Pool of Bethesda

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The name of the pool is said to be derived from the Hebrew and/or Aramaic language. Beth hesda (בית חסד/חסדא), means either house of mercy or house of grace. These pools supplied water to the temple during the times of the first and second temple (until Herod).


The Pool of Bethesda (from the eastern side, looking west) is a pool of water in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, on the path of the Beth Zeta Valley. It is known from the New Testament story of healing the paralytic at Bethesda, from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John; the gospel describes a pool in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. The length of each side, covering both pools, was about 131 yards. The width was about 55 yards and the pools were about 49 feet deep.

circa 1138 CE

Around 200 BCE, during the period in which Simon II was the Jewish High Priest, this second pool was added on the south side of the dam. The pool of Bethesda as seen from the western side, looking east. The steps leading into the southern pool which lead scholars to believe the southern pool was a mikvah, a place for the tens of thousands of Jews visiting Jerusalem during the three annual pilgrimage feasts to become ritually pure.

Pool of Bethesda during the time of Jesus

circa 10 CE

A reconstruction [Locate] of the twin pools in the Holyland Model of Jerusalem. John speaks of a pool surrounded by five covered colonnades. The northern pool (right) and southern pool (left) were surrounded by colonnades and the dam between them also had a colonnade. The pools of Bethesda were located north-east of Antonia Fortress.

Archaeological remains

circa 100 BCE

Roman Era Baths and Asclepieion
In the 1st century BCE, natural caves to the east of the two pools were turned into small baths, as part of an asclepieion; however, the Mishnah implies that at least one of these new pools was sacred to Fortuna, the goddess of fortune, rather than Asclepius, the god of healing. In the mid 1st century CE, Herod Agrippa expanded the city walls, bringing the asclepieion into the city. When Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, he placed a roadway along the dam, and expanded the asclepieion into a large temple to Asclepius and Serapis.

circa 100 BCE

These baths and grottoes were used for medicinal and religious purposes, mostly by invalids which were barred from the temple. In this aear are stone baths, water channels, vaulted rooms and grottoes which were part of the healing center. Here, Jesus met the sick people bathing in the waters, and cured a paralytic.

circa 420 CE

Byzantine Period
In the Byzantine period, the asclepieion was converted to a church (illustration). Empress Eudocia (c. 401–460 CE) built an huge basilica over the Pools of Bethesda, named "Mary where she was born". This church was destroyed in 614 CE by the Persians. The pillar base in the upper left corner with a Byzantine cross is a support for St. Mary of the Probatic (sheep pool in Latin). The south-western side of the Byzantine church was located in the south pool. It was supported by seven arches, three of them are visible.

circa 1110 CE

Crusader Era
This church is also depicted on the Madaba Map. After the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem, this much smaller church was built among the Byzantine-period ruins on the stone dyke separating the two pools, known as the Church of the Paralytic or the Moustier ('the Monastery'); it was followed by a larger new church erected nearby.

Nearby Structures

circa 1138 CE

Crusader Era Church of Saint Anne
This larger church of Saint Anna, completed in 1138, was built over the site of a grotto believed by the Crusaders to be the birthplace of Mary, mother of Jesus and was named for Mary's mother, Saint Anne. After the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin it was transformed into a Shafi`i fiqh (Islamic law school). Gradually the buildings fell into ruin, becoming a midden (waste dump).


Lions' Gate of Jerusalem
The Lions' Gate, Arabic: باب الأسباط‎, also St. Stephen's Gate or Sheep Gate) is located in the Old City Walls of Jerusalem, Israel and is one of seven open Gates in Jerusalem's Old City Walls. Near the gate’s crest are four figures of leopards, often mistaken for lions, two on the left and two on the right.

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