Who Will Heal You? A Greek Or A Jewish God? (john 5.2-5)

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.[1]   5One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.
When it comes to determining the level of the gospel’s historical reliability, the story that will end in the healing of a paralyzed man is one of the most fascinating textual units in the Gospel of John. Until the discovery of the pool with five-roofed colonnades near the Sheep Gate,  many did not consider the Gospel of John to be historically reliable. The gospel was thought to be either allegorical (truthful only in the sense similar to apocalyptic literature) or simply inaccurate (written by someone who was not from Judea and wholly unfamiliar with Jerusalem’s geography). However, thanks to the tireless research of archeologists, both pools mentioned in the Gospel of John were identified – the Pool of Bethesda in John 5.2 (Image courtesy of Carta Jerusalem) and the Pool of Siloam in John 9.7. The pool mentioned in this chapter turned out to have five colonnades (as described in the Gospel), but it was not structured as a pentagon. There were four colonnades separated in the middle by another one; thus forming the five colonnades.

It is possible that that these pools were religious ceremonial water cleansing facilities – mikvaot, associated with the Jerusalem Temple; or simply water reservoirs for general civic consumption (at least in some periods of their use). But there are other interpretive options as well.

Some archaeologists who worked with this discovery for many years, found and excavated several snake figures at that pool; indicating that the area may have housed a Jerusalem branch of Asclepius cult. While we must be careful not to asume that we can know these things with certainty (for example, none of the artfacts connected to Asclepeus that were found at the site were dated to the first century), some interesting ideas are still worth considering. So having given some space to disclaimers, who was Asclepius?

Asclepius was the god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek religion. The god’s mythical daughters included the goddesses Hygeia and Panacea. We can hear in their Greek names our modern words for “hygiene” and “panacea” – key concepts associated today with medicine and health.  Snakes of course were a key attribute of Asclepius’s cult of health and healing (see circled area on the image of Aclepeus). Up until today one of the key symbols of modern medicine is a stick with a snake around it.

Now stop and think for a moment. Because, if this is correct, it may change our perception of the entire story described here. You see it is possible that the blind, lame, and paralyzed were not waiting for Israel’s god to heal them; but rather for the merciful healing act of Asclepius. In that case, the pool of Bethesda (house of mercy in Hebrew) does not have to be a Jewish site at all, but rather a Greek Asclepion-affiliated facility. This of course would be consistent with a thoroughly Hellenized Jerusalem and Judea in the time of Jesus. We already know that this is the case from many historical and archeological studies.

It is very important to notice that in this particular healing Jesus does not command the one he healed to wash himself in the pool (pool of Bethhesda), while he does issue a direct command to go and wash at the pool of Siloam when it comes to the healing of the blind man (John 9.6-7). It therefore appears that while the pool of Bethehesda was a pagan place, the pool of Siloam was not. Of course, Jerusalem was the center for religious Jews in Jesus’ days, but it was also a headquarters for Hellenized ideals in Judea that was under strict Roman control with the Antonia Fortress dominating the northwestern end of the Temple Mount.

Therefore, as the author of the Gospel continues to show Jesus as the incarnated divine Logos/Memra of Israel’s God, we see the real tension of the story: Who has the power to heal, the Greek god Asclepius, or the Judean god, through his royal son Jesus?[2]

We will see more of this interesting polemic as we continue our fascinating study.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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[1] Some manuscripts insert, wholly or in part, “waiting for the moving of the water; 4for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.”

[2] This is very similar to the kind of ancient cross-religious polemics described in the healing of Naaman (2 Kings 5). In the minds of the ancients, rivers were conceived of as channels of blessings that came directly from the country’s particular gods. Will the rivers of Israel be better than the rivers of Aram? (2 Kings 5.12)  Will the God of Israel win the god of Aram?

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  1. Mädeli C

    I rejoice in the new knowledge revealed through this study!
    It is so exciting to know that there is always more to learn from scripture that we think we know well.
    My daughters asked me why a symbol of a snake is used to represent medical institutions etc. and my response was based on the fact that God instructed Moses to make and lift up the bronze serpent and set it on a pole in the wilderness (closely resembling the medical symbol we know today), as a symbol of healing for those who had suffered snakebites.
    Is this association true or would it rather be the symbol of snakes associated with Asclepius’ cult of health and healing that relates to the modern use of this symbol?

    P.S. I am very blessed to be a part of your study group Dr. Eli 🙂

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Madeli, shalom. I think our modern symbols do come from the Greek cult of Asclepius and not from Moses. Thank you for your kind words about my studies. May the Lord richly bless you and keep you. Dr. Eli

  2. Dominic St Pierre

    I read through the article and many of the comments. it all seems a rather plausible conclusion.

    However i notice one point that i dont necessarily agree with. that point is, why is it a competition between the gods of men vs the god of israel?

    hear me for a moment. in other cases, yeshua constantly prodded people to ‘step out of their comfort zone’ by doing something different than they had been trying previously, or believing in previously. (peter step out of the boat, yeshua’s delayed reaction to lazarus’s death, healing of the blind man with spit, healing the leper etc.)

    i see at the root of this interpretation provided by Br. Eli as having a root in segregation – or that somehow Yeshua was concerned with impressions of appearance. and i just dont agree.

    it seems more rational to me that he told the man to go to the other pool simply to test his faith and challenge his superstitions of the pool he had waited at. the simple yet profound meditations on our blindness in insanity – ie, repeating actions expecting different results – in my opinion proof enough.

    the paganism aspect seems to detract from Yeshua’s confidence and submits him to the petty comparisons and competition of ‘my god is better than your god’ of which i just dont hear him speak in that way.
    Respectfully i would ask for other references where Yeshua based actions on avoiding paganism altogether. (please dont read this as me agreeing with paganism that is not the case, just a matter of why would the king be concerned with such petty superstitions)

    further points – you claimed that the evidence of snakes didn’t come from that period at all. so why base the foundation of the interpretation on evidence that doesn’t even fit?
    and furthermore, please share some examples as to why we are to even consider roman worship baths in jersualem!? i understand the Romans absolutely loved to pressure israel into paganism, but with all that was going on during that time, personally i find it unreasonable to reach this conclusion.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      About your first point. It is simply incorrect to argue the way you do (one god vs. others). The reason is simple we cannot import our modern convictions into the ancient past. We must look at how they looked at things. In the ancient past such a regularly was common place. Please, read this article – http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/2013/03/avalanche-of-reconciliation-in-2-kings-5-the-gospel-in-israels-war-story-dr-eli-lizorkin-eyzenberg/

      About Hellenization of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, lots been written researched. Do some research in even on internet about Hellenization of Jerusalem you will be amazed what you will find.

      Blessings to your Dominic and thank you so much for sharing your thoughts in this forum.

      Dr. Eli

      1. Dominic St Pierre

        Thank you Doctor E!

        i struggle to understand your reply… its as if you completely misunderstood my first point…. your reply is what i’m saying about your original post! 🙂

  3. Ester Blomerus

    As always you are giving insight and much food for thought! I enjoy this type of well researched knowledge and especially with reference to “Hellenized Jerusalem” at the time of Jesus. It is often amazing how the strong impact of Greek influence on Palestine is often denied. So thanks again!!! It brims with the type of Scriptural knowledge so necessary for today! Ester

  4. Eric Rodríguez



    I want to apport that “faith” is ’emunah in hebrew, not an expectative, but the fidelity of God to us.. faith is defined as: the substance of the hope (the everlasting life promised by God), and the demonstration of that which is no visible.. unvisible… Yehoshua’, revealed and demonstrated the power of God through heals and miracles… Malchut Hamashamayim or מלכות דאצילות malchut de’atzilut (kingdom of heavens) is a jewish ancient name for the “most low (tolerable) level of revelation of God come to earth and the low worlds… (in front of כתר Kéter, “crown”, his major glory); so that, Yehoshua’ said: truly the kingdom of heavens has come.. (when he was on eath), and then, He was crowned.. he received a כתר Kéter (when he was received in above… by ‘Abá’…)

    1. Alessandro Almeida

      Thank you! Loved the phrase “fidelity of God to us” because I understand that if I am faithful to him and his word he will be faithful to me too! Soon my espernça this power of God on my life.

