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“Sometime later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed” (John 5:1-4).

Both pools mentioned in the Gospel of John have now been identified – the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:2) and the Pool of Siloam. (John 9:7). The pool mentioned in chapter five turned out to have five colonnades (as described in the Gospel), but it was not structured as a pentagon. There were four colonnades separated in the middle by another one, thus forming the five colonnades just as the Gospel describes.

There are several good reasons to think that this structure (situated right outside of the old city but within walking distance from the Jerusalem Temple) was part of an Asclepion – a healing center dedicated to the Greco-Roman god of well-being and health, Asclepius. Devotion to Asclepius was widespread throughout the lands dominated by the Roman Empire. There were more than 400 Asclepions throughout empire functioning as healing centers and dispensers of the god’s grace and mercy towards those in need. The god’s mythical daughters included the goddesses Hygeia and Panacea. We can hear in their Greek names our modern words for “hygiene” and “panacea” – key concepts associated today with medicine and health. Snakes were a key component of Asclepius’s cult of health and healing. Even today, one of the key symbols of modern medicine is a pole with a snake wrapped around it.

Bethesda as Asclepion

The second-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr mentions a popular obsession with Asclepius among his contemporaries, saying: “When the Devil brings forward Asclepius as the raiser of the dead and healer of all diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise, he has imitated the prophecies about Christ?” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, 69)  Likewise, in a statement attributed to the second-century Jewish sage, Rabbi Akiva, we read: “Once Akiva was asked to explain why persons afflicted with disease sometimes returned cured from a pilgrimage to the shrine of an idol, though it was surely powerless.” (Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 55a) The Pool of Bethesda (Asclepion in Jerusalem branch) was probably part of the Hellenization of Jerusalem, along with several other important projects which included a Roman theater and a Roman bathhouse. It is probably in reference to such Hellenization of Jerusalem that Qumranite Jewish devotees (Essenes were the main opponents of the Pharisees), in their commentary on the Prophet Nahum, wrote: “Jerusalem… had become a dwelling for the wicked ones of the Gentiles…” (4QpNah)

In that case, the pool of Bethesda (“house of mercy” in Hebrew) may not have been a Jewish site at all, but may rather have been a Greek Asclepion-affiliated facility. It is very important to notice that in the healing recorded in chapter five of John’s Gospel, Jesus does not command the one He healed to wash himself in the pool (of Bethesda), while in the story of the healing of the blind man in chapter nine, he did issue a direct command to go and wash at the pool of Siloam. (Jn. 9:6-7) It, therefore, appears that while the pool of Bethesda was a pagan place (an Asclepion), the pool of Siloam was indeed connected with the Jerusalem Temple.

But what about the part of the text (included in some manuscripts) that mentions an angel of the Lord stirring the waters?

[… waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]

It seems that some Christian copyist, unfamiliar with the cult of Asclepius and the Pool of Bethesda’s affiliation with it, added the explanation about an angel of the Lord stirring up the waters in an attempt to clarify things for his readers. All of our earliest manuscripts omit this verse. While trying to help his readers, the scribe, unfortunately, sent all subsequent generations of readers in the wrong interpretive direction, missing the whole point of the story. The stirring up of the water was part of a ceremony when the priests of the Asclepius temple opened the connecting pipes between the higher and the lower portions of the pool. Because one set of pipes was higher than the other, this caused a “stirring” of the water in the pool. The water in the upper reservoir would flow into the lower portion of the pool, but a 4-5 century Christian scribe would not know that. This is an excellent illustration of the importance of recapturing a first-century, Jewish perspective on the Scriptures, but truth be told this is just a tip of the iceberg.

147 COMMENTS

  1. Your history and context has helped me to see vs 5:14 (so nothing worse may happen) as positive for the first time ever! This is a big deal to me because my negative interpretation was the result of replacement theology. Basically, I saw the Power (take your bed and walk), but didn’t understand what “My Father is working until now, and I am working” meant. I now think John 10:29 is a picture of the Father giving the man to Jesus. My confidence of how great the love of Christ is in this story has been restored. .

    • I am a Jew (and a follower and worshiper of Jesus), but one does not have to be a Jew to have a good grip on Jewish history, just like being a Jew does not guarantee that one does :-).

      • Brilliant truth !!! you would of been a great barean lol talk about study to show thyself approved !!! would you mind if I shared your email and this comment to my churches bible study and invite them to take your courses , I believe this would benefit them greatly their desire is to understand the bible in the Hebrew context I only go about once a month cause the other 3 weeks I’m answering hebraic roots questions for the teacher lol

  2. Thanks very much ! Your knowledge helps me often to understand the bible better. I wonder the translation of the word Bethesda; I heard that it also can be “House of shame” Is that correct? If it was an Aclepius-temple I could understand!

