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

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Part Three:”Let us worship the creation instead of the Creator!”: The clash between the pagans and the radical idea of monotheism

Part Three: Ancient Israel: The Radical Monotheists 2400 – 516 B.C.E. Date is based on the Biblical account from, “The Age of the Patriarchs” to Abram’s calling from God to the rebuilding of the second temple after its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E and seventy years of exile.

A Tale of a People called to be Different:In the Bible we see a man called, Abram, called by God to journey to a land that will be given to his descendents (Gen. 12:3-5). God promises Abram that he will be the father of many nations and through him, God will build up a people which He will have an everlasting covenant with (Gen. 15). From that moment on Abram’s name is changed to Abraham which means, “Father of many nations”. God demonstrates that all the nations around Abraham seek and worship false gods, and that He alone is the one true God. The Bible does not provide us with what Abram’s life was like prior to this incredible encounter, but the Midrash (literally means: between the lines- it is a collection of stories and narratives from Jewish Oral History), paints us a picture of when Abram was young growing up in the land of Ur.

The story tells us that Abram’s father was an idol maker and one day, Abram decided to test the validity of these “false gods” and so he smashed them all and then put a hammer in the hands of a large idol. When his father came home, Abram is said to have explained that there was a ferocious battle and the large god smashed all the other gods with the hammer. To this, Abram’s father exclaimed that this was simply ridiculous and impossible, to which Abram scoffed at the senselessness then in manufacturing such images and worshiping them. It was after this, he left Ur and it was then that the true God, called to him.

Whether true or not, this story would most definitely make sense aligned with the incredible test of faith and endurance we see Abraham go through. He and his wife are of old age, and are visited by an Angel of the Lord who tells them she will conceive of a son whom will be the promised son of Abraham with which this covenant between him and God will pass through. Abraham’s wife, Sarai, scoffs at the angel and her name is changed to Sarah which takes its meaning from, “one who laughs”. Later, when nothing seems to happen, Sarah convinces Abraham to take the Egyptian maid-servant, Hagar (Genesis 16) into his bedchamber and later a son is born and named, Ishmael.

This would have been acceptable in the culture which Abraham lived in, as sometimes a surrogate mother was available in times where a wife was barren. Once the child would be born, it would be considered that of the flesh and blood of the father and barren mother, so that it would take on their name to see their family line continue. In the case of Ishmael though, God was not pleased and he was not intended to be the promised son that we see God declare to Abraham in Genesis 12,15. Shortly after this, we see Sarah conceive and give birth to Isaac, who is to take the inheritance of his father, and through him to bear the covenant of God as His chosen people destined for a Promised Land which later is the land of Canaan as described in: Gen. 26:3-12, 28:4, 28:13, 28:15, 35:12, 48:4, 48:21; Ex. 3:8, 13:11, 23:31, 32:13, 33:1; Lev. 20:24, 23:10, 25:2, 25:38, 26:42; Num. 14:8, 15:2, 26:53, 26:55, 32:22, 33:53, 34:2, 34:12, 34:29, 35:34; Deut. 1:7-8, 1:21, 1:35-36, 3:18-20, 4:1, 4:21, 4:38, 4:40, 6:3, 6:10, 6:18, 6:23, 7:1, 7:13, 8:1, 8:7-15, 11:31, 12:1, 12:10, 25:19, 26:9, 26:15, 27:3, 28:11, 30:5, 31:7!!!!! (I have just listed passages from the Torah, which are the first five books of the Bible, although many more exist about Israel’s place in the land such as Psalm 105:8-11; Isaiah 56:5, 61:1-7; Jeremiah 31:35-36, Ezekiel 36:24, 37:21-28, and many more!)

From the father of Isaac, whose name was Jacob and later changed to Israel, we see a God who interacts with man desiring a relationship with them and to glorify His name through the entire world. Through this relationship, so different from all the other nations around, Israel was given the Law (Torah), covenant, responsibility to bear a witness of God, blessings and warnings if they should or should not choose to obey God. As we see in Genesis 15, God “Cut a Covenant” with Himself in the presence of Abraham who was seeing this in a vision.