      1. Alessandro Almeida

        “Soon my hope is in the power of God on my life”

  5. RamonAntonio

    Maybe I can contribute some talking points to this interesting quest.
    First, faith, as a matter of definition , is a very complex issue. IF you are going to address it there are many vantage points to consider such as, on a personal base: personal faith, act of faith, adherence to faith, etc. Then there’s faith on a community base such as a church which is an assembly of the faithful. Here you have to consider a set of common beliefs, shared, structure, accorded principles, etc. Then finally there would the be the realm of religious faith that would correspond to a confessional belief that unites a bundle of the faithful that transcends a church and becomes a people’s faith which may be akin to a bigger church but can be expressed in associations, conventions, national religions, etc. So there’s more to the word than the word itself. And this is only a proposition I suggest.
    Second, faith, as you ask within the JEws is an evolving concept through their story. I would suggest to take a look to some of the initial courses on history available through Dr. Eli’s offerings but also the excellent Ancient Israel book by BAR. A somewhat global look may be this: First there is the faith of a single individual, Abram who abandons his place and his faith in many gods to follow a call from a single God who makes a promise to him. Then Abram’s faith becomes Abraham’s fulfilment of the promise through his son born almost as an act of God for their age. Abraham’s faith becomes then the faith in the promise through Isaac’s sustenance which then becomes faith in the God of Israel who is the one who struggles with Jacob, renames him as Israel and blesses him. The people who maintain that faith are the people who travel to Egipt and are miraculously sustained by the God of Israel protection of Joseph and it is through that faith that they sustain slavery under Egipt. Then comes the faith in Yahweh, the God of Israel who reveals Himself to Moses and delivers the people from Egypt and slavery to a promised land that originally was promised to Abraham. Then the faith becomes an adherence to the Law that Yahweh gave to Moses for His people. Then comes Jesus who claims that HE Himself is Yahweh, the Son of God and faith is to be in Him directly as Son of God. THis last faith is the one JEsus found in the centurion for he didn’t had faith in the Law, nor in Yahwe but in Him, Jesus as the Son of God. That’s why the centurion confesses (and this is critical) his faith in JEsus who can by a single order heal his servant (son?) without needing to enter the house of an impure assassin, which he was for that was a requirement of his position. He knew that to ask Jesus to enter his house would be an offense to his position as Jewish rabbi but he also knew and confessed publicly that this man Jesus had the power to heal by command such as he had the power to kill by command.
    And that is the ultimate faith, a football pass from one end of the field to the other that achieved the ultimate touchdown in history by being received by Jesus Himself in the line.

    1. Alessandro Almeida

      Thank you. Pass The football was a good illustration … After all, we should cast our trust in the one who is able to give us the victory, even if it seems the end of the game!

  6. Alessandro Almeida

    I have a curiosity, and I wonder if you can me help …
    I need to know about the Jew understands the FAITH. Not faith as religious conviction based on those 13 principles of faith Jewish (Maimonides), but faith which produces the expectation of something desired for the person, such as healing, prosperity, the recovery of relative and etc … For example: The faith of a person who seeks a cure for a disease and that by this faith Adonay attends. How the Jew sees this?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Alessandro, shalom. Thank you for your question. Perhaps, this question should will take few times to clarify. You see there is no “Jewish way” to understand :-). There are many ways to understand it. Your question as it is stated know could be asked of a Christian or about a Christian and the same answer would be given: There is no Christian way, their are many Christian faith responses to this. Let’s keep on thinking.

      I hope you are not offending by me saying that your question is a wrong one :-), a lot of times asking right questions is half of the right answer. Framing a question incorrectly, will often lead to fruitless conversations. Perhaps, you can clarify or give me context in which and why is it that you are asking this question. Blessings, Dr. Eli

      1. Alessandro Almeida

        Dr. Eli, thank you for the honest answer, maybe I really was not my goal in question. A situation that may well illustrate my question is the case of the centurion who wanted his servant stay healed as reports Matthew 8:5-10. In the end Jesus says: “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” It is this faith that I speak. Faith in Hebrews 11:1 that talks about a faith in what is expected of God at a time of your life.
        The reason for my question is well seimples, is part of a series of studies I’m doing on faith “that moves mountains.” As you can see I’m using google translator. kkkkkkkk

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          OK… I c. Once again it is not possible to say that the Jews back then or even now will have such or such response. Jews were never the same and their never believed the same thing about anything :-). Let’s keep on thinking together. Dr. Eli (good translate does get 75% of the message over correctly) 🙂

  7. Michael Strauss

    As one without extensive scholarly background, but as a Bible student for many years, my perception has always been that Jesus chose to heal the paralytic on the Sabbath as a controversial means to draw attention to his professed connection to God; and always giving the Sanhedrin members opportunities to become born again by following him. He did this again when he gave sight to the blind man later in John on the Sabbath also. These healings always attest to his powers, which he always states clearly have come from his Father, the God of Israel.

    I am always impressed much more by the spiritual content of the Bible, for a better understanding of our Father, the God of Israel, and his Son’s teachings, who came to us as a Jew, than the other microscopic analyses from the silence.

    Dr. Eli’s work is focused there, and helps me to understand.
    Thanks, Dr. Eli.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Michael for your encouragement.

  8. […] as the healing sanctuary of Asclepius, the Greek god of Medicine and health (read about it here). This happened during the previous trip of Jesus to Jerusalem. You may recall that the healed man, […]

  9. Aaron

    This brought to mind the plague of serpents that took place during Israel’s desert sojourn, when the pole with the bronze serpent was erected for every snake bite victim to approach and be healed. It makes sense that, later on in the history of the world, a hurting, misled, oppressed, and largely illiterate Hellenized empire would later embrace this same story of hope in their own way. Maybe there was something that felt right about it to a Greek person of that time (like Cornelius for example) – or even an illiterate Jewish person for that matter. It can be hard when you’re doing the everything you know to do and fearing that even what you know to be true and good is far from His ways, but you truly don’t know what else to do. What a long arm He has to reach out to us with. What a knowing eye and a hearing ear.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks, Aaron for your comment.

  10. jefferis peterson

    Why would Jesus tell a fellow Jew to ‘take up his cot’ knowing it would get him into trouble with the authorities, and would it be a violation of the Sabbath, not to heal, but to carry something? The man had to be Jewish or the authorities wouldn’t have said anything to Gentile about the Sabbath. I am not convinced however that the pool was dedicated to the Greek gods. Possible, but the Syriac and latter explanatory additions of an angel stirring the water may have had an historical component. However, I’ve been to Pergamum, where “medicine” got started. They way the cult worked however was that physicians would oversee the seekers down a long tunnel filled with incense and speak to them about their being healed. There doesn’t seem to be any of the cultic practice mentioned in the Gospel, just every man for himself when the water bubbles.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I did not say he was not Jewish. That was the point! He was Jewish, but decided to seek healing in a wrong place.Your first sentence is not clear to me, since Jesus as part of his polemic made it his point to confront and clearly declare his authority. so I am not sure what problem do you see here.

