The name occurs with reference to a pool bearing this name at which Jesus healed a man who had been ill for 38 years. (Joh 5:1-9) In John 5:2, some manuscripts and translations (KJ, NE) read “Bethesda.” The pool is described as having five colonnades, in which large numbers of sick, blind, and lame persons congregated, evidently attributing healing powers to the waters, particularly so immediately after the waters were disturbed. The last seven words of verse 3 as found in the King James Version and verse 4 of this chapter, attributing the disturbing of the waters to an angel, are not found in some of the oldest Greek manuscripts and are viewed as an interpolation. Thus the Bible does not give any indication as to the cause of the water disturbance but merely shows the people’s belief in the curative powers of the waters.
The location of the pool is indicated by the evident reference to the “sheepgate” (although in the original Greek the word “gate” must be supplied), which gate is generally held to have been in the north part of Jerusalem. Nehemiah 3:1 shows that this gate was built by the priests, and hence it is assumed to have been an entrance near the temple area. Additionally, the name Bethzatha is associated with the section of ancient Jerusalem called Bezetha, located to the north of the temple area. In Jesus’ day this sector lay outside the city walls, but Herod Agrippa I (who died 44 C.E.) added a third northern wall to the city during the rule of Claudius (41-54 C.E.), and this placed Bezetha within the city walls, so that John could properly speak of the pool as being “in Jerusalem,” as he had known the city before its destruction in 70 C.E.
In 1888 excavations just to the N of the temple site revealed a double pool divided by a rock partition and embracing an overall area about 46 by 92 m (150 × 300 ft). Evidence of colonnades existed and a faded fresco portraying an angel moving the waters, although the painting may well have been a later addition. The location seems to fit the Biblical description.