    • Thanks, Johanna. Actually, caduceus is a connected to Hermes and not to Asclepius, but also with snakes :-).

      • True, but the origin in deep antiquity is probably the same. “Some accounts suggest that the oldest known imagery of the caduceus have their roots in a Mesopotamian origin with the Sumerian god Ningishzida whose symbol, a staff with two snakes intertwined around it, dates back to 4000 B.C. to 3000 B.C.[4]” (from Wikipedia) It probably is a very ancient Indo-European symbol from prehistoric times, appearing in historical times as for instance the bronze serpent on a pole in the wilderness in the Bible, and the staff of Asclepius.

  3. Just thinking.This is not the first time that the symbol of the snake was used. The Lord used a bronze snake to heal people at Mount Sinai. When the people became disobedient, snakes came out and bit them. The Lord told Moses to make a bronze snake and mount it on a pole. Those that look upon the bronze snake would be heal and they were. There is more to the story, I am trying to keep this brief. it is interesting how this symbol has travel so far and for so long. Again, just think.

      • I have an idea about the bronze snake. The snake representing sin. Sin bites and must be defeated. Instructions for the tabernacle or temple always say, when it comes to bronze “so much bronze it could not be measured” Jesus became that sin on the tree for us to cover ALL sin; no sin too great. The snake is not a positive symbol but Jesus taking that on for us IS . The snake in the pole in the wilderness was prophetic symbol. Later, when Israel worshiped the pole, they are reprimanded. We are not to worship symbols

        • Need to clarify; Jesus/Yeshua is not a symbol. The snake lifted up was a symbol pointing to Him, the real. The snake here symbolizes sin and is a negative just as it is in relation to Asclepion. I remember the first time this thought entered my mind. I think in worship always about Yeshua! But in this symbol, He has become sin . It made me feel both the horror and love represented in Gethsemane and the cross.

    • The first mention of snakes and trees was in the Tree in the Garden of Eden. I have heard stories of it being a 7 headed serpent. A counterfeit of the Tree of Life which I believe is the Menorah. Do you have any teachings on the 2 trees in the midst of the garden? Thank you

    • Interesting study.Anyone in the Ambulance service will know that the snake is their emblem & yet if we are following Yeshua you wouldn’t want a snake anywhere near you.I know I wouldn’t.

  4. Thank-you for this important clarification, Dr. Eli. It has always seemed odd to me that this would be of the Elohim of Yisra’el. Seemed more like a situation of “push comes to shove”, with only the first person to enter the pool receiving healing. This would most certainly promote a “me first” attitude in those hopeful for healing. So good to hear the historical reasons behind this unrighteous situation. Not of Him at all : )

  5. Love, love lovemaking to learn the REAL good news. I am a Pastor’s daughter and my understanding of the bible has change so much in the last 4 years. Yahweh is walking me through a lot different direction, is like falling in LOVE again and again with the most high creator of everything. Thank you Professor Eli for your knowledge and teachings it has help me so much, my eyes has been opened coming from a Pentecostal background, WOW i have thankful for the teaching of those who love our Savior Jesus. Thanks you/ Muchas gracias….

  6. Your articles make my heart ache for the “KJB Only” folks. What profound truths they miss and how they limit their vision of God. I deeply appreciate your Jewish perspective and look forward to each “revelation.”

  7. What this tells me is that I need to reconnect to the Jewish roots of my faith. BTW I found out that I am 65% Iberian Jew (did a DNA test). What I don’t understand is how it was even allowed to make these kind of changes in the first place. Deuteronomy 4:2 “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it”(also Deuteronomy 12:32). I believe that the entire Old Testament and New Testament were originally written in Hebrew because each and every author was a Hebrew

  8. Another older Jewish view on Bethesda you can find in my dissertation: Simon the High Priest in Sirach 50, Suppl. JSJ 78, Leiden, Brill 2003 p. 110-115. (ISBN 90 04 12316 4). The twin pools are build by the High Priest Simon the Second as is mentioned in MsB the Hebrew version of Ben Sira 50 : 2 from the Cairo Geniza, found in 1896 ,by Solomon Schechter “Since, in his time, a reservoir was dug out, with a dividing wall therein on account of the water flow”. Sjalom! dr. Otto Mulder, Almelo, The Netherlands.

