Name of a pool near the Sheepgate in Jerusalem where Jesus cured a man infirm for 38 years (Jn 5.2–9). Excavations have revealed the outlines of a large oblong pool in the location; this pool was provided with five porches (as in St. John's description—see 5.2), four lateral and a fifth central to divide the pool into two parts. A Hebrew graffito found there proves that the building existed before the time of Hadrian (A.D. 118), and it has been concluded that the complex was the work of Herod the Great (37–4 b.c.). At the site may now be seen a reconstructed pool and the foundations of a 5th-century Byzantine church.
The reading and derivation of the name of the pool are disputed. Bethesda (Βηθεσδά) is usually derived from the Aramaic bêt ḥesdā', "house of mercy." Many, however, prefer the MS reading Bethzatha [Βηθζαθά, from Aramaic bêt zētā ', "house of olives" (?)]. J. T. Milik, however, believes that both readings and their derivation can be explained with the aid of a topographical reference in the Copper Scroll (11.12) found among the dead sea scrolls. The reading byt ‘šdtyn he understands to mean a rectangular double (note the dual ending) reservoir; Bethesda, then, would transliterate the singular form of the word, Bethzatha the emphatic plural.
It is to be noted that the reference to the angel who regularly "went down into [or, according to some MSS, "washed himself in"] the pool" to stir up the water is probably not part of the original Gospel text. Textual evidence suggests that these words were originally a marginal gloss containing the popular explanation of the movement of the water referred to in Jn 5.7 (probably caused by an intermittent underground stream) and the healing properties attributed to it, which was later incorporated into the text by a copyist.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible 231. l. heidet, Dictionnaire de la Bible 1.2:1723–32. c. kopp, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 2:332. l. h. vincent and f. m. abel, Jérusalem nouvelle, 2 v. in 4 (Paris 1912–26) 2:669–684. j. jeremias, Die Wiederentdeckung von Bethesda, Johannes 5, 2 (Göttingen 1949). j. t. milik, Revue biblique 66 (1959) 347–348.
[j. e. wrigley]