replies,

1. How could this natural virtue be adapted to, and cure, all kinds of diseases?

2. How could the virtue only extend to the cure of one man, several probably entering at the same instant?

3. How unlikely is it, if natural, to take place only at one certain time, at the passover? for there was a multitude of sacrifices slain at other of the feasts.

4. Lastly, and decisively, Lightfoot shows that there was a laver in the temple for washing the entrails; therefore they were not washed in this pool at all.

Others, however, suppose that the blood of the victims was conveyed from the temple to this pool by pipes; and Kuinoel thinks that it cannot be denied that the blood of animals recently slaughtered may impart a medicinal property to water; and he refers to Richter's "Dissertat, de Balneo Animali," and Michaelis in loc. But he admits that it cannot be proved whether the pool was situated out of the city at the sheep gate, or in the city, and in the vicinity of the temple; nor that the blood of the victims was ever conveyed thither by canals. Kuinoel justly observes, that though in Josephus no mention is made of the baths here described, yet this silence ought not to induce us to question the truth of this transaction; since the historian omits to record many other circumstances which cannot be doubted; as, for instance, the census of Augustus, and the murder of the infants. This critic also supposes that St. John only acts the part of an historian, and gives the account as it was current among the Jews, without vouching for its truth, or interposing his own judgment. Mede follows in the track of absurdly attempting to account for the phenomenon on natural principles:—"I think the water of this pool acquired a medicinal property from the mud at its bottom, which was heavy with metallic salts,—sulphur perhaps, or alum, or nitre. Now this would, from the water being perturbed from the bottom by some natural cause, perhaps subterranean heat, or storms, rise upward and be mingled with it, and so impart a sanative property to those who bathed in it before the metallic particles had subsided to the bottom. That it should have done so, κατα κ αιρον , is not strange, since Bartholin has, by many examples shown, that it is usual with many medicinal baths, to exert a singular force and sanative power at stated times, and at periodical, but uncertain, intervals." Doddridge combines the common hypothesis with that of Mede; namely, that the water had at all times more or less of a medicinal property; but at some period, not far distant from that in which the transaction here recorded took place, it was endued with a miraculous power; an extraordinary commotion being probably observed in the water, and Providence so ordering it, that the next person who accidentally bathed here, being under some great disorder, found an immediate and unexpected cure: the like phenomenon in some other desperate case, was probably observed on a second commotion: and these commotions and cures might happen periodically.

All those hypotheses which exclude miracle in this case are very unsatisfactory, nor is there any reason whatever to resort to them; for, when rightly viewed, there appears a mercy and a wisdom in this miracle which must strike every one who attentively considers the account, unless he be a determined unbeliever in miraculous interposition. For,

1. The miracle occurred κατα καιρον , from time to time, that is, occasionally, perhaps frequently.

2. Though but one at a time was healed, yet, as this might often occur, a singularly gracious provision was made for the relief of the sick inhabitants of Jerusalem in desperate cases.

3. The angel probably acted invisibly, but the commotion in the waters was so strong and peculiar as to mark a supernatural agent.

4. There is great probability in what Doddridge, following Tertullian, supposes, that the waters obtained their healing property not long before the ministry of Christ, and lost it after his rejection and crucifixion by the Jews. In this case a connection was established between the healing virtue of the pool and the presence of Christ on earth, indicating HIM to be the source of this benefit, and the true agent in conferring it; and thus it became, afterward at least, a confirmation of his mission.

5. The whole might also be emblematical, "intended," says Macknight, "to show that Ezekiel's vision of waters issuing out of the sanctuary was about to be fulfilled, of which waters it is said, They shall be healed, and every thing shall live where the river cometh." It cannot be objected that this was not an age of miracles; and if miracles be allowed, we see in this particular supernatural visitation obvious reasons of fitness, as well as a divine compassion. If however the ends to be accomplished by so public and notable a miraculous interposition were less obvious, still we must admit the fact, or either force absurd interpretations upon the text, or make the evangelist carelessly give his sanction to an instance of vulgar credulity and superstition.

