Pool of Bethesda, Jerusalem: Jesus Heals the Paralytic

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.

John 5:2-9 (NKJV)

The Pool of Bethesda is located in the city of Jerusalem in the Hill Country of Judah which is in the central part of Israel. In the first century, Jerusalem was part of the Roman province of Judea and was built upon a mountain with two valleys wrapping around it on either side (Hinnom Valley to the west and Kidron Valley to the east) and a valley cutting through the center of the city called the Tyropoeon. Across the Kidron Valley is the Mount of Olives which rises above the heights of the city, and to the north of this mountain, it dips into a saddle and rises to form another ridge called Mount Scopus. The region in and around Jerusalem is dry most of the year with annual rainfall between 28-36 inches during the winter months. Throughout the spring (May to mid-June) the temperature is mild, yet it gradually increases as summer is a dry, hot, and dusty time, especially with its locality with the Negev desert to the south. During the summer, it is common for winds to blow in from the eastern and southern deserts to form a thick brown haze around the city called a sharav where the temperature spikes and the humidity can drop forty percent. The sharav dries everything and leaves a blanket of dust on the land, but in the area of Jerusalem and to the north the sharav also helps ripen the grains of barley and wheat for harvest. Finally, by mid-September to mid-October, the end of summer approaches, which ushers in the fruit harvest and the rainy season.

For the Jewish people, Jerusalem has always been the spiritual heart beat. It was in this city that David established his capital, Solomon reigned, the first and second temple stood, and where it is believed the Messiah will return. Jerusalem is a city over 3,000 years old, but is a place that has been identified as Jewish for almost all of its history. It was where Jesus of Nazareth was dedicated in the temple as a boy, would have attended the feasts, spent his last days teaching, observed the Last Supper with his disciples, was crucified, and then was resurrected from the dead to ascend into heaven from the Mount of Olives. Jerusalem was the pulse of religious Jews, and the birth of the Church, yet it was also a hotbed for ideals and under strict Roman control with the Fortress Antonia dominating the northwestern end of the Temple Mount.

The geography of Jerusalem played a direct role in the events that transpired during the final days before Jesus was arrested and crucified. Everything He did, He did for a reason as Jesus challenged social norms, called for repentance, and preached. After His arrival into the city upon the donkey where He was celebrated as a triumphant king, Jesus entered into the Pool of Bethesda, which is located slightly northeast from the Fortress Antonia and in close proximity to the Temple Mount. The central place of the pools was a prominent Gentile area where people who were ill and diseased gathered near the waters to be healed. The Gospel of John gives a brief description of this pool, mentioning that it has five porches; archaeology has shown this site to be a temple to Serapis (Greek: Asclepius), who was the god of healing.

           Serapis was a conglomeration of deities, created by Ptolemy I who was one of the successors of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. Serapis was believed to have a unique set of powers and was identified with sacred snakes as he took on the embodiment of Asclepius, a Greek deity of healing. Serapis was an appellation of Greek and Orient qualities that appealed to the Romans and, therefore, we find a temple set up with twin pools near the Fortress Antonia. Most likely the five porches also possessed a military chapel for the soldiers near the pools where people came to be healed. At the pools themselves, history reveals to us that the priests would send a snake into the waters and proclaim healing for anyone who could step in. Excavations have also shown pipes leading into the pools so that air could be sent through to create bubbling and a stirring motion which John also attributes to the angel (Asclepius could sometimes be pictured with wings).

At the pool, Jesus found a lame man who had been stricken with disease for thirty-eight years, had been unable to crawl to the pool for healing, and was abandoned as there was no one to assist him. This shows the character of Hellenism which venerates the body and, therefore, a sick or diseased man would have no place in Hedonistic thinking. Rather, the people most likely to be healed would be those with hardly any ailments at all who could reach the water easily. However, Jesus deliberately went to this place to declare war on Serapis, to show to everyone who the real Healer is, to rescue a man, and unlike Serapis, Jesus did not choose favourites. Therefore, this geographical place had a direct result in what Jesus wanted to do and what He wished to declare. He simply asked the man if he wished to be healed, the man declares his frustration and misery, and the man is healed. Jesus demonstrated who He was and declared to all the deception of Serapis and the priests. He did this without any doubt in the presence of many other sick and crippled people who were waiting for the water to stir.