Cutting a Covenant was an ancient custom seen through Mesopotamia where two parties would come together over a matter (real estate, purchase, goods, etc) and cut animals in half scattering pieces on either side of them. Then, the two people would walk through the center in front of witnesses, therefore declaring that if either one broke the promise that they would become like the dead carcasses. In Abraham’s case, he would have been baffled when God gave him this instruction. He would have known right away what was about to happen, but puzzled because the performance of Cutting a Covenant meant the two people were equal, and how could man be equal to God? However, we see something incredible, God puts Abraham to sleep and in a vision, Abraham see’s God as a fiery pot pass between the pieces by Himself, thus God makes the pact with Himself because man would never be able to uphold any kind of deal or covenant with God. God makes the covenant binding, and Abraham must have blown a sigh of relief because he would know he could never have upheld his end of the covenant.

Along with such a covenant, we see God outlining clear blessings and curses if Israel would not adhere to being a righteous people. If Israel was to follow God, trust in Him, and honor Him totally, there would be physical blessings (rain, crops, birthrate, wealth, national influence, etc). Yet, if Israel would turn away from God and chase after abominations such as false gods, taking foreign wives, and making covenants with pagan nations, God would judge His people. We see these warnings very clear in passages such as Exodus 23:33 and 34:15. In Leviticus 25:38 it states, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.” This land of Canaan, which would become the Kingdom of Israel/United Monarchy (1020-931 B.C.E.) and even though two millenia have passed, it is still the Land of Israel, God’s nation and God’s inheritance for His people. This amazing truth reemerged upon the world scene again on May 14th, 1948 when the State of Israel was reborn. It shows God’s stamp and that He is the God of history and the future, nothing catches Him off guard.

The High Places: (Mentioned 74 times in the Bible): In the Biblical book of 1 Kings 3:3 we see Solomon, who is the King of Israel, (and King David’s son) begin to offer incense and tribute to the gods of his foreign wives. All of this is done on, “the high places” and we see him build such places through “state sponsored” actions. In the Book of Hosea 10:8 the prophet (same name as the book) rebukes the Kingdom of Israel and proclaims that these high places are blasphemous and that thorns and thistles should grow on their altars. To add to this, Hosea shouts that because of such places mountains and hills should collapse and crumble upon them.

Sadly, despite the law, proclamations, warnings, judges, prophets, and righteous kings, this is a common theme we see interwoven through the Book of Leviticus to the end of the Hebrew Bible/TaNaK. The main problem exists in two realms. One, Israel is surrounded by pagan nations and so this, naturally would be an enormous pressure upon them to be like the other peoples, especially with the threat of intermarriage. Second, whenever Israel took her eyes off of God, they strayed away and did their own thing, which at that time was to adopt paganism and conform to those patterns. Thus, we see many times in the history of ancient Israel, the sinful Israelite’s bringing in foreign wives and idols, constructing temples and altars to false gods, and ascending up to the “high places” which were the seats of idolatry in the land that the true God had given them as an inheritance.

The perfect example is the Golden Calf (Ex. 32) which was set up at the base of Mount Sinai (or Mount Horeb) in the wilderness. Moses had ascended up the mountain to be with God, and had been away for weeks. The people, thinking he was dead, pressured Aaron into constructing a calf of gold (ironically like the idols in Egypt) and set this up next to an altar to the Lord. This early form of syncretism was evident as the people proclaimed to the gods of gold that they would serve and worship them. This account of apostasy ends with Moses destroying the tablets of the Law, rebuking the people, and God’s wrath swallowing up thousands. This even after God had led them from Egypt in glory, descended upon the mountain in smoke and fire while they were encamped around it (Ex. 19), and had revealed Himself in countless ways, showing to be true to His word.

Kingdom of Israel: (931-722 B.C.E.)