Maundrell and Chateaubriand both describe a bason or reservoir, near St. Stephen's gate, and bounding the temple on the north, as the identical pool of Bethesda; which, if it really be what it is represented to be, is all that now remains of the primitive architecture of the Jews at Jerusalem. The latter says, "It is a reservoir, a hundred and fifty feet long and forty wide. The sides are walled, and these walls are composed of a bed of large stones joined together by iron cramps; a wall of mixed materials runs up on these large stones; a layer of flints is stuck upon the surface of this wall; and a coating is laid over these flints. The four beds are perpendicular with the bottom, and not horizontal: the coating was on the side next to the water; and the large stones rested, as they still do, against the ground. This pool is now dry, and half filled up. Here grow some pomegranate trees, and a species of wild tamarind of a bluish colons: the western angle is quite full of nopals. Or the west side may also be seen two arches, which probably led to an aqueduct that carried the water into the interior of the temple."

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [3]

The word signifies, the house of mercy; from Beth, an house; and Chesed, mercy. It was the pool which the evangelist John speaks of,  John 5:2. I refer to the account. It is probable, that into this pool the waters from the temple emptied themselves: and if so, all the washings of the sacrifices. And some have been weak enough to fancy, that the efficacy of the pool arose from thence. And others, equally erroneous, have supposed that some mineral quality might be in the pool, from the waters imbibing it in passing over certain strata of the kind, as the mineral waters of Bath, and other places of the like nature. But had they attended to what the Holy Ghost hath recorded, by his servant John, in the history of the Bethesda, they would have observed, that the peculiar miraculous quality the pool possessed, was only at a certain season, and from the descent of an angel into the pool; and the miracle expressly limited also to one person.

Some have raised questions of doubt concerning the reality of the pool itself, because it is not noticed by any of the evangelists but John. But this, if admitted as an argument of doubt, would go farther than the objectors perhaps intend; since the same cause of objection would equally hold good against the pool of Siloam, the resurrection of Lazarus, several of the sweet and precious discourses of Christ, his miracle of Cana, at Galilee, and very many other blessed relations concerning the Lord Jesus, which are mentioned by none of the other evangelists. But these are childish objections, since we know that one among the many causes for which the gospel according to St. John was added to the other memoirs of the Lord Jesus Christ, was purposely to relate some circumstances, which Matthew, Mark, and Luke, had not done. (See  John 20:30-31; Joh 21:25)

Some have expressed their surprise that Josephus, the Jewish historian, should have been altogether silent concerning the pool of Bethesda. But not to remark that Josephus was not born at the time the pool was in repute, the well-known hatred he bore to every thing that had respect to the person and glory of the Lord Jesus, might well account for his not even glancing at the Bethesda, which must have connected with it Christ's miracle there; rendered so memorable as it was, from the cure he wrought, by speaking a word, on the poor man, of a disease of thirty-eight years standing. And surely, no one who reads his history of Israel's Exodus, and their passage through the Red Sea, can be astonished that he should pass by all notice of the pool of Bethesda.

It is truly blessed to the believer in Christ, that his faith is not founded "in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." The Holy Ghost hath given his, testimony to the many blessed truths in his servant John's writings, and of consequence, to the reality and certainty of this pool of Bethesda among the rest. And I humbly conceive, that the pool itself was specially intended, by the mercy of the Lord, to be a standing miracle among his people during their dark estate from the departure of the Spirit of prophecy, which ended with Malaichi to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; as is to shew, that the Lord "had not cast away his people whom he foreknew." Here, therefore, was a direction to wait for Christ. And as he was "the fountain to be opened in that day, to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness," the pool of Bethesda might shadow forth his coming. So that when the Lord came and wrought the miracle on the poor man of long infirmity, without the ministry of the pool, this might shew that the intention for which this pool had been appointed was now answered, and the substance being come, the shadow ceased for ever, We hear no more of the pool of Bethesda, after this miracle of Christ in the cloisters of it; and, as is supposed, the efficacy of it was now no more.