  9. Don’t tell a KJVO about the angel of the Lord verse)(John 5:4. They’ll scream “you’re hellbound” lol :)- Especially if they are the fundie type!

  10. I’ve seen the Asclepion in Pergamum, and a couple of other sites in Turkey – and believe Luke may have trained at one (perhaps Pergamum). But I never made the connection that Rome might have built one in Jerusalem! I always took the “angel stirring the water” at Bethesda as legend/tale told to the ‘uninitiated’ or superstitious majority – an ‘old wive’s tale’ as it were. I had also heard that the waters of Bethesda were formed from an intermittent ‘gushing’ of water as at the Pool of Siloam. You posit an interesting possibility. Thanks for the insight!

  11. Why in the O.T. When the Children of Israel were in the desert and got bit by the snakes, did Yahweh make Moses put a bronze snake on a pole for them to look at after they got bitten, to then be healed. Is this anything to do with the god Asclepius and it’ mabe origins.

    • More likely it foreshadowed Messiah, considering what Yeshu’a/Jesus said of Himself in John 3:14 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;” and again in John 12:32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

    • Someone above described it very well. The serpamt was a representation of sin in the garden. Jesus took all of our sin on the cross. The serpent that Moses held up was a representation of our sin being taken on my Christ that we may be forgiven.

  12. I believe that the stories of the Creek/Roman gods all stem from the Nephillim. Who slept with male/female people, to produce all these gods and demi-gods of ancient history. Do you think that this is how these myths came into being.

    • Let me start by saying that nefelim (in the Hebrew the fallen ones) and product of sexual union between sons of god and daughters of man. So the 1000000 dollar questions are who are the sons of god???? And how are the daughters of men? Out of all available option I am almost persuaded that the sons of god (are people of power) something like ancint Weinstein of Holywood taking adventure of the daughters of men (weaker positioned women).

  13. This information is just awesome! For years I have heard teachings of how the “angel of the Lord stirred the water etc” and I didn’t understand how a God who loves could be so cruel and only heal one person. I felt that Jesus had compassion on the man and healed him. It is really sad that there are teachers out there teaching that need to be taught. Thanks for sharing this information.

    • Blessings to you, Elizabeth. Jesus told missinformed people like us that they will know the truth and the truth will set them free.

  14. I was introduced to this fact about Bethesda in an article published in Jewish World Review several years ago called, “Did Jesus Celebrate Purim?” This pool had long been a burr under my hide because it’s only one tiny blip on the entire Biblical radar screen. There’s no mention of how it was initiated or why. It also has the deck stacked against those who needed its ‘healing’ the most because you had to be the first one in the pool.

  15. In 1986, my wife and I were treated to a trip ti Isra’el. During that time, we visited Bethesda where the stirring of the waters was explained as you have here. I thence considered the angel’s stirring as a human explanation. Now, to know it was possibly a pagan temple explains so much more, like the post cure washing. Thank you Dr. Eli. Your teachings are a great deal to me. Blessings!

  16. so what’s the difference between the pagan aesculapes’ and moses’ snake round the pole? The former being a counterfeit? If so, why use moses’ healing symbol?

  17. I do have a language question to help me tie things together. It is the Sabbath. Jesus said He was working(laying the foundation?). In vs 5:14 my English word is SIN (sin no more). Is the man to work no more? I am not sure what sin would mean on the Sabbath.

  18. If this is the case that the Pool of Bethesda was an Asclepion, then Yeshua was not only confronting the various sects of Judaism which forbade healing (a mitzva) on Shabbat; He was confronting directly the pagan gods who would have inhabited such a place. He was a true type A Jew; never shy about confrontation!

  19. When God is spoken of as lord in my Bible it is spelled LORD. But when lord is used as anyone else it is not capitalized. Is the angel of this lord referred to God or a different god? (Asclepius) which would be the devil?

  20. The angel and moving of the water always puzzled me, so this teaching makes it clear. Like all the idol worship temples of healing in Pergamon and Turkey / Asia Minor, are counterfeits of the temple of God, along with their bronze serpents raised up for healing as in the desert, which was a “once off” & never repeated in the Bible. So all such symbols are counterfeits. 1999 in Jerusalem we looked down to water about 2 storey deep and we were told it was the Pool of Bethesda. I found that difficult to believe. True or False???

  21. John 5:4 (king James version) ”For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool,….” not an angel of the Lord! which version are you referring to sir?