      I am not convinced also, we are dealing with reconstructing history here. It is never 100%. If it is we don’t understand history as a subject :-).

      Please, help me to see how you rule out practice in Hellenized Jerusalem by evidenced by practice of some unclear what Greek cultist practice in Pergamum? (it is a very weak logic at that, since that too is a historical reconstruction, weakened by distance, history and cultural/religious differences!)

      1. jefferis peterson

        I am not ruling it out so much as drawing an inconsistency between Greek cultic practice and an “unsupervised” attraction to a pool in Jerusalem. Normally, a medical center today as it did then would have practitioners facilitating the treatment. Here you have no indication of any attachment to this stirring of the waters to cultic practice or any officials of the treatment center. You would think that if John were writing to the diaspora, who would not know the significance of local geography, and he was making a theological point about Jesus in contrast to the Greek gods, he might have done more to explain the circumstance…?

        1. jefferis peterson

          From the wikipedia:
          In honor of Asclepius, a particular type of non-venomous snake was often used in healing rituals, and these snakes — the Aesculapian Snakes — slithered around freely on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. These snakes were introduced at the founding of each new temple of Asclepius throughout the classical world. From about 300 BC onwards, the cult of Asclepius grew very popular and pilgrims flocked to his healing temples (Asclepieia) to be cured of their ills. Ritual purification would be followed by offerings or sacrifices to the god (according to means), and the supplicant would then spend the night in the holiest part of the sanctuary – the abaton (or adyton). Any dreams or visions would be reported to a priest who would prescribe the appropriate therapy by a process of interpretation.[19] Some healing temples also used sacred dogs to lick the wounds of sick petitioners.[20]

        2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          I do not think that he was writing to the diaspora. You must read my intro before we progress with our friendly debates any further. Go to the main page and read all the intro. Read what I am saying carefully.

          By the way no mention of supervised activities, does not preclude it. Yours is an argument out of silence.

          1. jefferis peterson

            I’m reading it. None of the snakes are dated to the 1st C. in archeology, but to the time of Hadrian which would have been more realistic after the destruction of 70 AD. But that bolsters the idea that it wasn’t part of the cult at the time of Jesus because there are no indications of the Asclepius cult from that era. That would make your argument a conjecture 🙂 but also one from silence 🙂 What I was recounting above is the common practices at the cultic sites, which are not mentioned or noted in the dialog. Also, not sure the Samaritans would have been that familiar with Jerusalem, since it was not their center of worship either… just saying

        3. RamonAntonio

          When we study history and engage in exchanging views, it is crucial that we involve ourselves to the maximum extent possible in the context of the era and prevent ourselves to project present understandings and practices into the past. That is a tendency that pervades all ancient studies for centuries and has been painstakingly signaled, analyzed and surgically removed from history interpretation.
          There were no HIPPA laws in ancient Greece, nor practicing medicine students as we now define, nor “practitioners” whatever that may mean today or 2,000 years ago. Ther was just a crippled guy that nobody cared for and that is indeed Judaism Law at its best in that era. If no one cared for you of your relatives, you were nonexistent. To that nonexistent crippled no one who wanted to be cured for years but nobody cared Jesus responded to the desire of his heart. And the proof is that Jesus asked him (a non existent crippled) and the non entity acquiesced to Him. That by itself is a miracle.

  11. jefferis peterson

    It seems that the man at the pool, who was one of the only ones who was healed in the Gospels without seeking Jesus, also seems to have “turned him in” to the authorities when asked. He gave no defense of Jesus, contrasted to the blind man in Chp. 9.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Very interesting. If my reconstruction is correct (there is always if in humanities) :-), then what you pointed out would help it a lot actually. Jesus got this Jewish pagan pretty upset with his healing and speech to repent and never come back to worship of Asclepeus. Intriguing.

      1. RamonAntonio

        Very interesting exchange. The carefully worded note by Mr. Peterson is very precisely taken into consideration by Dr. Eli.
        Indeed, the scene is intriguing as Spock (Star Trek) would famously say.
        Someone who is just lying aside the pool of Asclepius longing, by being there for years, to be cured, but abandoned by Israel by the fact that no one cared for getting him into the pool, (probably because he would presumably die drowned and the “helper =good samaritan whanabe, be accused of murder) is attended in his desire by Jesus. This is an important fact. The infirm never rejected the help from Jesus and in fact attested that no one had offered ever to help him to get to the pool to be healed. So this person wanted to be cured. Is that faith?
        He then receives not a launch to the pool but an order to stand up and walk. And he complies. Is that faith?
        And he is instantly cured. Is that faith?
        But then, being cured without being immersed in the water, he is procured by the authorities who accuse him to explain how in… whatever… he got cured in front of everyone and not by immersion in the pool of Asclepius where he had been for years. HE really doesn’t know what to tell but the truth: someone whom he didn’t know ordered him to walk and he did it. Is that turning him in?
        So Dr. Eli is right, this guy was upset:
        1. He was noticed by someone among hundreds who had ignored him for years maybe decades.
        2. That someone asked if he wanted to be cured after years of no one speaking to him and procuring his wishes
        3. That someone whom he didn’t know who was, told him to stand up and walk and he did it probably on autopilot
        4. He was healed instantly
        5. the same person who cured him encounters him in the Temple and instructs him not to sin anymore so no mayor harm will occur to him again, clearly indicating that HE knew the cause of his ailment, probably a sin of the flesh (do you really need more details?)
        6. And now he is accused of improper healing.

        Indeed this guy is upset. He may end up transgressing the Law for being cured in the wrong way in the wrong place, by the wrong person, at the wrong time, in front of everybody and by someone who he didn’t know who knew the cause of his illness and even knowing that cured him.

        This single miracle is a pretty summary of all the Gospels.

  12. […] has long been thought that John was either inaccurate or unconcerned about issues of chronology, geography and details in general; but was rather concerned with the larger theological view of Christ-related events. Since we have […]

  13. James DeFrancisco, PhD

    This is a very interesting discussion. Some texts (including Syriac Peshitta) have in verse 4 “an angel went down from time to time and moved the water” but this is missing from many Greek texts. The word angel (Ara. – Malacha – “messenger”) has a range of meanings that can denote anything that provides a message. The water stirring can be a message denoting healing power (as in a whirlpool bath or mineral spring). As has already been stated, healing was represented by the Greeks through Asclepius, the god of medicine and his mythical daughters, the goddesses Hygeia and Panacea. These symbols have lasted for thousands of years and are still represented within the vocabulary used health and medicine today. The Greeks used hydrotherapy in their healing practices which can be traced back to Hippocrates. Putting the above ideas together and you have a combination of physical medicine, superstition, and religious faith.

    It is also interesting that people in Jerusalem were congregating around this healing place, Bethesda (Hbr. and Ara. – House of Mercy)on the Sabbath and that Jesus healed the man without the use of the water. Religious Jews would be unlikely to seek physical healing on the Sabbath which would also lend credibility to this place being Greek. Although Jesus did not break the Sabbath, his association with this healing on the Sabbath resulted in accusations by the Judeans.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Dr. DeFrancisco, thank you for your input here. Syriac/Aramaic Peshitta is an important textual witness and must be taken into account here as well.