By: Peter J. Fast

Advertisements

An Ancient People Seen Today

The Jewish People: An Ancient People

A glimpse into the past:

The ancient east, in particular the Levant and Mesopotamia regions, have always been viewed as the the highway between the continents of Africa, Europe and Asia. Lands of desert, mountains, hills, lowlands, fertile valleys, oasis’ and bodies of water both fresh and salt brought with it tribes, clans, and kingdoms of peoples. Nations contested for power and empires rose and fell to be replaced by other kings and people.

Archaeology has been one of the greatest tools at our disposal in the present age, to grasp a meager understanding of how life was like, how these nations came to be and from where they were birthed. Ancient manuscripts, reliefs, mosaics, frescoes, writings, and so on also has opened our eyes to worlds of gods and goddesses, agricultural pursuits, warfare, trade routes, city locations, monotheism and polytheism.

The study of ancient history has literally shaped our worldview today, and has played a part in the building of modern governments, political systems, religious expression, faith, and much more. However, nearly all of the ancient people groups that we see through the annals of history are either extinct today (Canaanites, Hittites, Philistines, etc) or have changed so drastically, they would never have been recognized should they travel back in time for a visit (i.e. Egyptians, Romans, Indians, Greeks, Arabs, etc). Few remain today that still resemble their ancient ancestral heritage dating back into the B.C. days. Of those, most likely the Jewish race would be the most reliable group to stand alone as a people that have changed very little in the greater scheme of things.  When you scrape away all the modern pursuits and trappings of the Jewish race and take a look at their land (modern day State of Israel), language (Hebrew) and faith (Judaism), you will see the ancient connections spring to life.

Jews returning to ancient homeland:

The Jewish people are returning to their homeland like the ancient prophets predicted in the Bible. Isaiah prophesied, “He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:12). The prophet Ezekiel stated, ” For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.” (Ezekiel 36:24). These are just two examples of many that show prophecies declared by men who were the mouth pieces of God over 2,500 years ago and have now come true in the last century! This is evidence of ancient history being restored before our very eyes by the one who writes history, the God of the Bible, who declares in Zechariah 8:2, ““Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘ I am zealous for Zion with great zeal; With great fervor I am zealous for her.’”

The land of Israel has always had a Jewish presence within her borders. The Bible confirms this connection through the names of regions, cities, and people. History also shows this as well through land deeds, maps, genealogies, explorers, conquering armies, and manifests compiled by credited historians and writers. Today, one can travel the land and view the names of cities and towns that were from the ancient times, places such as: Jerusalem, Dan, Beer’sheva, Hebron, Joppa, Meggido, Hazor, Beit She’an, Ein Gedi, Qumran, Jericho, Modiin, Bethlehem, Masada, etc. These places align with geographical names such as: Jordan River, Dead Sea (Salt Sea), Mount Nebo, Mount Gerrizim, Mount Tabor, Carmel Mountains, Valley of Jezreel, Valley of Sharon, Yamulk and Yarduk rivers, Negev, Red Sea, etc. The Bible also confirms the proper flora and fauna found in the ancient world and still found today (such as pomegranates, wheat, date palms, lilies, etc). The importance of such biblical evidence, even foods eaten in ancient times and recorded in scripture, is tantamount in proving the Bible’s validity. Even with accounts in scripture attesting to the presence of things no longer found in Israel today (such as wild lions and ostriches), historians and extra-biblical eye witnesses of the past have confirmed such things to be true and once existing in this land.

