The Pool of Bethesda is a pool of water in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, on the path of the Beth Zeta Valley. The fifth chapter of the Gospel of John describes such a pool in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. It is associated with healing. Until the 19th century, there was no evidence outside of John’s Gospel for the existence of this pool; therefore, scholars argued that the gospel was written later, probably by someone without first-hand knowledge of the city of Jerusalem, and that the "pool" had only a metaphorical, rather than historical, significance.
In the 19th century, archaeologists discovered the remains of a pool fitting the description in John’s Gospel.
The history of the pool began in the 8th century BC, when a dam was built across the short Beth Zeta valley, turning it into a reservoir for rain water; a sluice-gate in the dam allowed the height to be controlled, and a rock-cut channel brought a steady stream of water from the reservoir into the city. The reservoir became known as the Upper Pool . Around 200 BC, during the period in which Simon II was the Jewish High Priest, the channel was enclosed, and a second pool was added on the south side of the dam; although popular legend argues that this pool was used for washing sheep, this is very unlikely due to the pool's use as a water supply, and its extreme depth (13m).
In the 1st century BC, natural caves to the east of the two pools were turned into small baths, as part of an asclepieion; however, the Mishnah implies that at least one of these new pools was sacred to Fortuna, the goddess of fortune, rather than Asclepius, the god of healing. Scholars think it likely that this development was founded by the Romangarrison of the nearby Antonia Fortress, who would also have been able to protect it from attack the location of the asclepieion, outside the then city walls, would have made its presence tolerable to the Jews, who might otherwise have objected to a non-Jewish religious presence in their holy city.
In the mid 1st century AD, Herod Agrippa expanded the city walls, bringing the asclepieion into the city. When Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, he placed a roadway along the dam, and expanded the asclepieion into a large temple to Asclepius and Serapis. In the Byzantine era, the asclepieion was converted to a church.
After the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem, the church buildings were rebuilt on a smaller scale with a new church erected nearby. This new church, named for Saint Anne and completed in 1138 AD., was built over the site of a grotto believed by the Crusaders to be the birthplace of Mary, mother of Jesus, and was named for her mother. After the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin it was transformed into a Shafi`i fiqh (Islamic law school). Gradually the buildings fell into ruin, becoming a midden (waste dump). In the early 19th century, the Ottoman Empire, as an act of gratitude, offered Queen Victoria the choice of possessing the Bethesda site or Cyprus; the Anglican church lobbied for the Bethesda site, but Victoria chose Cyprus, so in 1856, the Ottomans gave the site to France instead. The French constructed the Church of Saint Anne, at the south east corner of the site, leaving the ancient ruins untouched.