Wednesday, April 1, 33 AD


"Now it happened on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel..." (Luke 2:1).

The gospels do not mention this day. Luke relates only that "each day Jesus was teaching at the Temple... and all the people came early in the morning to hear him." Undoubtedly the city was still alive with speculation about him. After his spectacular entry on Sunday, however, his actions had been less than Messiah-like. During the previous days he was doing little more than teach and debate theology with the Jewish leaders at the Temple. At night, he would go off to an unknown location. He showed no signs of setting himself up as a national champion.

Already, spies paid by the Temple authorities were moving in and out of the crowds gathered for the Passover, collecting evidence and seeking information on where Jesus spent his evenings, away from the large crowds that came to hear him during the day. It may have been on this day that Judas Iscariot arranged for a sum of money to betray him. Had he lost faith? Had he become disillusioned because Jesus had not seized power? It is unlikely that the 30 silver coins* was temptation enough (although it was rather large sum of money). John tells us that he acted as treasurer for the group, but he was a thief who "used to help himself to what was put into" the common money bag. Judas never displayed a high commitment to Jesus, nor was he motivated by service to others. His true motives have been lost to history.

*Thirty silver coins: the compensation price for a slave killed by an ox; equivalent to 120 denarii. One denarius (right) was the customary payment for a day's work. The chief priests were thus willing to pay Judas five months' wages (based on a 6-day work week) for his betrayal.

John records two healing miracles that took place during Jesus' earlier visits to Jerusalem. However, it seems appropriate that we discuss them here. Both involve pools that were part of the city's ancient water storage system.

In the footsteps of Jesus...


Healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda   October 31 AD, presumably at the Feast of Tabernacles

Clustered around our faithful guide Doran, we find ourselves this morning walking up the fairly steep access road leading to the Lions Gate (below left). Today, the only eastern entrance to the Old City, it is named for the relief carvings of two pairs of lions, the emblems of the Mameluke sultan Baybars (260-1277 AD), which the architects of the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, recycled, placing them on either side of the entrance arch. Built in 1538 AD, Suleiman called it Bab al-Ghor ("Jordan Gate." But the name never took hold. Various groups refer to it by other names. Some Christian Arabs call it Bab Sittna Miriam ("the Gate of Our Lady Mary") in reference to a tradition that it leads to the tomb of the Virgin Mary. Christians also call it St. Stephen's Gate because tradition holds that Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death nearby; however, the story and the name were originally attached to the Damascus Gate. Others call it the Bab al-Riha, the Jericho Gate, because the road to Jericho begins from here. At the time of Jeremiah, there was a gate at or nearby known as the Gate of Benjamin, were the road to the territory of Benjamin began. Somewhat to the west was the Sheep Gate of Jesus' day, where the sheep headed for sacrificial slaughter in the Temple were brought for washing in the nearby pools of Bethesda. Like the Jaffa Gate in the southern wall, it originally had an L-shaped internal structure with a 90 bend to prevent a direct breach by invaders. During the British Mandate it was opened to allow vehicle access to the Austrian Hospital inside. The Lions Gate faces the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane directly across the Kidron Valley and opens onto the street leading to the first stations of the cross on the Via Dolorosa.

Just inside the gate, we pass through a portal on our right into the tranquil courtyard of the Church of St. Anne (above right), built by Crusaders in 1142 AD. Stepping inside the church we heard what sounded like the church's chancel choir singing in English. Instead, we saw only a small group of fellow Americans singing at the top of the lungs... "Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes, Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies..." As they sang, their voices bounced off the walls and echoed through the cavernous sanctuary. Their song completed, they reverted to tourists and began snapping photos, before exiting into the courtyard to resume their pilgrimage.
Now it is our turn. Taking their places in the pews, we began our own impromptu hymn fest: "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me..."

We listened spellbound as the sound of our own voices echoed back to us. The golden stones and Gothic arches around us took our untrained voices and momentarily transformed us into the Robert Shaw Choral. Two more a cappella hymns later, we too picked up our cameras and reverted to tourists, but the memory of the awesome experience lingered long afterwards. Someone commented that St. Anne's would be a perfect venue for Gregorian chant. Outside the church entrance we turn right.

Crossing the courtyard we now stand above the sun-drenched remains of the Pools of Bethesda (foreground of above photo). Peering downward into the deep pits surrounded by stones, crumbling bricks, broken pillars and remains of chapels (below), Doran says, "These pools are important to Christians because they are the setting for Jesus' miraculous healing of a man crippled for thirty-eight years, recorded only by John:

"Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, 'Do you want to get well?' 'Sir,' the invalid replied, 'I have no-one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.'