Language:

Since the scattering of most of the Jews throughout the world through war and exiles, much of the ancient spoken Hebrew had diminished so that it was only used in the synagogue as a part of worship, prayer, and reading the sacred books of the TaNaK (Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible). Other dialects of languages evolved, such as Yiddish or Aramaic, that had roots in Hebrew. But as a language, Hebrew died out as an everyday spoken tongue, reserved for religious services. With Jews living abroad in the nations of the world, they assimilated, to the extent that they adopted the languages of the societies in which they lived in (i.e. Polish, German, English, Arabic, French, Spanish and Russian.) However, when Jews started to return to Israel, which was called Palestine at the time of the British Mandate, a young man named Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922) reworked the Hebrew, took what was being used in the synagogues, and introduced it to Jewish natives of the land and immigrants as they set up settlements (moshavim and kibbutzim). He also was able to implement it into the schools which resulted in the creation of the first Hebrew schools in Tel Aviv, the Hebrew University, and other such associations. The Hebrew language was concurrent with the major two Aliyah movements of Jewish immigration in the late 19th century and into the 20th century, as well as during the time of the British Mandate. Thus, in a short while, the Hebrew language that had been nearly dead for 2,000 years was miraculously revived, an act never done before to this scale!

Faith:

Since the destruction of the Second Temple under the reign of Roman Emperor Vespasian (70 A.D), Judaism was faced with a terrifying reality. With the Temple removed from their faith, and the end of the sacrificial system, as well as dispersion and the annihilation of much of the Jewish religious elite apart from many of the Pharisees who survived, Judaism would either have to adapt and change or dwindle and die out. In the coastal town of Yavnah (Jamnia), Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai worked with a newly elected Sanhedrin in reforming Judaism so it would survive. Through this, Judaism would center around the synagogue, rather then as it had around the Temple. Synagogues were already in use throughout the ancient world, but mainly as a place of prayer, study, and congregational meetings. Now, it would take center stage as the main structure to knit the Jewish community together. Judaism would also write out principals of faith, outline new expressions of worship, and the role of the rabbi would become the major player as a religious leader. This new form of Rabbinic Judaism, would borrow more insight and inspiration from the Pharisaic stream then any other ancient expressions of the Jewish faith, for groups such as the Essene’s or the Sadducee’s had been wiped out.

Judaism would remove the blood sacrifice and focus on scripture, prayer, rabbinic literature (Talmud and Mishnah), synagogue setting, living out ones faith through the law, shabbat, the feasts, and kosher laws. Judaism would also look at day to day life and examine the steps for holiness and right living, as dictated and outlined through the Torah. The Yeshiva or (religious classroom) would become stationary rather then the typical traveling talmidim who would be lectured by a rabbi or teacher. In the Yeshiva, a rabbi would be the head teacher, to instruct the students to follow his example and direct them in right living. They would grapple with the scripture, argue, and sort out differences attempting to breakdown and discover the meanings of scripture (hermeneutics) whether literal, allegorical or mystical. The rabbi would become the voice of biblical interpretation, and set a standard for the community to live their lives by. With the Temple destroyed, there would no longer be an active priesthood to conduct  offerings, ceremonies, libations, or other Temple procedures that had been attached to its order and purpose.

Under the Roman Emperor Hadrian, following the Second Jewish Revolt in 135 A.D., he outlawed Jews from Jerusalem, decreeing that they could only enter to pray and mourn upon the day of Tisha ba’Av (9th of Av) which was the day in the Jewish month believed to be when the First and Second Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians and Romans. Jerusalem, seen as the very pulse of the Jewish heart had now been shut to Jews and such a law had prevented a people with the chance to restore their Temple in their Holy City. Instead, Hadrian would rename Jerusalem, Aliea Capitolina and build a temple to Jupiter upon the Temple Mount. This decree would later be reversed after Hadrian’s death, but the damage had been done. Jews therefore, dispersed to other major centers where Judaism increased and strengthened. These places included: Tiberias, Sepphoris, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and many others. Judaism would continue to survive as the faithful Jewish people breathed the breath of life into its nostrils and refused to give up the ancient commandments in the Torah. They would preserve their identity, culture, faith and language as a unique people group chosen by God.

