Pools of Bethesda Puzzle Archaeologists

Aerial View of Pools of Bethesda

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Truth or Fiction?

Most attacks on the historicity and the veracity of the Bible in the early 1900’s began with the premise that there were no secular records that contained evidence verifying Biblical accounts about the flood, the life of King David, or even the numerous Israelite enemies inhabiting the land God promised to His chosen people.  In addition, the authorship of the Bible came under attack when many claimed, with absolute certainty mind you, that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because the invention of writing did not occur in time for Moses to jot down his inspired account of the exodus!  Into the fray and riding to the rescue came 20th century archaeologists, specialists who took excavating the land of the Bible and the cradle of civilization to new heights.  They began using every fragment, every colossal or minuscule ruin, to deepen our understanding of the ancient Biblical world and the precious Word of God.

Pool of Bethesda
Pools of Bethesda

The Five-Sided Pools of Bethesda

One of my favorite sites in Israel are the Bethesda Pools next to St. Anne’s Crusader Church. Many Biblical finds do not even make it into the news, and the Pools of Bethesda excavation is one that missed the front page.  These pools are the site of one of Christ’s most famous miracles, found in John’s Gospel, Chapter 5.  It isn’t the only miracle performed in a Jerusalem pool, Jesus healed a blind man at the Pool of Siloam, another pool unearthed in 2005 with hardly any news fanfare either!  But getting back to the Pools of Bethesda, John describes it as a five-sided pool with porches. “Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda with five covered porches.”

Steps Into Southern Pool of Bethesda (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)
Steps Into Southern Pool of Bethesda (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)

Real People and Places, Real God

 No one disputes the location of this pool, the Sheep Gate, used by the Israelites as they brought sacrificial lambs to the Temple, gives it away.  Ask yourself, why would John be so exact in his description?  Sheep Gate, Five-sided pool??  He could have given less attention to the location and description.  He could have  just recounted the miracle, but he didn’t!  God wants us to understand that He is just as real as the locations and accounts of the Bible.

Northern Pool of Bethesda (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)
Northern Pool of Bethesda (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)

Putting The Puzzle Together

The excavation of the Bethesda Pools happened in the late 19th century, long before many other Biblical ruins and fortifications were found, and it took 100 years for archaeologists to accurately identify the site. The location, near the Temple Mount,  is in a residential area making it a difficult site to excavate. The ruin was a puzzle to many, discounted as the site of the miracle by some, while numerous other scholars came to the conclusion that John simply used creative license in his description of the pool. Yet, when this site was fully excavated it revealed a rectangular pool with two basins divided by a wall….Yes!  a five-sided pool…..with each side having a covered porch or portico just as John described in his Gospel….the what and where verified!

St Catherines Monastery at Mount Sinai (Photo: Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)
St Catherines Monastery at Mount Sinai (Photo: Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Moses Could Write

Archaeological excavations have verified, among copious other things, that writing was common centuries before Moses answered God’s call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, that the Hittites were a real and formidable power who once dominated and controlled parts of Syria and Palestine, and the Israelites were definitely taken into captivity by the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires, all exactly as detailed in Biblical accounts, including dates, people and places. Stay tuned though, the contribution of archaeology to the historicity and veracity of the Bible is far from over.

Qumran Caves
Qumran Caves

Best “Climate Control” In The World

Every day new discoveries piece together the puzzle of the past for us. I don’t think it’s an accident that Biblical scrolls, now called the Dead Sea Scrolls, were placed in containers and put inside Judean Desert caves in the driest, lowest point on earth where the world’s perfect “climate control” preserved them to be found in God’s perfect timing.  He constantly gives us  proof of His faithfulness, His redeeming work in the world and reasons to trust His Word and His love.  If the geography, history and people of the Bible are proving to be accurate through these incredible discoveries, then His love, grace and mercy must also be true.  To see these incredible sites, discoveries and truths for yourself, visit the Holy Land on a faith based tour, you will return changed and confident in God’s Word.

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