Then Jesus said to him, 'Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.' At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, 'It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat. But he replied, 'The man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.' So they asked him, 'Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?' The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, 'See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.' The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him" (John 5:2-16).

(Above left and right) Peering down into the remains of the Pool of Bethesda with remains of structures from various eras. The pool began in the 8th century BC with the construction of a dam across the Beth Zeta valley, turning it into a reservoir for rain water. The reservoir became known as the Upper Pool. Around 200 BC a second pool was added on the south side of the dam. At the time of Jesus, the double pool "which in Aramaic is called Bethesda," was outside the city walls, near the "Sheep Gate." The gospel of John describes it as "surrounded by five covered colonnades," indicating that there was a covered portico on each side of the pool, with a fifth running along a wide rock partition between its two halves.

(Right) section of the model of 1st century AD Jerusalem at the Israel Museum showing
the Pool of Bethesda around the time of Jesus. Also note the road entering the Sheep
Gate and the Antonia Fortress, where the Roman garrison was stationed in Jerusalem.

The pools were a kind of spa where healings were thought to take place, and many sick and crippled people gathered there in the hope of being cured. When Jesus asked the man if he wanted "to get well," he replied, "I have no-one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred." The use of this phrase suggests several things: that the pool was fed by a spring which gushed periodically; that its healing properties were thought to be greater when the water moved; that the Gospel was written to a Greek audience, because there was a common belief in the Greek world that moving water was associated with the gods and with healing (as you may recall from our earlier stop at Banias/Caesarea Philippi at one of the main sources of the Jordan River north of the Sea of Galilee). But, rather than help the man down into the pool, Jesus healed him with a simple command, proving his divine authority. Only after the healing are we told that it was the Sabbath and when the man appears at the Temple carrying his mat he is confronted by Jews (probably Pharisees) whose only concern is for the man's violation of strict regulations specified in the Mishnah forbidding all forms of labor on the Sabbath. The former cripple then escaped any guilt by passing the blame to Jesus who healed him, to which Jesus responded, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." (John 5:17)

In John's Gospel this event marks a turning point in Jesus' life because the Jewish authorities became openly hostile toward him, even seeking to kill him, because he claimed to have a special relationship with God a relationship so close as to make himself "equal with God." (John 5:18)

The meaning of the name Bethesda (Bethzatha in RSV) is not completely clear. Some say it comes from the Hebrew words bayith, meaning "house," and hesed, meaning "mercy." But others connect it to the 1st century when this area of the city and the olive groves beyond were part of a new suburb called "Bezetha" (from Hebrew bayith and zayith, "house of the olive"), that was developing to the north of the city walls. Some ancient manuscript sof the gospel of John, include Beth-zatha and Bethsaida (not to be confused with Bethsaida by the Sea of Galilee), although the latter is considered to be a corruption by biblical scholars. The "Sheep Gate" of John's gospel no longer exists. Today, the excavated site of the Pool of Bethesda (now dry) is within the city walls, just inside the Lions Gate. It is one of a few places in Jerusalem where we can say with absolute certainty that Jesus actually stood (albeit at a lower level). Over the centuries since the time of Jesus, several structures have been built on the site including a Roman temple dedicated to Asclepius (the Greek god of healing), replaced in the 5th century by a Byzantine church built by the Empress Eudoxia and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was destroyed in 1009 by Caliph al-Hakim. In the 12th century AD, the Crusaders built the smaller Church of the Paralytic over what had been the northern nave of the Byzantine church. The remains of these structures are identified by various colored signs as you make the circuit around the excavations.

At this point on a normal guided tour, we would return to the area inside the portal of the Lions Gate and head west to follow the Via Dolorosa. But our goal is to read John's account of the restoration of a blind man's sight after washing in the waters of the Pool of Siloam in its actual setting. So, instead, we exit the gate, head back down the steep road into the Kidron Valley, then turn right to follow, first Derekh Ha-Ophel past the Golden Gate and the Muslim cemetery along the base of eastern city wall, then Siloam Way to the extreme southern end of the ancient City of David, the oldest part of the city, where the early kings of Judah David, Hezekiah, Manasseh etc. resided and where Solomon had his gardens. The relatively small area of about 11 to 12 acres is now completely outside the circuit of walls, but at the time of Jesus it was inside. At the extreme south end was the rock-cut pool called Siloam:

Healing of a blind man after washing at the Pool of Siloam Between October and December 32 AD


"As he [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no-one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.' Having said this, he spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 'Go,' he told him, 'wash in the Pool of Siloam' (this word means sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing." (John 9:1-7)

Siloam is a Greek name derived from the Hebrew shiloah or siloah, meaning "sent," a term which John uses as a play on words to emphasize his point that the blind man was sent to Siloam by Jesus, the one who was sent. To gain his sight, the blind man obeyed the one who was sent:

The Pool of Siloam was originally built in the 8th century BC as a storage reservoir for the water from the 1,750-foot-long Hezekiah's Tunnel that diverted water from the Gihon Spring, Jerusalem's only permanent source of fresh water. Under the threat of a siege by the armies of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, king Hezekiah blocked "off the water from the springs outside the city" (2 Chronicles 32:3) and brought them inside the perimeter of the city walls. Even by today's standards the tunnel was an extraordinary engineering achievement and was dug by workers tunneling with pickaxes from both ends simultaneously. It may be the pool referred to as the "reservoir between the two walls" in Isaiah 22:9-11, and referred to elsewhere as the "Upper Pool" (2 Kings 18:17, Isaiah 7:3 and Isaiah 36:2).

Both Hezekiah's Tunnel and the Pool of Siloam were in use in Jesus' time. The Jews held ritual purification ceremonies at the pool, particularly around the Feast of Tabernacles when water was carried to the Temple in a large gold pitcher, possibly in the mistaken belief that the pool was the original spring of David's city. Even today, Hezekiah's tunnel still flows with water up to waist-high.

It was probably included in Herod's vast building program in Jerusalem in the 1st century BC, possibly forming part of a huge bathhouse that is thought to have existed at the end of the Tyropoeon Valley which divided the Upper City from the Lower City at the time of Jesus. It would not have survived the sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans who, as stated by Flavius Josephus, "set all on fire as far as Siloam." (Wars of the Jews, book 6, chapter 7:2)

A reconstruction of the pool in 135 AD by the emperor Hadrian is mentioned by the anonymous Bordeaux Pilgrim (333 AD). Christians were attracted to the pool because of its association with Jesus' healing miracle, and a church was built above it by the empress Eudocia (c. 450 AD). Excavations attest the description by the Piacenza pilgrim (570 AD): "You descend by many steps to Siloam, and above Siloam is a hanging basilica beneath which the water of Siloam rises." This church was destroyed by the Persians in 614 AD, but the tradition of the curative powers of the water, mentioned by Byzantine pilgrims, continued among the Arabs. In the 5th century the  pool was substantial remodeled at the behest of the Empress Aelia Eudocia. This pool, having been somewhat abandoned and left to ruin, partly survives to the present day; surrounded by a high wall of stones on all sides (except for an arched entrance to Hezekiah's tunnel - which was only rediscovered in the 19th century), the pool is quite small, and has a modestly sized mosque next to (and partly over) it. Today, the minaret of the mosque marks the location of the pool (below left).


Rediscovery of the Pool of Siloam of Jesus' time

In the summer of 2004, workers making repairs to a damaged sewage pipe discovered some large stone steps. Archaeologists realized that at long last the ancient Pool of Siloam of Jesus' time had finally been uncovered (above right).

The Pool of Siloam was a freshwater reservoir and a major gathering place for ancient Jews making religious pilgrimages to the city. It was a much grander affair than archaeologists previously believed. It was about 225 feet long, with three groups of five stairs each, separated by narrow landings, allowing easy access to the water.

Only the steps on three sides have been uncovered and it is not known how wide and how deep the pool was because the fourth side lies under a lush garden filled with figs, pomegranates and cabbages behind a Greek Orthodox Church. The newly discovered pool is less than 200 yards from the Pool of Siloam built by the empress Eudocia of Byzantium (modern Istanbul), who oversaw the rebuilding of several biblical sites.

"Scholars have said that there wasn't a Pool of Siloam and that (the gospel of) John was using a religious conceit" to illustrate a point, said New Testament scholar James H. Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary. "Now, we have found the Pool of Siloam...exactly where John said it was. A gospel that was thought to be pure theology is now shown to be grounded in history."

The discovery puts a new spotlight on what is called the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a trip that religious law required ancient Jews to make at least once a year, said archaeologist Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, who excavated the site.

"Jesus was just another pilgrim coming to Jerusalem," he said. "It would be natural to find him there."

Jesus' Life Home n Thursday, April 2, 33 AD