By: Peter J. Fast

(All scripture is taken from New King James Version)

The Four Stooges: The Year of the Four Emperors of Rome

From Nero to Vespasian

68 C.E. – 69 C.E.

The purpose of this article is not to be exhaustive in any way, but to embark on one of the wildest years throughout the ages of Roman history. It was a year that dragged the empire into civil war, assassination and betrayal which nearly destroyed the massive, widespread empire. Although typically historians do not count Emperor Nero as part of the four, since he was already emperor at the time, we shall begin this journey by starting with the tyrant, both loved and hated by the people of Rome.

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (54 C.E. – 68 C.E.)

Nero was known in the annals of history as a lot of things. The fifth emperor of the Roman Empire, tyrant, obsessed musician and poet, the man who crushed the Boudicca Revolt in Britain, started the fire of Rome (64C.E.) and blamed it on the Christians, and a man who did not possess the most favorable view of his mother as he had her executed, and most likely poisoned his stepbrother, Britannicus. Nero was a man driven by lust, grandeur, madness, paranoia, and in the end was betrayed by the very men dedicated to protect him, the Praetorian Guard of Rome, as documented by the Roman historian, Suetonius. Nero had extreme bouts of sadistic, morbid wanes, a great example being that he used captured Christians, as human torches by covering them in pitch and lighting them on fire to illuminate his gardens during feasts and parties.

Nero was of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and so was fifth in line, after Emperor Claudius, to rule the empire of Rome. He loved to travel and perform the arts, often times where he would force people to listen to his poetic rants, sometimes under pain of death if they were to fall asleep (which nearly happened to Vespasian). Nero also was a man of war. He conducted campaigns against Parthia from 55 C.E. until a peace deal was brokered in the year 63 C.E. Nero also crushed the Boudicca rebellion of Britain (60 C.E. – 61 C.E.), the Pisonian Conspiracy of 65 C.E., and was ruler during the majority of the First Jewish Revolt of 66 C.E. – 73 C.E. In the Jewish Revolt, we see Nero’s sense of paranoia come to fruit, (as if executing his mother, and poisoning his stepbrother was not enough evidence). At the failed attempt of Syrian Governor Cestius Gallus to crush the Jewish revolt and take Jerusalem, Nero elected a nobody in the political realm to lead the newly raised Judean Army, and that was Titus Flavius Vespasianus (known as Vespasian). Vespasian, a veteran and master in the art of warfare, lacked incredibly, at the time of his elected command in 67 C.E., in the political arena. Thus, for Nero, he saw Vespasian as a harmless puppet to conduct the affair in the east and crush the Jewish uprising. However, the vice grips would suddenly close on poor Nero’s life as betrayal and treason would occur in his own ranks.

In March of 68 C.E., Gaius Julius Vindex, who was the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, rebelled against the taxation and policies that Nero had set up. Needless to say Nero was not pleased. Being the type of man who may jump at the sound of a door closing, Nero sought out to crush the rebellion. Thus, Nero made his first attempt to crush the rebellion in his own camp, and he dispatched Lucius Verginius Rufus, who was the governor of Germania Superior. Vindex tried to rally his own forces and build them up to face off against Nero’s general, Rufus, however, Vindex was defeated at the Battle of Vesontio in May of 68 C.E. and seeing defeat, Vindex committed suicide. Following in the wake of this victory, Rufus’ own troops saw him as a potential emperor and decided to declare him as Imperator. Rufus declined but the die had been cast as the thought of Nero’s demise had no doubt been planted into the minds of other powerful men in the empire. With the discontent of the legions in Germany, and the rumblings in Spain, one such man quickly rose to the seat of treason which would not bode well for Nero, and that was the Governor of Spain, Servius Sulpicius Galba. Although Nero had Galba declared a public enemy, his support was unstoppable as he was proclaimed by his own troops as representative of the Senate and the people of Rome, SPQR. Once the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus had abandoned Nero and declared allegiance to Galba, it was now clear that Nero was in grave danger, so the young emperor fled Rome, perhaps intending to rally legions to his side to face Galba in battle.