  14. Max Debono-De-Laurentis

    Shalom Eli,
    Thank you for your continuing pursuance of truth and education of the saints in your series, I appreciate it very much.
    I was thinking about this particular problem – is the pool of Beit-Zata Greek or Judean and I find, in my opinion, that Scripturally it is possible for it to be Greek and still not contradict scripture or its place in the narative.
    There is a very important point that must be considered when examining whom Yeshua was speaking to at the pool – Yeshua only came to the lost sheep of Israel (Mat 15:24), this was the focus of His ministry and outreach when still active in His ministry. It is interesting to note that Yeshua only spoke directly to one man and then left, He did not aim comments at the others present. Nor were there any Pr’shim present, or even His own Talmidim, as at Shiloach. But what we do find later is this same man in the Temple which is when Yeshua reveals who it was that healed him.
    If the scenario was that the pool was a Greek place of worship and not one recognised by the Sanhedrin as (kosher) then this would make sense: Yeshua went in alone to speak to a Jew who had been putting his faith in a pagan god (or hedging his bets). We can also note that the man had no one else with him to help him into the pool which could intimate (arguing from silence, sorry) that his family were not happy with his choice to wast time in a pagan temple. However, Yeshua healed the man and as a result the man went to the temple to show his healing (This could tie in well with Ramon Antonio’s comments earlier about the snake and possible misunderstandings resulting). This whole scenario was set in motion by Adonai to bring about the events that followed later as a result – The persecution of Yeshua for healing on a Shabbat, and telling a man to carry his mat in flagrant disregard of the Oral Torah.
    I realise that there must be an eourmous amount of overwhelming conditions that must be met to declare something %100, this is my small percentage of information and I hope that it helps in the longrun.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Max, it’s wonderful to hear from you! Thank you. Very helpful comments indeed. I only take exception to your reasoning about “oral torah” there was no oral torah so early in the development of Judaism. There of course were traditions and many traditions of the fathers. Of that we have no doubt. But it will take 2 more centuries until it would get codified into law and become binding and EVEN THEN it would take another 3-4 centuries until Rabbinic documents will become truly influential and binding in Jewish communities worldwide!
      This will happen in early third century at Tsipori not far from Nazareth of course. So taken the fluidity of traditions and unbinding nature of Judaisms of the time (because of its great variety) I think we have to be careful about statements like “The persecution of Yeshua for healing on a Shabbat, and telling a man to carry his mat in flagrant disregard of the Oral Torah.” Of course as you probably well know healing on Shabbat IS not halahickly forbidden in today’s rabbinic Judaism (and there was variety of opinions back then as well!) and it has been like that for a while. Read the following posts, there are two more posts (one still on the way) that continue to unpack this complex story. Once again thank you for your comments and yes, for the most part, I very much agree with them. Blessings and peace, Dr. Eli

      1. Eric Rodríguez


        I wanto to put something about Oral Torah. Its own name says all: Oral, it wasn’t found writen until the second/third century, as Dr. Eli said, but this doesn’t mean that there weren’t traditions nor Oral law on first century; Instead, existed Beyt Hilel, Beyt Shama’y, Rabán Gamli’el by mentioning someone… So it’s possible that on the contrary, some Halachik determinations of the later judaism, could derive just from Yehoshúa’ taqanot תקנות(corrections)as it was writen:
        “You have heared that was said (oral law)… But אני מתקן ‘Ani metaqen (I correct, translated like “I say you”)…
        Piquaj Nephesh (פקוח נפש) is a principle of the Miqrá’ (מקרא)and was applied only to animals but curiously, there was an anormal restriction for humans almost during Shabat. Yehoshua’ said them: “You have forgotten the most important aim/goal of the Toráh: צדקה Tzdaqah (Love for regenerating someone, “justice”), רחמים Rachamim (Mother’s love inconditional capable of forgiveness) and אמונה ’emunáh (fidelity to the God’s commandments…) The same occurred with the Divorce discussion and so on…

        1. Ramón Sánchez

          Your comment is very important for this and other discussions about ancient Israel and Jewish traditions: The role of Oral Torah as such.
          My take is this…
          One thing is Oral Torah, which I concur with the explanation by Dr. Eli who states that Oral Torah should be tied to binding Torah, thus, to a set of rules or a code of conduct that bind the Jewish. This Oral Torah was centuries in the future of Jewish people.
          Another thing should be Oral Torah Tradition, which I think is the mental recollection of traditions, writings and teachings. This one, Oral Tradition is not directly binding as a definite code of conduct for it is not yet an agreed upon set of codes. It is a set of memorial transmission of texts that carry the principles of Israel’s Pact with Yaweh and this recollection is indeed a photocopy of the original traditions, similar to the recollection by Indian sages of ancient Hindu religion texts which were transmitted almost perfectly for more than three millennia. But these were not a code. Oral transmission was the transmission of the Pact and its Laws but not of a code of conduct.
          A code of conduct implies the application of what mean the Oral Tradition to the present and that was was slowly developed through the centuries as Dr. Eli says.
          But this is one of the most profound aspects of this discussions because it is the center of Jewishness as we know it now and it was the center of Jesus preaching, his continuing explaining of the Scriptures as written in the Gospels.
          As I have stated earlier, my proposal is that Jesus ministry was a single aim: to explain Salvation through the Scriptures as they referred to Him as fulfillment of the Pact. In order to make that fulfillment clear and evident, the signs were crucial for they reflected that God was indeed the direct cause of that fulfillment. Then, Jewish authorities developed a contra explanation of the fulfillment in response to the schism that Christianity developed into, following Gamaliel’s advice. As he said, if Jesus followers did not die with Him, maybe God was indeed behind his preaching. When history presented that Christianity did not die but indeed began flourishing and the signals continued under His name, the survival of Jewishness was at stake. That prompted the Oral Torah to counter Christianity which eventually evolved in Mishna and th Talmud. Both succeeded in making Jewish religion survive and stand side by side with Christianity.
          Now, we are engaged in a full re reading of our texts to try to learn where we diverge and where we might agree. And we are slowly learning that we all enrich ourselves by this effort.

          1. Eric Rodríguez

            That’s correct! Gospels talk about the “traditions of the Elders” some/many of which, Yehoshúa’ rejected(Remind that Hilel and Shama’y were called “The Elders”, HIlel Hazaqén & Shama’y Hazaqen). Elders thaught Ben Ha’adam (The Son of ‘Adam, Hamashíaj)wasn’t able to forgive sins, and Yehoshua’ said: In order you know that Ben Ha’adam has power on earth to forgive sins (said to the paralytic man: “get up and take your bed and go…” Talmud has problems of dating… Some traditions are so ancient and another are late, but unquestionably they are there… it’s necessary to filter, and hold the Good…

          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            Guys, enough comments on this post!!!!! Don’t you think????!!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 Love, Dr. Eli

    2. Ramón Sánchez

      I like a lot the development of your reasoning and its sound judgement. It’s refreshing to hear this kind of argument for we are forced to meditate a lot on our reading of the Gospel.
      One point I would comment although, is that even though in just a minimum, Jesus in fact did take his ministry outside the Jewish community and the land. And in the instance of the healing of the Siro Fenician woman’s daughter he clearly stated “before” meaning that “after”, salvation and the Kingdom of God would be for the Gentiles also.

      1. Eric Rodríguez


        I invite you to know or take in account the history about the tow houses of Yisra’el, the ten tribes and two. First one, Ephrayim, was dispersed all over the world, and lost its identity as Israelite; Yehudáh (+Binyamin in general sense, for there was a remanent of each tribe of Ephráyim) got in home ever… never lost its identity even today. So, the Siro-Phoenician woman, was a real candidate to be an ephraimite although she was a gentile (goy) before they all. Jesus gave an early example of restoration of the ten tribes when said her: right now, you’re like a doggy, which has to hope sons to finish eating, because sons have to eat first, but in the fact that I have come to the lost sheeps of the House of Yisra’el,I make you a daughter just now, go, your daughter is healed, is free! (already you are a daughter)

  15. Sylvain Muruguppa

    I firmly believe that we Israel’s God is the God of all. We all must get together to pray for the piece for Israel and the Jewish people around the World. My Jewish God has blessed me.

