Two Ancient Pools - Two Miraculous Healings - Yet Major Differences
Updated: Jan 23, 2022
The Apostle John is the only gospel writer to record the healing of a lame man at the pool of Bethesda and a man born blind at the pool of Siloam. Both of these men have a miraculous encounter with Yeshua (Jesus) and yet, the situations surrounding their healings are completely different. The two pools which we encounter in the stories should offer the reader with some depth into their encounters which most scholars have overlooked.
Let's examine these two pools which we encounter in each story.
The first story is recorded in John 5:2-17. Here we find the lame man lying by the pool of Bethesda which means “house of mercy”. Some scholars believe this pool was used as a ceremonial pool, mikveh, for the Temple. Although this could be a possibility it is highly unlikely. Modern archaeology has demonstrated that this pool lay outside of the temple walls during the time of Yeshua and that it was built over the Asclepion. The Asclepion was an ancient pagan healing center which was dedicated to the Greco-Roman god of health and well-being, Asclepius. Many hundreds of these healing facilities were located throughout the Roman empire. The god Asclepius was adored among the people for his mercy towards the people. Snakes were a large part of Asclepius' cult of health and well-being. This would probably be where the symbol of the snake on a pole originated in modern medicine.
The lame man, for 38 years, had been lying at this pagan pool when Yeshua finds him. He claims that “when the waters were stirred” that he could not get into the water to be healed because someone else always beat him into the waters.
The phrase in verse 3-4, “waiting for the moving of the water, for an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water; whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had” is not found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts and thus should be excluded from the reading of the story. It is most likely that a scribe from a later time period inserted this portion of the text to try and bring meaning to something that he did not understand or based upon a tradition that he had heard circulating. The addition only added to the misunderstanding of the passage. The pool had an upper and lower pool and whenever the priests of Asclepius would open the connecting conduit between the pools it would cause the water to bubble. This is when the people would jump in.
Understanding the pagan nature of this pool changes the context of the story in contrast to the story of the blind man and the Pool of Siloam. This lame man trusted in the occult and pagan religion of the Roman gods. Yeshua found him and brought him out of this idolatry. Yeshua would advise this man not to continue in his life of sin. This fits very well in the description of this pool being a pagan pool and the lame man being involved in this cult/idolatry. Notice that Yeshua did not tell this man to go and wash in the Pool of Bethesda like he told the blind man to wash in the Pool of Siloam. The Son of God walked into the Asclepion and delivered this poor soul by simply telling him to “take up his bed and walk”.
Now let's contrast the Pool of Shiloah (Siloam). We can read about this pool in John 9:1-41. This pool was at the southern approach to the Temple Mount, inside the city walls. It was fed by the Gihon springs. According to Jerome the spring did not send forth water continually, but on “certain times and days...” It was a small current of water that moved softly and slowly instead of rapidly like a rapid river. Because of its ebb and tide it is regarded as an arm of the sea. Because of this easy and gentile movement and because of its proximity to the City of David it came to be associated with the House of David, and thus the Kingdom of God. So, Jerusalem, the Temple, and the worship of the true God were symbolized in the waters of Shiloah which means “sent”.
In Isaiah 8:6 it states “the people refused, the waters of Shiloah that goes so softly....” this speaks to the rejection of the House of David and the connected rejection of the Kingdom of God through His Messiah that was to come through David.
It is stated in the Talmud that after the temple service on the 8th day that King Solomon and the people descended to the pool of Siloam, from which the waters were drawn and poured it upon the altar (Sukkot v 1). It had at some point been called Solomon's pool.
It is believed that the waters of Siloam were used to anoint the Kings of Judah and it became associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was also used in the ordinance of the red heifer because it was the only water source inside the city.
Accessing the pool went through many changes throughout Israel's history but the greatest was during the reign of King Hezekiah who enlarged the conduit bringing water into the city. It is believed that the Pool of Siloam was re-configured during the Herodian period to serve as a large mikveh.
The sages long believed that only the Messiah (the “sent” one of the Father) could heal a man born blind.
Yeshua gave a clear signal that He was the “sent one” and proved it when He told His disciples regarding the blind man:
Verse 9:4 “I must work the works of Him that sent me ...” and then He sends the blind man to wash in the pool called “sent” (for a play on words), a pool that just happened to be associated with the Davidic dynasty, and thus the coming Messiah of Israel.
I hope this has brought some enlightenment to these two stories.