But, unfortunately Nero did not get far. Nero had sent a general to northern Italy hoping to raise an army and watch Galba’s coalition collapse, but this was not to be. Thus, paranoid that he had lost control, Nero made plans to flee to Egypt. The Praetorian Guard used this as an excuse to desert him, since in their minds, he had deserted Rome. So, like he had declared Galba a public enemy, the Praetorian Guard declared Nero a public enemy. In a coup d’etat they sent soldiers to arrest Nero. However, they would not get the satisfaction. As the Praetorian located and approached the deposed emperor on the outskirts of Rome, Nero took his own life following an argument with his servant to kill him. This would all be done in a grisly manner as Nero would end up ramming his own knife through his neck, thus bringing his tyrannical reign to a swift end.

Servius Sulpicius Galba Augustus (8th of June 68 C.E. – 15th of January 69 C.E.)


After throwing many drunken parties and minting his face upon coins decorated with quotes such as, “Liberty of the Roman People”, Galba suddenly became the sixth emperor of Rome. However, like the following list of people to come after him, his rule was not long at all. His mistake started at the beginning of his reign, for he did not react quick enough to flex his Roman muscle around the empire, as it was important him, once stealing the empire through anarchy and treason, to prove to everyone else that he still had it. However, what came next was undoubtedly a bad move. The first thing Galba did was on January 10th 69 C.E., he presented to the Senate a man named, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi Licinanus. Lucius had no political achievements, an obscure family, and had just spent a couple of years in exile. Regardless, Galba adopted Lucius as heir to the throne.  Having done this, Galba naturally made political enemies out of the people who had just thrust him into power. So, Galba’s right hand man, Otho, who had been by Galba’s side since Spain, acted quickly. Out of shock and jealousy of not being made the heir, Otho rallied the disgruntled Praetorian Guard, whom Galba had failed to pay, and made a mad dash for the throne of the empire. Otho bribed all the praetorian commanders to help him take down Galba. Otho would deliver!

On January 15th 69 C.E. Otho went with Galba to sacrifice at the Temple of Apollo, only to slip away from the imperial entourage and be taken by 23 soldiers to the Praetorian Camp where he was welcomed and greeted warmly. Following this, Otho rallied the guard and killed Galba as he went through the Forum. Suetonius describes this well as they slaughtered Galba and Piso and any associates he had that were loyal to him, but miraculously there was no great slaughter. So was the end of Galba, lets continue. (Score for the Emperors 0/1)

Marcus Salvius Otho Caesar Augustus (15th of January 69 C.E. – 16th of April 69 C.E.)

Right from the beginning of his reign, Otho was a smooth-talking, double tongued man who sought, in an underhand way, to gain popularity and explain his succession to the throne as Romes seventh emperor. Obviously everyone knew he had deposed Galba from his seat of power by having the man killed, but Otho made it his mandate to try to relate with the people, appealing to a strange logic by stating that he had murdered Galba in order to avenge Nero. A little odd since Otho had been Galba’s right-hand man from the beginning. However, in Rome a man’s career was of the utmost importance, and true power came at the helm of as many legions as one could muster. So looking closer, before his rise to power, Otho had been a man confined by Nero to Lusitania as governor from 58 C.E., thus he had no real military reputation, had never been a consul, and had no great following among other provincial commanders and armies.