  16. Dr. Jackie Feldman

    Dear All,
    To the best of my knowledge, none of the Asclepius remains at Bethesda/Sheep Pools has been dated to the 1st Century CE. They would undoubtedly have been there when the area did serve as a healing sanctuary, post-Hadrian. Given the fluidity of popular religion and veneration of holy places, to try to pin down a particular form of worship based on the archaeological evidence of the time and the (divergent and sometimes suspect) Gospel texts, amounts to what the rabbis called “mountains hanging by a hair”. Adducing great truths on the basis of flimsy evidence. A site that was believed to be invested with healing power could be ascribed by one person to an angel, by another to Asclepius, by a third to Jesus… sometimes at the same time. It’s hard to draw a fast solid line in the stirred-up waters of popular belief.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Dr. Jackie Feldman,

      You are absolutely correct that no archeological artifacts connected with the Asclepius cult date to the first century. So your caution, though not your solid conviction about the foolishness of such an interpretive variant, is justifiable. Therefore, caution must be exercised in how conclusive are the conclusions when anyone reconstructs history (we are both included here). In humanities, unlike in the exact sciences, we deal only with probabilities and possibilities, and almost never with certainties. I get that. I really do.

      I think your capable and poetic comment oversteps several important limitations, however. The reason is that while material culture is very important, it is only a very “partial” part of the whole story. For example, to my knowledge no archeological evidence whatsoever exists for an Israelite Exodus from Egypt; rightfully celebrated by “our holy rabbis.” Is the Passover story “a mountain hanging by a hair?” “Yes!” would have to be the answer of a consistent minimalist-historian. I have no doubt that worshipers of Asclepeus would have wholeheartedly agreed as would many others then and today. One can think of Zoroastrian-Jewish polemics and see arguments there that are nothing short of fascinating and thought provoking!

      Now… I fully agree with you that “adducing great truths on the basis of flimsy evidence” is an unforgivable sin of the historian. However, I also think that it is naïve (forgive me my forthrightness) to think that in the absence of interpretive alternatives, others (in this case a traditional Christian reading of this text) would not stir up waters of popular beliefs to make it look like a solid line that demands a one sided verdict supporting only “their” reading.
      Now… remember that Jewish Studies for Christians is a blog for Christians. I think this is the key. Christians do not doubt the Gospel accounts (as you and I often or at times might). It is therefore not my job to introduce that doubt into their hearts.

      I seek to reread the Gospel of John together with them not as a historian only, but also as someone who has a critical and yet trusting approach towards the holy writ, both Jewish and Christian. So as the Passover (both Jewish and Christian) holiday approaches, I am mindful that its true message of redemption is not celebrated on the basis of missing archeological evidence, but on the basis of the tradition that was handed down to me from my fathers and to them by their fathers.” We call this the Bible.

      Respectfully and with best holiday wishes yours,

      Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      1. Ramón Sánchez

        As I mentioned earlier, the Asclepius cult is solidly established since the Vth Century BC and well established investigations date it’s entering into Rome in around III BC. So I don’t think it’s a stretch to tie the use of the pool to the Asclepius cult since it was already inscribed in the epitaph of Herodotus as a follower of Asclepius.
        In fact I think this tie is a very welcome venue in re reading John.

  17. Gabriel T. Kumeh

    Thanks to you Dr. Eli, and all others discussants. Dr. Eli-pls keep up the good works!
    Meanwhile, kindly keep these insightful posts coming my way.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I will, Gabriel. Thank you!

  18. Ilya Gromov

    Do you think that greek readers of the gospel would pick up on the similarities between Asclepius and Jesus?
    There are a lot of similar things at least on the surface – both were sons of god: Asclepius was son of Apollo. On the surface (before the doctrine of Trinity was developed) both were mere humans deified later. Both brought back people from the dead and both were brought back from death…
    Additionally there are a lot of depictions of Jesus healing someone with a rod or a staff (from 3rd and 4th centuries). Most likely it was a connection to Moses but in light of this discussion do you think there might be a connection to Asclepius, who is often portrayed with a rod?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Cool! Presumably yes. But I do not know to what degree this was the intention of John the writer of the Gospel. Perhaps, it was somewhere in the background. In ancient Rome there were other sons of god/s running around the empire! Jesus was the son of God and son of man in Biblical definitions merged.


    2. RamonAntonio

      Well, Ilya…

      Don’t you think that depiction may have been in an ancient stela edition of MAD Magazine or the New York Daily News published underground? A Jewish healer armed with a rod and healing people publicly with it? Asclepius may had a rode in Greece, they were without doubt liberal, but a Jewish rabbi in Palestine under Pilate and Annas walking in and out of the Temple with a rod?
      Just a joke! I couldn’t resist!

      I recommend to you Ivonni Richter Reimer: The Miracle of the Hands. Although I have it in Spanish it seems that the original is in Portuguese. It’s one of the best references on healing in relation to Jesus that I have read. She covers Asclepius and many more in detail with ample references.

      Asclepius is indeed a prominent figure of Hellenism from VI BC to III AC. Significantly, originated in the Axial Era. Hippocrates may have been a follower according to his epitaph. (Although Hipocrates was not raised from the dead that we know of). However Asclepius was deeply ingrained in popular culture (he had important temples and healing centers all centered on water and snakes) for centuries and your suggestion of a cross effects is solidly valid.

      1. Ilya Gromov

        I’ve tried but I don’t get the joke – I think I’m missing something 🙂

        But here’s what I wonder – Even today there is a problem of conveying certain biblical concepts to some people (see Wycliffe Son of God controversy – http://www.wycliffe.org/sonofgod.aspx).

        I remember flying into Lhasa and thinking how to tell Tibetans the gospel when they don’t have some important concepts and trying to figure out how to tell them the story of Jesus in a way that they would understand.

        I was thinking that may be, in a way, John tried to use words or images that Hellenistic converts would understand?!

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          I think the better way to say is “hellenized converts”. I have no doubt that he read to Samaritan/Non-Judean Jewish audience. That that audience was hellenized only would confirm why you would have all these things in one gospel.

  19. Michelle

    Dr. Eli,

    I have another question. How does this event in John 5 fit in a timeline with the event mentioned in Matthew 16 and Mark 8, where Jesus and the disciples travel to Caesarea Philippi, and Jesus asks the questions, “Who do men say that I am?” and “Who do YOU say that I am?”

    I’m just wondering if this event at the pool of Bethesda happened sometime right before this trip to Casesarea. Is it possible that Jesus asked his disciples these questions (in Matthew 16 and Mark 8) because people had started comparing Jesus’ power to heal with other gods they were looking to for healing?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I do not know. I am examining John’s Gospel as is, not trying to see how it fits in. I think John had no such concern and therefore as his readers we also should not. That’s my approach to the text this time around.

    2. RamonAntonio

      I agree with Dr. Eli. To try to fit in a timeline we open to immense debates as diverse as green grass can be. And I can say on that for timelines are my bread and butter as planner and my particular area of interest.
      One aspect is indisputable… Jesus was a renowned healer and that was not disputed even by his enemies who accused him to heal from causes by demons with the power of the devil. So in a sense your question is right to the target…
      Jesus asks who they think he is in light of what he was doing before them at plain sight. Maybe he was forcing them to take a personal stand on their decision to follow him for they could not deny what they were actually seeing and attesting, the healings.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        I agree with Ramon agreeing with me :-).

