In John 5, the fourth evangelist describes the pool north of the temple's sheep gate in Jerusalem. John 5:2 says:

John 5:2, Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.

For about all of the history of the church (up until about 100 years ago), John 5 was the only witness to this pool. It was not in Josephus, or other historians of the area. This led many people to believe that the pool was allegorical and that John was a much later Greek author and the gospel could be dated to the late second century (e.g. 150 - 175AD). These scholars thought that John fabricated the pool as a metaphor.

Then archaeologists found the pool right where John says it was. This means that John had deep insights into pre-70AD Jerusalem and temple geography and is a large reason for the change in dating of the gospel anywhere from 65AD - 90AD (or being formed over that period). But, the archaeological reconstruction of the ruins shows a picture with seven porticoes, not five (see below). There seem to be four porticoes around the square upper pool, and then three porticoes around the lower pool.

Does anyone have any sense of what this might mean? For the fourth gospel, the number seven is very important. Seven signs, seven "I am the ..." statements, and seven "I am (Ego Eimi)" statements amongst others. For the Torah, the number seven is obviously of great importance. The first seven words of the bible form the statement of the first act of creation ... which occurs in seven days... etc. There are seven day purification intervals in the torah... The author seems to have rare/unique knowledge of Jerusalem, backed up by archaeological evidence, but has described Bethesda as having five porticoes instead of either 4 (for the upper pool only) or seven, for the entire structure.

Am I misunderstanding the archaeological reconstruction? How many porticoes are there?

Pool of Bethesda reconstructed from archaeology

  • This means that John had deep insights into pre-70AD Jerusalem and temple geography and is a large reason for the change in dating of the gospel anywhere from 65AD - 90AD - Does it ? All it means is that some man from some era had basic knowledge of some then-well-known sites from some then-major cities. I mean, does the fact that I know that the Statue of Liberty is situated in America mean that I possess "deep insights" into pre-3,000 AD America and its geography !? Would that be a reason to date this message to the late 1800's, when the landmark was finished !?
    – Lucian
    May 18 '20 at 17:41
  • By "John" I meant the community behind the text, not an individual person. The gospel describes it as north of the temple, by the sheep gate, and as a place of healing. This is a bit more than knowing that "there was a statue in America," it would be like knowing that the statue was in New York Harbor and the poem on her book and everyone else was ignorant of this. Either way, the community behind the gospel inherited a detailed understanding not present in contemporary texts. It serves for dating because it was destroyed in 70AD. This was not the only evidence which shifted the dating.
    – Gus L.
    May 18 '20 at 17:59
  • The number of individuals involved is irrelevant to the topic under consideration. You also seem to assume that just because something was not mentioned in (surviving) writings, it was therefore unknown to people living at the time, or (shortly) thereafter. Widespread literacy was not a given, since it only began in earnest in the mid-nineteenth century, and manuscripts, even when not destroyed by natural calamities (like the Library of Alexandria), were written on extremely perishable materials, meaning that they had to constantly be copied in order to survive through the generations.
    – Lucian
    May 18 '20 at 19:02
  • Ok @Lucian, I will conceed whatever you want on this point. Feel free to post your answer to the actual question below.
    – Gus L.
    May 19 '20 at 0:50
  • 1
    Hmmm...the statue of liberty comparison seems a little harsh on the OP. And the statue of liberty is still around. Without using the internet, do you know what the heights of the twin towers were? The twin towers, one of which was temporarily the tallest occupied building in the world, were a bit more prominent as landmarks than the pool of Bethesda. Feb 20 at 21:30

I read this at bible-history.com.
"But recent archaeological discoveries have once again confirmed the Biblical account. In 1956, digging at the ancient Biblical site of Bethesda, archaeologists unearthed a rectangular pool with a portico on each side and a fifth one dividing the pool into 2 separate compartments."

Is it possible that John's description focuses on the porticoes that divide the two pools? And that by identifying it as the one with 5 porticoes he is identifying at which of the two pools the miracle occurred? I find it interesting that the reconstruction results in a there being an upper pool and a lower pool.(ie: creation) From the construction it would seem that the miracle occurred in the lower pool as I assume from the picture that is where the fifth porticoe would have been.


I went to look at it myself and it is underground near St. Anne's church. Not the easiest access for the claustrophobic. From what I remember there were porticoes on the two sides of each pool and one between the two pools, so 5 in all, just as John reported. Amazing how so many Bible accounts have been substantiated by archeological discoveries.

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