Otho came from Germania of all places, where the illustrious Aulus Germanicus Vitellius Augustus (a generation of Otho’s senior and consul of more than 20 years previously) fixed his eye on Otho’s throne, and preferred himself, instead of Otho, to sit on it. Vitellius was a man of war and the commander of the legions stationed on the Rhine and allowed his troops, rather in a charmed way, to convince him that he should be emperor. Like any legion, they wanted to profit from Vitellius smashing Otho in battle and removing him from the throne. Otho was young, he was only 36 which was considered by Romans to be an age that consisted of a natural lack of experience in war and politics, especially aligned next to a war-dog like Vitellius. It was simple, Vitellius and his troops refused to declare loyalty to Otho and then crossed the Alps with incredible speed in order to march on Rome. This was done to stop Otho from being reinforced by troops from other provinces, most particularly in the Balkans. So, without haste Otho was smashed at the Battle of Cremona in the Po Valley on April 14th 69 C.E. and committed suicide two days later. (Score of the Emperors 0/2)

Aulus Germanicus Vitellius Augustus (16th of April 69 C.E. – 22nd of December 69 C.E.)

After the war-dog, Vitellius had refused to declare loyalty to Otho, and met him near Cremona, he summarily trounced his enemy in a single day, and threw a party two days later as Romes eighth emperor. Once the road had been opened and Rome stood before Vitellius, naturally the Senate declared loyalty to Vitellius and deemed him emperor, honouring him with the title, Augustus, which he graciously accepted.  However, this was a recipe for disaster, as the man at the time who was engaged in an attempt to crush the Jewish Revolt, was a political enemy of Vitellius and had a legions of soldiers at his disposal. His name was Vespasian. It was obvious what would happen next and on the 5th day of the Ides of July, Vespasian was given the title of, Imperator, by his troops and numerous governors, generals, and legions hailed their allegiance to the man whom Nero had believed to be of no political rivalry or threat…which was why he chose Vespasian in the first place to lead the war in Judea. Lines were drawn, names were hurled at one another, and plans were made as Vitellius observed a host of legions, loyal to Vespasian, advance on Rome. Vitellius reacted swiftly, assembling a massive army to meet his enemies, and ironically, at the second Battle of Cremona on 24th of October 69 C.E. the forces loyal to Vespasian, killed 50,000 of Vitellius’ men. But, this was not the end for Vitellius. The scared and petrified emperor, fled back to Rome and barricaded himself in the city. It was not until the 21st of December that a general named, Primus forced his way into the city, sacked it. In the sacking, Primus captured Vitellius, had a rope placed around his neck, and then proceeded to drag him, half-naked to the Forum, all along the Sacred Way. Then at the Stairs of Wailing in the Forum, Vitellius, with a sword at his throat, was murdered. (Score for the Emperors 0/3)

Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (1st of July 69 C.E. – 23rd of June 79 C.E.)

Vespasian’s tale is the easiest to tell. He had a lot of strong support, paid off the right people, pretty much kept his word, was a great liar, was known as a charmer, had a hilarious sense of humour, and had the biggest army. After the second Battle of Cremona, Vespasian renewed the war against the rebellious Jews from the comfort of Alexandria in Egypt, and sent his son Titus (who had the same name) to mop up the rest of the mess and destroy Jerusalem along with the three remaining Jewish strongholds, the most popular being Masada by the Dead Sea. Prior to Jerusalem’s fall, Vespasian departed for Rome. In Rome he eventually got word that his son was successful in destroying Jerusalem in the summer of 70 C.E., with the Fretensis 10 Legion eventually conquering Masada by 73 C.E. in a hollow victory. Vespasian had proven to the empire that he could deliver, and for many Romans, he had restored the glory of Rome which had been devastated by the last 12 months. Vespasian, therefore, was able to lived out his days in pomp and splendour with his two sons to follow in the rule of succession. The oldest son, Titus the conqueror of Jerusalem and womanizer, ruled until 81 C.E. and then died mysteriously, most historians believing that his younger brother, Domitian, poisoned him. Once Titus had died, Domitian, the man who really did not like Christians, seized the throne…but that is another story. (Score for the Emperors 1/4)

By, Peter J Fast