        1. Michelle

          Ha ha… Okay, okay. I get the point! 🙂

          I have heard that when Jesus asked this question at Caesarea Philippi, He was standing in front of lots of temples to other gods. So that’s why I wondered if His question came after this event at the pool, and He took them there because He wanted to make sure they could tell He was far different from any other false god, such as Asclepius. You know, sort of like, “okay, guys, this is it. I need to hear from your own mouths how you see ME.” (which is fascinating in itself since Jesus knew their thoughts)

          Please forgive my constant questions caused by curiosity and imagination. I agree to accept your agreements, LOL! 🙂

          1. Bob L


            Something else to consider in this event: The trip to Caesarea Philippi was some 20 plus miles, gaining altitude (so up hill). You may wish to consider how a normal human would react to a several hour up hill climb, being thirsty, if not hungry and somwhat weary, then being facing with a question that is difficult to answer. Perhaps this physical draining had more to do with the outcome then the setting…. Food for thought!

  20. RamonAntonio

    A scholar Dr. Amy jill-Levine, known to Dr. Eli contributed to Biblical Archaeology Review an article with her opinion that the first attested and documented source of calling rabbi to someone was to Jesus and not before in any source. This is her statement:

    “Most Jewish readers approach the New Testament, if they approach it at all, with at best a certain unfamiliarity. This is unfortunate, for much if not all of the New Testament is Jewish literature. Jesus himself was a Jew; he is, in terms of dates of documents, the first person in history to be called “Rabbi” (John 1:38, 49, 3:2, 6:25)”.

    That is my reference although I am only a lay person in this. However, in my limited knowledge I concur with this scholar.

    1. Eric Rodríguez


      It’s good, interesting… Maybe Talmud is “undatable”, but says: “All which has disciples, which for the time have disciples, let be called Rabbi…” I’ll check your point… Thanks!

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      She is right that Jesus was the first person to be called a rabbi, but that is exclusively because we have early NT manuscripts. Additionally, I have no doubt that he was a rabbi only in a sense of being a teacher. A Rabbi as is known in Talmudim are different kind of position. A rabbi was a teacher, a lawyer, a legislator, etc. So in one sense Jesus was a Rabbi (and not a imam or guru), because he was a Jewish teacher, but in the other hand he was not a rabbi simply because rabbinical office does not develop until much later in the history of the making of Rabbinical Judaism.

      1. RamonAntonio

        My appreciation of this issue derives mainly from Peter Shafer’s Jesus in the Talmud. I tend to agree with his suggestion that one of the main forces behind the Talmud tradition was to provide Jewish opposition to the figure of Jesus who was the center and origin of a sect that became the biggest religion, then the official religion and claimed roughly the same Old Testament Scriptures of Judaism.
        The Talmud then defines and refines concepts and creates readings with 100% Jewish origin and exegesis (midrash?) to declare Christianity and Jesus as contrary to Jewish roots and legacy. In my understanding, this is where the concept of rabbi that we manage now rests. Now, in the present, we find ourselves saying that Jesus may or may not be a rabbi because the definition of rabbi is post Jesus and against Jesus.

        If I understand Dr. Amy Levine correctly, what she clearly says in her writing is that linguistically and historically, the evidence sustains that the term rabbi was ascribed for the first time to the person of Jesus in the Gospels. And she writes this as her full opinion derived from her research. That statement derived from serious research is of paramount importance for its implication.

        It implies that Rabbinism was tied originally to Jesus but was claimed by Jewish as an office of Jewish religion because if not Christianity would have vacuumed the Jewish religion into it. That is why Jewish teachers, scholars, etc. started to call their office that of a rabbi with fully Jewish roots and implications. That is why the term became different from the original use ascribed to Jesus.

        Of course, this is my understanding and it is nothing more than an opinion, as the great Northrop Frye would say. But I totally respect this scenario if it proves worthy for it reveals that Jewish religion in fact became invigorated by the figure of Jesus and although their leaders elected not to follow Jesus as the Messiah, they did so on a profound process of determining what is Jewishness and what is their inheritance. The rabbinic figure then becomes the center of Jewishness just as Jewishness became the center of Hebrews after the Exile. This strongly suggests that Jewish religion then comes out stronger from each crisis.

        In the end, this was the root of the role played by Jerome when he alone decided the authoritative translation to Latin of the Christian Vulgate in consultation with the rabbis of his time. It was the strong rabbinate tradition in front of the towering figure of Jerome which made possible the survival of both religions and not the annihilation of who knows which one or even maybe the two of them.

        Excellent discussion. Thanks to all!

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          In a famous though now somewhat outdated movie Appolo 13. The captain of the ship when finally approaching earth (almost dying out in space during a failed mission) realizing that him and his crew may not make it to earth in one piece, says: “Gentlemen, its been a privilege flying with you”.

          There are only two things I need to modify here: 1) we are not all gentlemen ;-), 2) We are already on the ground :-).

        2. Eric Rodríguez

          Yehoshúa’ Hamashíach said to Naqdimon: ¿Are you a Master/scholar/teacher/Rav of Israel (Cf. Jn 1:38 & Jn 3:10 for the equation)and don’t know these??
          Maybe Rabbi was firstly put to Yehoshúa’but I will insist in the fact of the existence of Medincha’ey (The Babilonian Doctors of the Traditional Law which was called Rabá’ / Rav ) and another great teachers of Israel called Rav/Rabá’/Rabán, but not Rabbi. I hope to be more clear…

  21. Ramón Sánchez

    This thing of gematria or whatever is too deep for me. However it sounds interesting.
    My only comment is that I tend to be cautious using rabbinic sources as guide to understand Jesus for my position in this is that rabbinism was post Jesus, in fact, I strongly believe that the first so called rabbi was in fact Jesus. Thus, rabbinism would be a reaction against Jesus in my appreciation.
    I concede that using rabbinic sources to evaluate writings that may be post Jesus may be enlightening. In this case, even though the original document (Gospel or else) may be pre rabbinic, our existing Christian copy is not while the rabbinic copy may be earlier, thus, a tradition of after thought may have been inserted in the Christian document.
    Under this circumstance, for my particular understanding, gematria may be an interesting tool.
    Thanks. I never thought I would entertain such an idea.

    1. Eric Rodríguez

      It’s necessary to remember that before Christ there were rabbis, since the third century B.C. There were almost three titles:
      רב Rav = A Babilonian scholar
      רבן Rabán = A Scholar from the house of Hilel
      רבי Rabí = A wise man whose disciples had disciples (So that Jesus was called rabbi, not Rav, nor Raban… Because his disciples, had disciples…
      Today Rabbi acquired another sense… like Rav but from any Yeshiváh (rabinic Academy)

  22. tony

    great insight in all the comments , but something that come clairer for all to see is the teaching about jesus to be the compassionate God that heals and restore lifes to those that trust and come to him

  23. Eric Rodríguez

    It’s necessary to remember that “Hebrew” here means really, “Aramaic” because there are many examples like Gulgalta’, Gabatà’ &c. In this case, Beyt Chisdá’/Beyt Jisdá’ (בית חסדא) “The house of the Kindness” Hebrew: (בית החסד Beyt Hachesed/Beyt Hajésed).
    Dr. Eli I was glad with this excelent commentary.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Eric, believe it or not, I do not think that it was necessary Aramaic. There is some serious evidence that Hebrew may have been used also in speech!!!! For example, bar Kohbah’s letters found in Qumran were written in Hebrew. Not only bar Kochbah or his assistant wrote in Hebrew (about common things in life), but they expected the other side to also understand and write back!!!! 🙂 So I think it was really in Hebrew… actually that is what it says in GREEK! But today’s scholars mistakenly thinking that no one knew Hebrew (and the Passion of Christ must be right!!!!) 🙂 as a spoken language changed it to Aramaic.