  22. I took the Hippocratic oath upon graduation from medical school (oath/prayer of Maimonides was not offered). I was Roman Catholic at the time. Eventually, I left medicine and became an ordained protestant minister. In my journey through the Hebrew roots of the faith, the Spirit of the Lord required me to renounce the Hippocratic oath in the presences of witnesses and destroy a plaque that I had been given with the oath on it. Paraphrased, “you shall take your oaths only in the name of YHVH.” Since Ascelpius can’t forgive sins, he can’t heal, Ps 103:3. B”H

  23. No disrespect to my Jewish brothers and sisters, but Moshe Rabainu was dealing with a stiff necked People or Nation in the making on their 40 year journey in the desert. The snakes lifted by Moshe in front of the People was to make them look up to their Creator for Salvation. The People were being broken by the Potter and reshaped to become vessels of the Almighty, Blessed be He. Nothing to do with any pagan god. Shabbat Shalom

  24. In the article claiming that the earliest manuscripts don’t have that verse?!?? According to who? If you’re referring to the corrupted manuscripts that have its origins in Alexandria, Egypt, then yes. However, the manuscripts that originated in Antioch where Christianity had its pure roots, from where we get the KJV, Geneva, The Great Bible, plus over 5,000 manuscripts support that verse. Whereas the ancient manuscripts falsely claim that it wasn’t in the originals, is only supported by two different manuscripts.

  25. You need a good proof reader and someone with some style. This is written like childhood nonsense and totally degrades your message. Unless you are writing for little children.

    • There is a great story about Charles Spurgeon that has to do with your comment :-). After the service someone came up to this legendary preacher and said: “Pastor I counted that during your sermon you made 674 English language mistakes! You should really work on resolving these issues they don’t allow me to concentrate on the sermon itself”. The preacher looked at the man and said: “Look, I am doing my best for Jesus. What are you doing?” Disclaimer: Our articles are proofread by our wonderful volunteers and we are truly grateful to them for their incredible help. Our writing style is purposeful and our staff suggests that you find yourself a better place of learning :-).

      • Exactly! Well said!! – If writing is so confusing or so ‘profound’ that only those with college degrees can understand it then it isn’t the style of Jesus and the apostles, who made truth accessible to all. The fact is that truth in itself is profound. We don’t need to try and spice it up to impress people.

    • I am an English lecturer at university level and I understood everything in the article as well as any comments by Dr. Eli. Good communication is largely about making oneself understood, not making one’s writing to be perfect in grammar. Keep up the good work Dr. Eli and ignore such comments. I HEAR YOU LOUD AND CLEAR! 🙂

  26. I am wondering if the phrase ‘an angel went down at a certain season into the pool…’ is written from the perspective of those waiting at the pool? The word angel usually refers to heavenly messengers, but at times is used of earthly messengers. Could the angel in this case be one of the temple priests who opened the connecting pipes? [Just thinking.]

    • @ Donald, I believe that is a distinct possibility. Just as in Hebrew, the word “malakh” literally means “messenger” but is used in various contexts (earthly and not earthly), so is the Greek word “angelos” used in different contexts. In the apostolic writings, it is almost always used in the context of “angel of the LORD” or something equivalent. However, it is also used in Acts 12 to refer to Peter’s “ghost”, and in 1 Cor. 12 to refer to Paul’s “messenger of Satan”.

      Perhaps a proper translation here would be “a Roman flunkie”. You never know 🙂 .

  27. Dr. Eli May I asked a question? If the Romans and Greek were into pagan worship why are the women not allowed to be a female Pope? The Church of Rome has destroyed itself by allowing their Popes to molest little boys and girls in their congregations. Rape has been so bad within the Christians Church of Rome I want nothing to do with them anymore. Jesus would have never raped the people, in fact, he taught both the males and females in the first century. Waiting for my books to arrive. Thank you Amen

    • It is true that the Roman Catholic Church in some locations, until recently, engaged in the protection of perpetrators of these crimes. Having said that, it is important to know that the Protestant church has had its fair share of sexual abuse allegations. The majority of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians are godly men and women who would never engage or condone this great injustice.

  28. About the pools in Jerusalem.From John 5.Jesus heals the man who had been an invalid for 38 years.Question was asked;Why do we find Jesus doing individual ministry in the city but with the crows near Galilee?The answer;The city was under Roman law which prevented more than 10 people to gather together.The countryside of Galilee was under civilian law,therefore Jesus could teach the crowds.Is this true.I’ve search for this answer but can’t find it.

  29. Be careful here. An Asclepion would be present at the end of the 2nd century! Could we look at Eshmun instead? Either way you want to look at this- Asclepius or Eshmun- they are not gods. Isaiah 44:20-22 and Isaiah 44:9 We can also look at ancient texts like Josephus and letters. A letter by Aristeas to Philocrates (84-91) mentions size location and how a natural spring exists to wash away the blood of the sacrifices.

