Beth-Zatha

BETH-ZATHA bĕth zā’ thə (Βηθζαθα—Aram? בֵּת זֵיתָא, house of the olive). A pool in Jerusalem, by the sheep gate, having five porches and called in the Heb. tongue “Bethesda” or “Bethzetha.”

This site appears only once in the Bible: the gospel of John (5:2). The location of the pool was near the “sheep (gate)” with the word gate being supplied. The KJV reads “sheep (market)” the RSV “Sheep Gate” and others like Theodore of Mopsuestia, Ammonius Nonnus and H. A. W. Meyer read “sheep pool.” Sheep gate is usually where sheep were sold for sacrifice in the Temple (Neh 3:32; 12:39). It was located on the NE side of the city near the Temple. All three variants above locate the site near the Temple because of the association of sheep, sacrifices and Temple.

In 1888 K. Schick excavated a site not far from the church of St. Anne and found twin pools, one fifty-five ft. long and the other sixy-five ft. long. The former one was arched in by five arches with five corresponding porches. The Crusaders regarded this as the site of the John 5 passage, for they built a church over this pool with a crypt imitating the five porches and an opening in the floor to get down to the water.

The true reading of the name appears to be Bethzetha which prob. means “house of the Olive.” Most tr. the name as “house of loving-kindness or mercy” or even “house of pillars” (Delitzsch), but both the original name and meaning remain uncertain.

None of the Jewish writers, including Josephus, refer to this pool. Eusebius wanted to have the healing virtue reside in red-colored water which he supposed flowed from the blood of the Temple sacrifices, but this is all made unnecessary by the context (John 5:4). Origen and Cyril of Jerusalem also testify to the presence of a spring which intermittently flowed with a ruddy color and an agitated spring is now known.

Bibliography

K. Schick, “Pool of Bethesda,” PEQ (188) 115, 134; (1890) 19; W. R. Nicoll, Expositor’s Greek Testament (1967), 736; E. W. Hengstenberg, Gospel of John (1865), 256-259; E. W. G. Masterman, “The Pool of Bethesda,” PEQ (1921), 91-100.