      1. Eric Rodríguez

        Shalom Dr. Eli
        I’m agree!! of Course! the scrolls of the Torah have been ever in Hebrew, and the ‘Am ha’aretz (עם הארץ)allowed speaking Hebrew, of course, indeed, using the ancient typewriting, Ktav livona’ah (כתב לבונאה)or Ktav Da’atz (כתב דעץ)
        I haven’t said that anyone of the writers ignored nor didn’t speak hebrew; I’m not a Pro-aramaic at all, only that in this case, like other, there are aramaic names of Places:
        גלגלתא gulgaltá’ hebrew:הגלגלת Hagulgólet “Golgotha”
        בר כוכבא Bar-Kochba’ is an aramaic name, Hebrew: בן הכוכב Ben Hakochav
        There is no problem with using both languages… Shalom!

  24. kostya

    What a vivid example of what archaeological evidence can do to our understanding of scripture! You have stirred up the waters of Bethesda!
    But there are many questions it raises for me. One is about the other many invalids and blind people there. Why did Jesus not heal them? Assuming they were Jews, would He not have said something to them? Especially if it was to show that He heals and not Ascelapius?
    Why is not something said about the pagan- ness (idolatry) of the place?
    Why did not the authorities say something about Him going there to heal but only objected to Him healing on the Sabbath?
    It is at the time of a feast (maybe Passover), would His presence at a pagan healing place not have caused a stir?
    Was it lawful to be there?
    Granting the Hellenisation of Jerusalem, would a Jewish gospel still not have mentioned such a blatantly pagan practice once Jesus had been associated with it?
    If Jesus’ act is a prophetic one of challenging the Greek god to heal,compared to the God of the Jews,would not He have said something about that to those seeking healing there? The Jewish prophets always challenged paganism and idolatry among the Jews. Jesus was prophet par excellence.
    I have always thought that the main reason that He healed the man was the compassion He had because the old man had waited so long and had no chance to be healed. It allowed me to think that the others were left there to catch the next wave, as it were.
    If Jesus chose this man and not the others, and it is an Ascelepius healing place, does not then Jesus become an accessory to idolatry by His selectivity and silence?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear kostya,

      as you well know reconstructing history deals not with certainties, but with likelihoods of probabilities. So can we be 100%? no. In my mind that i think this possibility stands at about 80-85% not more, but not less. As per your series ‘why” questions, those are arguments from silence. Although some things need to be pointed out. In my following post I will argue that the authorities used Sabbath accusation, but REALLY viewed his healing and claims as problematic. Hellenistic facilities were well mixed with Jewish ones, so a stir I am not sure about plus it looks like that not too many people knew how he looked like also. About Jewish gospel not mentioning blatantly pagan practice. Most things that went on were not mentioned in the Gospels. gospels like any other literature of this sort are very selective. Especially if it was written early (I think it is) then it did not feel that it needed to explain the things that were already known. As to your next points they are similar to the ones i just addressed. i think we need to continue to examine things and think together. Its just a beginning of this quest, not the end.

  25. ruth hirt

    The living Creator, the G_d of Israel, Who my G_d is is without any question The Healer.

    I appreciate your added researched informations. Thank you very much.

  26. Wayne Baxter

    Very insightful. Thanks.

  27. RamonAntonio

    The comment by Michelle has inspired me to look in my reference library. Indeed she is correct in tying John 5 and Numbers to the intent of God in possibly using an Egyptian symbol to instill curing of mortal bites by snakes. Well I think everything is tied.
    Moses was a learned prince of Egypt so the significance of the snake was obvious to him. In fact, he and Aaron had used their staffs by converting them to snakes and their snakes proved to be the Big Kahunas by eating the Egyptian snakes of the Egyptian sorcerers.
    But interestingly, John introduces the snake in Chapter 3 in relation to Jesus meeting with Nicodemus. Chapter 3 precedes the healing in Chapter 5 both in the writing and in time sequence, thus, Jesus actually spoke of snakes before the healing.
    The image of the snake as used by Jesus deserves a complete analysis by itself. I’ll only mention this, Jesus revealed to Nicodemus that by raising Him he would bring salvation but also that by looking to Him with faith healing would be achieved similar as when the nomad Israelite people “looked” at the raised bronze snake ordered by God to Moses as an act of faith in their only God. So the healing was attained in the dessert by looking with faith to the snake which was ordered to be created by God. So it was raised, to be looked upon.
    In John 5, the paralyzed one, a possible reference to his status as not part fully of the people of Israel who were travelers following God, is restored to full participation in the promise (ability to walk again among the people) by looking to Jesus and not down to the serpents in the pool or the moving water.
    A signal is then made to all there, and to Nicodemus who was also a learned leader of Israel. As thus, Nicodemus would be able to remember what Jesus said to him, “…even though the Spirit comes and goes from and to wherever it wants an no one is able to see it… the Son of man must be raised in order to be seen…” And the paralyzed man was healed by seeing Jesus while waiting to be healed by the water.
    This whole excursus of revelation by Jesus goes from Nicodemus, to the Samaritan woman (I am, the one i front of you) to the paralyzed man to whom Jesus reveals to in the Temple as the one who cured him.
    See Beale and Carson, Commentary on the Use of Old Testament in the New…

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Perhaps, there is a lot more here that I realize at the moment.Thank you, Ramon.

    2. Eric Rodríguez

      This episode (Jesus-Naqdimón/Nikódemos) has probably a hard conection with one of the more curious hermeneutic rules of Jewish interpretation: Gimatriyah.Notice this:
      נחש Nachash (snake) in Gimatriyah = 358
      משיח Mashiach (Messiah)in Gimatriyah =
      8+10+300+40 = 358.
      בן האדם = Ben Ha’adam = the son of ‘Adam
      400+4+1+5 – 50+2 = 358
      Here: Nachash=Mashíach=Ben Ha’adam;
      Yehoshúa’, knowing these rules used by rabbis, He said:
      “So like was lifted the snake in the wilderness, so it’s necessary Ben Ha’adam (= Mashíach) to be lifted…

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        I am not a gematria guy. But this makes even doubter like myself give it a thought! For Gematria experts out there. How hard is it to fit other things in number 358?

        1. Eric Rodríguez

          Other connection in gimatriyah is:
          יבא שילה
          (5+30+10+300) + (1+2+10) = 358
          = Yavo’ Shiloh = That come Shiloh!
          אור העולם
          (40+30+6+70+5) +(200+6+1) = 358
          = ‘Or Ha’olam “The light of Universe/World

          1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            I am more skeptical here. Its several words and no presence of such in the texts at least not up to Chap.5.

            SNAKE/Nachash being one word and being 358, however, still has me thinking.

          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            Light of the world is all over john of course.

          3. Eric Rodríguez

            Bséder Dr. Eli, thanks!
            All these verses of John, speak about “The light of The World”, one of the names used by Mashiach in his first visit/stay:

            Jn 1:7, 3:19, 8:12 (I’m the light of the world) 12:46… So, because of ‘Or Ha’olam (the light of the world)= Mashíach = Nachash = Ben Ha’adam there is an interesting connection… 😀 SHalom!

          4. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            Brilliant comments by every one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOW. I learned a lot.