I cannot take leave of the subject without first desiring the reader to remark with me, the improvement to be made of it. The Bethesdas of the gospel we still have, in the several ordinances and means of grace. But as then, it was the descent of an angel into the pool which gave efficacy to the waters, so now, it is by the coming of our Lord Jesus, the almighty angel of the covenant, into our midst, that any saving effect can be derived from the purest ordinances, or forms of worship. Where Jesus is not, there is no life-giving stream in any of the waters of ordinances. And it should be remarked, moreover, that our Bethesdas are not like this by the sheep market gate in Jerusalem. It is our mercy that the cure is not, as that was, limited to one poor sufferer, and him the first that came to it. But the gospel invitation in Jesus, is to every one that thirsteth. And the last is sometimes made first. And all that come, the Lord himself saith, "he will in no wise cast out." Yea, more than this still. Our Lord Jesus doth not limit his grace to our Bethesdas, or ordinances, but he worketh without them, (as in the instance of the poor man at the Jewish Bethesda) or with them, as seemeth best to his infinite wisdom, and for the display of his grace. Hail! thou glorious Healer! Jehovah Rophe of thy people! ( Exodus 15:26)

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [4]

("house of mercy".) A water reservoir, or swimming pool (as  John 5:2, Kolumbeethra , means), with five porches, or colonnades, close to the sheep gate ( Nehemiah 3:1) in Jerusalem. The porches accommodated those waiting for the troubling of the waters.  John 5:4, as to the angel troubling the water, is omitted in the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus manuscripts, but is found in the Alexandrinus, and  John 5:7 favors it. The angels, in a way unknown to us, doubtless act as God's ministers in the world of nature. Many curative agencies are directed by them ( Psalms 104:4). God maketh His angelic messengers the directing powers, acting by the winds and flaming lightning.

The angelic actings, limited and fitful, attested at that time that God was visiting His people, throwing into the brighter prominence at the same time the actings of the divine Son (compare Hebrew 1), who healed not merely one exceptionally but all who came to Him, whatever might be their disease, and instantaneously. Now Birket Israil, within the walls, close by Stephen's gate, under the N.E. wall of the Haram area. Eusebius, in the 3rd century, describes it as consisting of two pools and named Bezatha, answering to the N.E. suburb Bezetha in the gospel times. Robinson suggested that "the pool of the Virgin" may answer to "the pool of Bethesda," "the king's pool" in Nehemiah. Ganneau identifies with the church of Anne, mother of Mary, Beit Hanna, really actually Bethesda, "house of grace."

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [5]

House of mercy, the name of a pool or fountain near the temple in Jerusalem, with an open building over or near it, for the accommodation of the sick who came to try the healing efficacy of the water,  John 5:2 . Tradition locates this pool in what is now a large dry reservoir, along the outside of he north wall of the temple area. Robinson, however, shows the probability that this is but a portion of the trench, which separated Mount Moriah from the adjacent hill on the north. He suggests that the true Bethesda may perhaps be "The Fountain of the Virgin," so called, in the lower part of the valley of Jehoshaphat, eight hundred and fifty feet south of the temple area. This pool is of great antiquity, and seems to be fed from ancient reservoirs under the temple. Two flights of steps, sixteen and thirteen in number, with a platform of twelve feet between them, lead down to the pool; this is fifteen feet long, and five or six feet wide. Its waters rise and fall at irregular intervals, and flow down by a subterraneous channel to the pool of Siloam. It is supposed to be the "king's pool" of  Nehemiah 2:14 . Bethesda, even if known and accessible to us, has lost its healing power; but the fountain Christ has opened for sin, guilt, and death, is nigh to all and of never failing virtue.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [6]

Pool at Jerusalem, near the sheep market or gate, into which an angel occasionally descended and troubled the water. The person who first stepped in after this, was cured of whatever disease he had.  John 5:2 . This was a marvellous witness of God's mercy still left to Israel, though it met the need of those only who had sufficient strength to avail themselves of it, and did not reach the most weakly and destitute, whose condition truly sets forth the state of man spiritually. In contrast to the law, which was 'weak through the flesh,' the Son of God was there with life and liberty in His gift. The name signifies 'house of mercy:' cf.  Exodus 15:26 , "I am Jehovah that healeth thee."

The large pool, called 'Birket Israil,' near St. Stephen's Gate is the traditional Pool of Bethesda, but its identity is refused by most. There are other tanks in the city, and some prefer the 'fountain of the Virgin' outside of the city; but there is no certainty that any one of them is the pool mentioned in scripture.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [7]

Bethes'da. (House Of Mercy, or The Flowing Water). The Hebrew name of a reservoir or tank, with five "porches," close upon the sheep-gate or "market" in Jerusalem.  John 5:2. The largest reservoir - Birket Israil - 360 feet long, 120 feet wide and 80 feet deep, within the walls of the city, close by St. Stephen's Gate, and under the northeast wall of the Haram area, is generally considered to be the modern representative of Bethesda.

