The Gospel of John reports that the Bethesda Pool was near Jerusalem’s Sheep’s Gate and was surrounded by five porticos, suggesting a pentagonal configuration. Because pentagonal structures were unknown in the first century and no pool had been found near the Sheep’s Gate, scholars once assumed the Bethesda Pool was either a literary device or inaccurately described. In the late nineteenth century, archaeologists uncovered a pool structure just north of the Temple Mount. Excavations in the 1950s disclosed that the pool was rectangular, divided by a stone dam into two nearly square sections. The four sides and the central dam were all topped by colonnaded porticos. Scholars now agree that the Bethesda Pool not only existed where the Bible locates it, but that it had five porticos, albeit not in the configuration people had assumed.
Archaeologists have determined that the Bethesda Pool was built in two stages, with the northern section and the dam built first to collect and store water for the Temple. The second section, south of the dam, was built later to increase the pool’s storage capacity. When completed in the third century B.C., the two-section pool was 400 feet long, 165 feet wide and 50 feet deep, with steps leading into the water. In the fifth century, when the Bethesda Pool was not needed as a reservoir, Christians built a church atop the dam, with both sides of the church perched above the pool on arches anchored in the pool’s bottom.
Whether Jesus healed a paralyzed man at the Bethesda Pool is a matter of faith. Whether the pool existed is not.