The prophet Amos states in Amos 7:9, “The high places (venishmol behmot- Hebrew for breathing idolatry) of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries (temples) of Israel laid to waste. I will rise with the sword against the house of Jeroboam.” King Jeroboam of the Kingdom of Israel, in an attempt to steer his people away from pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship, is seen in the Bible as erecting two pagan temples, one in Bethal and the other in Dan. Scripture says he set up a golden calf in each, and declared them to be the gods of Israel. The prophet of Amos clearly speaks harsh judgment upon the Kingdom of Israel which would eventually be destroyed and carried off into exile by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E. because of their wickedness. Through the warlike Assyrians, their practice of assimilation would later bring about the half-breed people called, Samaritans (discussed in the Christian Scriptures) as these people were considered half Jewish. The Assyrians took into captivity the brightest and best of the population, leaving behind the poor, and then would send its own colonialists back into the conquered land to farm it and settle. For Assyria’s reign in the ancient world, this proved to be an effective tool and method of gaining and controlling power for years.

Idolatry was clearly despicable in the sight of the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who ultimately would show His superiority over any fictitious belief in gods by allowing to be built His Holy Temple upon the “high place” of Mount Moriah and no where else. This was not to be any such high place, but one designated by God clearly and with specific detail. Except in this case, faithful Jews who worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem, did not worship and sacrifice to a false gods.

Kingdom of Judah: (931-586 B.C.E.)

Finally, the tale of the high places ends for the southern Kingdom of Judah in the year 586 B.C.E. when the armies of Babylon under the kingship of Nebuchadnezzar, plundered the land, sacked Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple built by Solomon. This disaster would see a large segment of the Kingdom of Judah taken into exile for a period of 70 years before returning under Nehemiah, Zerubbabal, and Zachariah as the second temple would be built. The cause for exile laid in the hands of the king of Judah called Manasseh, who did horrible things which included offering up children as sacrifice into the fires of the Hinnom Valley to the god Molek, and later murdering the prophet Isaiah by sawing him in two. Like, king Jeroboam of Israel before him, Manasseh’s evil was the last straw for Judah as God would pour out his wrath upon them through the conquest of Babylonia.

In closing:

The ancient history of Israel is fascinating as it shows a unique people chosen by God, not because they were mightier, stronger, richer, or more numerous then any of the other nations around them, but for one simple reason, to have His name glorified in the earth. Despite their failings, the Jews have been true to preserving the Word of God, and through them giving birth to Christianity and the Jewish Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). Prophecy, written so long ago about the Jews returning to the land, and Zion being rebuilt, and prospering once more has come true as millions of Jews now reside in the reborn State of Israel. They have preserved their faith through their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and have survived countless attempts at annihilation by enemies throughout time. Through nearly four thousand years of trials, hardships, and blessings, God has been faithful to His word and preserved them. No other nation could have ever taken what the Jews have experienced and still come out on top. They stand apart from every other nation, as a people handpicked by the Almighty to show the world that God moves powerfully through men and that He has a plan to restore His name in a fallen, corrupt, and wicked world.

Israel exists today, God’s covenant with His people remains, and He has kept His word, because of that we have assurance that the Bible is truth and we can trust in Him as a faithful, just God who will see evil crushed and truth prevail.

By, Peter J. Fast

PETER J. FAST

I invite you to explore the dark corridors of ancient history and see it come to life.

The study of ancient history has always fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Whether it be the image of Greek hoplites crammed together in a phalanx, or legions marching stoically across the battlefield I believe it has the power to ignite the imagination of the unknown. The ancient world, particularly around the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, which is what I focus on, was a world very different then what we know today and has stirred poets, politicians, researchers, archaeologists, geologists, and many others to document their findings, write about history seen through their eyes, and try to grasp an understanding of how the ancients thought, behaved, and interacted with one another. This is the beginning of what it means to look into history.

We, in the 21st century, can only look through a key hole back through thousands of years of history and unearth what we believe happened based on evidence, be it archaeological and primary written sources. I believe that the study of history is tantamount to understanding how we have ended up where we are. It involves the exploration into our political society, how we function in society, make war, live our lives, and much more which is mostly based on Greco-Roman ideals. To understand the past can open up that key hole further in how we should and should not live our lives and what choices we should or should not take. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I seek not only to remember and study the past, but to bring it to life through my writing and hopefully, God willing, give people a glimpse into ancient history of how the people of those times may have worshiped, thought, loved, ruled, fought, suffered, succeeded, died, and lived. We even see the fascination in culture and history taking place in the ancient world with figures such as Alexander the Great or Roman Emperor Hadrian (to just name a few).