  30. Thanks for this info. A question: John 5:14 (sickness as a result of sin).Is not a strange view by Jesus (John’s view of Jesus)as a Jew (Ezekiel 18)?

  31. Hi Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Thank you for sharing your insights from a Messianic Jew (if I can call you that) perspective. I felt it a strange story, with an angel (αγγελος) stirring the waters, etc., but if, as you suggest, there is good evidence that the original manuscript didn’t contain that explanation, then it makes a lot of sense. God bless you and your ministry.

  32. Just reading all the notes or communications published here makes me persuaded I should start studying with you, Dr. Eli. Which group of Messianic congregations are you associated with? Can one become a member of one of them on Online? I have an Mac Version 10. Can we correspond through the Mac Online and can a course be taken from you Online? Can I use my Visa to sign up with you? I have already taken Hebrew so do not know where that would fit into courses? Also, I have a hearing problem. Is that a detriment for studying?

  33. “When the Devil brings forward Asclepius as the raiser of the dead and healer of all diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise, he has imitated the prophecies about Christ?” This quotation is interesting and quite revealing, especially in connection with the word translated as witchcraft or sorcery or some such synonym as found in Galatians 5:19-21, Revelation 9:21, Revelation 18:23, and Revelation 21:8. The Greek word that God had Paul and John use was the word pharmakeia which means drug induced witchcraft.

  34. Revelation 18:23 says that in the last days, the merchants, who are the world’s great, powerful, and influential men, will deceive the people with their pharmakeia (pharmaceutical). With pharmaceuticals and the dark power behind them as they imitate God’s world with their synthetics, they imitate Christ and, as I foresee it, they will help usher in the anti-Christ, coming with great power, light, and touting his healing abilities. The nations have already been deceived to a great extent. People can now legally claim that only drugs heal people. To claim anything else is tantamount to sacrilege and illegal.

  35. I enjoy reading your comments of scripture, they are very informative and I’ve learned a lot about the ancient meanings they hold.

  36. Doesn’t the snake symbol in medicine come from the serpent that was lifted up on the pole in the wilderness during the time of Moses?

  37. Thanks so much, Dr. Eli! In what year did extra text about the angel stirring up the waters begin to appear in Scripture, and in which texts/versions are the additions? Are we to understand that none of the original texts included this phrase?

  38. To my conclusion after reading the artical and comments,are certain parts of the bible not true,according to the teachings of Dr.Eli Lizorkin -Eyzenberg.

    • Another conclusion would be that the Bible was written to a specific audience about a specific issue in a specific context, culture and setting, and it may not apply identically to another audience at a later time and different context.

  39. Thank you for clairifing the difference in the two pools, it would make sense that Jesus would not have sent the man to a pagan pool to wash himself.

  40. Many thanks for helping me to differentiate more clearly between the two poles and to be able to explain it to my church members and colleagues!
    The question about variants is an interesting point you made that is helpful for my theological exploration.
    Dr Eli, could you provide me with a safe links to have access of some of the oldest manuscripts that you were referring to?
    Thanks in advance!

  41. Shalom Dr Eli and apologies for going slightly off topic. In the course of doing some research I found a reference that ashes from a sacrifice were (sometimes) given to the person offering the sacrifice. Is it possible for you to verify or disprove this?
    Thanks in advance

      • Shalom and thank you Dr. Eli any of sacrifices actually (including the “Red Heifer”) Your answer will affect a virtual recreation of the Temple Mount hence the question. (Email if you can as I have more questions).

  42. When I ran across this explanation years ago, it provided understanding of the question Jesus asks the man, which sounds cruel: “Do you want to be healed?” Of course he does. He came back over & over & failed. But Jesus may be saying, “If so, this is the WRONG

  43. (continued) “This is the WRONG place. The God of Israel is not here. But I will heal you in the midst of pagan worship and superstitions.” And He does. So, as others have said, Jesus launches a polemic simultaneously against human traditions about healing on the Sabbath AND pagan gods.

  44. Question: Jewish archeologists recently (2018) claimed that Bethesda is a mikveh and the steps uncovered on more than one side proves it. It is more “convenient” to explain some of the problems in the story if we can establish that Bethesda was a pagan healing pool in the 1st century.

  45. I would expect pagan healing pools to have steps, too, so that argument is not very convincing. But I don’t think archeologists have dated any artifacts at Bethesda related to Asclepius to the 1st century. Have they found evidence that Asclepius devotion existed there in the 1st century?

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