      2. Drs. Charles van den Berg

        Gematria is a part of the Kaballa as is present in sources from outside of the Bible. Why should we use this in the interpretation of the Bible? What do we bring from outside into the Bible? The writers of the N.T. where interpreters from the TENACH. Did they use it? I think there is only one mention where it seems so: Rev. 13:18: This calls for wisdom… let him calculate the number of the beast ..666’ We go to test this in gematria .
        1) Ps. 118:20 is said with respect to The Lord , that He has become TO CORNERSTONE. The value of this is (5+50+80)+(300+1+200+30)=135+531=666 Conclusion can be: The Lord has become the beast.
        2) Rev. 13:18: ‘ and his number is 666 ‘. ( 20+1+10 ) + (70) + (1+100+10+9+40+70+200) + ( 1+400+300+70+400) + (600+60+6) = 31+70+430+1171+666= 2368. Ιησους Χριστος (= 10+8+200+70+400+200 (888)) + (600+100+10+200+300+70+200 (1480) = 2368. Conclusion can be :Jesus Christ is the beast.
        3) ‘And his number is 666 ‘ ( 2368) has in hebrew the value ‘2701’.The 28 letters of Gen 1:1 has the value of 2701. The Conclusion can be: The beast is the Creator of heaven and earth.
        4) The sentence ‘for it is man’s number , and his number is 666 ‘
        has the value 467+2701= 3168. It is the same as The Lord Jesus Christ, Κυριος Ιησους Χριστος, 800+888+1480= 3168. The conclusion can be: Our Lord Jesus Christ is the beast.

        5) Gen 3:24: ‘and a flaming sword ‘ ,215+44+407=666. Conclusion van be: the beast is bodyguard of the tree of life.
        Because this is conflicting with the complete revelation in the Bible it can not be a good way for interpretation. ‘ This calls for wisdom …..So I am not only sceptical, but the critic of gematria.
        Charles van den Berg

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Eric, I am about to close the comments on this page, so if you would like to respond do it and I will bring this discussion to its well deserved conclusion.

          Charles, thank you so much for your input. Very helpful.

        2. Eric Rodríguez


          As you can see, Guematriya’ is an art, can’t be in the hands of any person… It’s necessary to have the Holy Spirit to obtain a correct interpretation… You have to know to choose the better sense… according to whole Bible… so your conslusions are bad and wrong…

  28. Annelie

    Thank you so much for sharing that. It gives you something to really think about.

  29. Ilya Gromov

    I know I’m getting ahead but I’ve been thinking about this whole encounter and in verse 7, when Jesus asks the man if he wants to become well, his reply implies that water was not stirred all the time (as I imagine it would be if it was simply flowing from upper pool to the lower) – “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up. While I am trying to get into the water, someone else goes down there before me”. I think that whoever added bit about angel stirring up water was probably influenced by this verse.
    Is it possible that some sort of supernatural stirring did occur?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Can the stirring be caused supernaturally???? Of course it could. However, there several “natural” explanations the one I already name in the article (is the first one) and the second one that this was a place of a natural hot spring common for these parts. Roman bathhouses were almost always build around those hot springs. The fact that ancient people considered that to be act of something supernatural, does not mean that we need to. But if they did and if for one reason or another it was really supernatural, no harm is done also. Because whether or not it was supernatural makes no difference.

      Disclaimer: The pool of Bethesda and its connection to the Aclepeus cult for me personally rules out the supernatural explanation 🙂 :-).

      1. Ilya Gromov

        In NET Bible there is a footnote that mentions that better translation of Bethesda would be “a house of flowing”, so I think that it all fits very well… Except for the verse 7 that implies that there’s a specific time slot for going into the water – “whoever get’s in first” sort of thing, that our man kept missing. What are your thoughts on that?
        Or will you address that in the next post? 🙂

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          House of flowing is not a better translation. However, it is a possible translation as another though less likely option. If that indeed was the translation, then this would point to hot springs (today it is also believed to have healing powers). People pay money to sit in the mineral rich water for few hours. It does wonders for your skin and bones, for examples. Let’s keep thinking together. Kak govoritsia in Russian “esli dolgo muchetsia…” 🙂

  30. Michelle

    Wow, Dr. Eli, this is fascinating! Once again you’ve shared a very important piece of information – the archaeological discovery of the snake figures at the pool, connecting it to Asclepius – which gives a much clearer picture of what is happening in this passage of Scripture.

    I can see translators (transcribers?) adding in the phrase about the angel stirring the waters, simply because they, too, supposed the pool was a Jewish pool and not something else.

    But now my curiosity is turned in another direction. You said that snakes were an important part of Asclepius’ cult, which was of the Greek religion. If this symbol was used for cults such as the cult of Asclepius, then is it possible that it was also used in ancient Egyptian religion for the same reason? If it were used in ancient Egypt as part of their religion, the children of Israel would have been aware of this during their time of captivity in Egypt, but they would have known it as a heathen practice.

    So, I now have a puzzling question on my hands: why would God want Moses to afix a bronze serpent to a staff for the people to gaze at when they had been bitten by snakes? (Numbers 21) Why would God want His people to practice something that was practiced by heathen cults, or that was associated with heathen cult beliefs?

    I know I’ve connected something in John 5 to something in Numbers 21, which really isn’t fair because they’re truly not related, but I would so appreciate your thoughts on this.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I wondered about the same connection whether it exists. I concluded that it does not otherwise at least in John there would not be a LONG break between Snakes in John 3 and snakes in John 5, but who knows?! 🙂

  31. Dionisio

    Thank You very much for your great help with the understanding of this Gospel. Regarding your comments about this passage How could you reconcile your interpretation with the quotation [1]?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Sure. Thank you for a good question. I will first quote another comment that one of the participants in this blog’s conversation already made (you can see her full comment above). Michelle wrote: “I can see translators (transcribers?) adding in the phrase about the angel stirring the waters, simply because they, too, supposed the pool was a Jewish pool and not something else.”

      In opposition to the popular belief copyists of sacred literature did edit their copied texts more liberally that our theological comfort zone allows. This was probably one of these cases. There was a steering of the water mentioned in the text itself. It is likely that it was “obvious” to the pious Christian scribe that a water must have been steered by an angelic visitation. Few scribes may have even discussed this and came to this conclusion together. But unlike the author of John there were not familiar with the structure of the pool of Bethesda. They could not have known that most-likely the water from the high reservoir was let into the lower thereby creating a steering in the pool and that piece of Aclepeus’ cult would be found there centuries later. (Perhaps, there is another explanation of all of this, but this is what comes to mind as highly likely scenario.)

  32. RamonAntonio

    The recent Catholic Bible of Navarra, by the Opus Dei scholars, states in detail that some Vulgate manuscripts include the narrative of the angel stirring the water as cause of the healings but notes that the Neo Vulgate translation omits the narrative in the text and makes reference to it as a note.

    Their explanation is very illuminating. The narrative of the angel does not appear in some very important Greek manuscripts and codices nor appears in important ancient documents. Thus, this reinforces the notion that in Greek tradition, there is no reference to the Hebrew angel acting whatsoever in connection with the healing because the Greek tradition ascribed the healings to Asclepius and Greek gods.

    Thus, I tend to concur with the idea that Jesus goes to a perfectly Greek setting where people asked for healing from Greek gods and delivered himself the healing without washing in the pool, as was supposed to be, to “signal” unequivocally that His power came from His God and not from any other god.

    I also concur with the notion that John is a perfectly historic recount of Jesus ministry although it has significant elements of exegesis that almost qualify the Gospel as a complete exegesis on the previous three sinoptic. That’s why it is so different from them for it aims to be what we could construe as a commentary to them.

    Great comment, Dr. Eli.

    Wish you and all a spiritually significant Lent. After all, we Catholics look forth to a new Pope thanks to beloved Benedict XVI’s unexpected “Nite Nite” waltz away…


    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Ramon, thank you very much for your thoughtful feedback! Most illuminating.