Robinson, however, suggests that the ancient Bethesda is identical with what is now called the Pool Of The Virgin , an intermittent pool, south of Birket Israil and north of the pool of Siloam.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [8]

BETHESDA . A reservoir at Jerusalem, remarkable (according to a gloss inserted in the text in some authoritative MSS) for a periodic disturbance of the water which was supposed to give it healing properties. Here were five porches. It was ‘by the sheep-gate.’ An impotent man, one of the many who waited for the troubling of the water, was here healed by Christ (  John 5:2 ). The only body of water at Jerusalem that presents any analogous phenomenon is the intermittent spring known as the Virgin’s Fountain, in the Kidron valley, but it is not near the Sheep-gate. There is little that can be said in favour of any other of the numerous identifications that have been proposed for this pool.

R. A. S. Macalister.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [9]

Bethesda ( Be-Thĕs-Dah ), House Of Mercy, Or Flowing Water. A pool in Jerusalem near the sheep-gate or market,  John 5:2-9; tradition has identified it with the modern pool Birket-Israil, 360 feet lone, 120 feet wide, and 80 feet deep, half filled with rubbish, but Schick recently discovered two pools about 100 feet northwest of and beneath the church of St. Anne (noticed in the tenth to fourteenth centuries), which answer better the Scripture description of Bethesda.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [10]

 Nehemiah 3:1 John 5:2 John 5:2

Holman Bible Dictionary [11]

 John 5:2 John 5:3-4

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [12]

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [13]

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [14]

bē̇ - thez´da ( Βηθεσδά , Bēthesdá  ; Textus Receptus of the New Testament,  John 5:2 (probably בּית חסדּא , bēth ḥiṣdā ), "house of mercy"); other forms occur as Bēthzathá and Bēthsaidá ):

1. The Conditions of the Narrative:  John 5:2

The only data we have is the statement in  John 5:2-4 : "Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a multitude of them that were sick, blind, halt, withered." Many ancient authorities add (as in the Revised Version, margin) "waiting for the moving of the water: for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water," etc.

The name does not help as to the site, no such name occurs elsewhere in Jerusalem; the mention of the sheep gate is of little assistance because the word "gate" is supplied, and even were it there, its site is uncertain. Sheep "pool" or "place" is at least as probable; the tradition about the "troubling of the water" (which may be true even if the angelic visitant may be of the nature of folk-lore) can receive no rational explanation except by the well-known phenomenon, by no means uncommon in Syria and always considered the work of a supernatural being, of an intermittent spring. The arrangement of the five porches is similar to that demonstrated by Dr. F. Bliss as having existed in Roman times as the Pool of Siloam; the story implies that the incident occurred outside the city walls, as to carry a bed on the Sabbath would not have been forbidden by Jewish traditional law.

2. The Traditional Site

Tradition has varied concerning the site. In the 4th century, and probably down to the Crusades, a pool was pointed out as the true site, a little to the Northwest of the present Stephen's Gate; it was part of a twin pool and over it were erected at two successive periods two Christian churches. Later on this site was entirely lost and from the 13th century the great Birket Israel , just North of the Temple area, was pointed out as the site.

Within the last quarter of a century, however, the older traditional site, now close to the Church of Anne, has been rediscovered, excavated and popularly accepted. This pool is a rock-cut, rain-filled cistern, 55 ft. long X 12 ft. broad, and is approached by a steep and winding flight of steps. The floor of the rediscovered early Christian church roofs over the pool, being supported upon five arches in commemoration of the five porches. At the western end of the church, where probably the font was situated, there was a fresco, now much defaced and fast fading, representing the angel troubling the waters.

3. A M ore Probable Site

Although public opinion supports this site, there is much to be said for the proposal, promulgated by Robinson and supported by Conder and other good authorities, that the pool was at the "Virgin's Fount" (see Gihon ), which is today an intermittent spring whose "troubled" waters are still visited by Jews for purposes of cure. As the only source of "living water" near Jerusalem, it is a likely spot for there to have been a "sheep pool" or "sheep place" for the vast flocks of sheep coming to Jerusalem in connection with the temple ritual. See Biblical World , Xxv , 80ff.