“It is the echoes of the past that turn our ear to what may have taken place, and this curiosity, intrenched in so many people, is something we cannot run from.”

Peter J. Fast

Documenting ancient history, why bother?

Battles, sieges, generals, suffering, and victory has always been the price tag of ancient civilizations as they struggled together in a changing world as empires and kingdoms marched on leaving many in the dust. Whether it was Spartans and Athenians, Macedonians and Persians, Carthaginians and Romans, or Seleucid’s and Ptolemies, all shook the earth, all changed history, and all were documented and recorded. To understand the ancients, we must turn to the witnesses and people living at the time and what they wrote. Often, we must understand that much of the ancient records of those days were intertwined with their mythological stances, such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, or The Epic of Gilgamesh, there is still much to learn outside of these boundaries however, once we explore the ancient writing or what is known as primary sources. I personally have focused my time and studies on ancient Greece, Rome, and Israel.

However, there is also a greater picture of the people’s and nations living before and after these times which also have piqued my interest over the years which has deepened a desire to broaden my knowledge and appreciation for the complex and diverse world in the B.C.E. years. The timeline is long and the list even longer but the ample amount of rich stories, history, battles, governments, and search for power has never escaped the essence of mankind. I have enjoyed studying such people as the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Carthaginians, Hittites, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Etruscan’s, and many more. The fascinating thing regarding the wealth of knowledge that has been compiled in libraries and universities throughout the world is that even if you had a dozen lifetimes it would not be enough to fully grasp and master the ancient world. Thus, the primary sources are priceless as they offer one of our best ways to glimpse back through time at what life was like and how it happened.

For me, over the years I have amassed a collection of such sources in which I have studied to better aid my own writing and research as I work towards publishing and establishing myself as an author. Sources that were indispensable for my study were: Polybius, Livy, Caesar, Appian, Cicero, Xenophon, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Plutarch, Homer, Virgil, Herodotus, Thucydides, Flavius Josephus, Plato, Socrates, Philo of Alexandria, and of course all other ancient texts (i.e. Dead Sea Scrolls, Book of the Dead), be they on papyrus, or chiseled into stone.

To grasp an understanding of Jewish history (whether it be pre-temple period or later) the Bible is by far my favorite source. Not only does the Bible shed light on the history of ancient Israel, it also builds an excellent picture for the nations surrounding it as this picture also corresponds with extra-biblical sources, archaeology, and geography. The Bible is vital in understanding the journey for the Jewish people, from Mount Sinai right up into the Second Temple period (with the Christian scriptures/New Testament). It shows their struggle against paganism, worldly pursuits, and how God called them to be a separate people and a light to the world. This is essential in understanding how the Jews would have thus perceived the Greeks and Romans (in later years) and why they reacted the way they did or rebelled, such as in the age of the Maccabees (167-160 B.C.E), or with the two Jewish revolts against the Romans in 66-73 C.E. and 132-135 C.E. The Babylonian Talmud and other Jewish texts such as the stories of the Midrash can also bring to light much of how the Jews thought, practiced their faith, and resisted the pressures from the outside world, mainly Hellenism, which is Greek lifestyle and hedonism in a nutshell. Also, 1st and 2nd Maccabees of the Apocryphal writings can assist in gathering together a picture of what transgressed and how things played out.

I hope I have been able to touch on a few interesting subjects, and I invite you to join me as I move towards publishing my first historical-fiction novel based on the events surrounding the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and the destruction of the Jewish Temple at the hands of Titus Flavius Vespasianus, the son of the Emperor and commander of the legions of Judea. For a synopsis of the novel, character list, and further information, just select the tab, “70 A.D.” and journey back in time. Also, join the group “70 A.D. A Novel about the Jewish War with Rome” on Facebook and stay connected as I move towards the completion and publication of the book.

Cheers,

Peter J. Fast