Jesus Never Existed

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Jesus Never Existed

A Jesus "miracle" explored - A Healing at Bethesda?

Miracles - an Introduction

Jesus steals the magic of Asclepius! Pagan sanctuary gets a Christian makeover!

“After this, Jesus went to Jerusalem for a religious festival. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool with five porches; in Hebrew it is called Bethesda.
A large crowd of sick people were lying in the porches – the blind, the lame, and the paralysed. A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. Jesus saw him lying there, and he knew that the man had been ill for such a long time; so he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
The sick man answered, “Sir, I have no one here to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am trying to get in, somebody else gets there first.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man got well; picked up his mat and started walking.” – John 5.1,9.

During the second Jewish war of 132-135 the wrecked city of Jerusalem saw no major conflicts, although the rebel leader Simon ben Kosiba is said to have offered sacrifices at the site of the destroyed temple. Post-war a new Roman city was built on ruins which had stood abandoned for sixty years. This new colony – Aelia Capitolina – was named by Emperor Hadrian for the gods of Rome (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) and himself (Pulbius Aelius Hadrianus).

In the northeastern sector of the new city, just beyond the eastern forum, Hadrian’s architects re-developed an ancient Asclepieion. It was sited close by the Sheep Gate (later Lions’ or St Stephen’s Gate), beyond which Jews had marshalled vast flocks of animals intended for ritual slaughter. The healing shrine probably dates to the earliest Greek presence in the city in the 4th century BC. The existence of a pagan shrine within the shadow of Temple Mount speaks volumes about Jewish fidelity to their tribal god Yahweh.
At the pool of Bethesda, in a depression fed by natural springs, were reservoirs and pools servicing the needs of the healing sanctuary. Holistic treatment on offer at an asclepieion included massage, herbal infusions, dream interpretation and bathing. In the Hadrianic redevelopment the Asclepieion was given an enlarged precinct and a temple to the god.

The 2nd century evangelists, hustling for position in a world full of gods and convinced that they alone possessed divine truth, set out to put the rival cult out of business. It was “useful”, therefore, for gospeller John to have his divine hero perform superior magic at the very spot that the god Asclepius worked his wonders. With the triumph of Constantine this shrine to a pagan god – and the rudimentary hospital that it provided – were soon reduced to ruin.


Miracle, Magic or Myth?


“And when the Devil brings forward Asclepius as the raiser of the dead and healer of all diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ?”

– Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 69.

Why would a divine being go to a pagan healing centre to perform a healing? But in the gospel yarn that is precisely what Jesus does. Unlike in a dozen or so other Jesus “healings”, there is NO prayer, NO touching of hands – a word from the godman is all that is required to end the chronic illness. The punch line about picking up his bed and walking is taken from Mark 2.12.

In locating his miracle gospeller John uses the word “probatike” (“of sheep”) which since the time of the Church Fathers has been equated with “sheep pool” and this in turn has been equated with the pool of Bethesda. But the identification is wrong. Washing thousands of sheep in a reservoir of such depth would have been ludicrous – and would have made the whole reservoir useless for any other purpose.
What the misidentification illustrates is that only a century after the purported “miracle” the theorists of the Church were hard-pressed to fit the fable into a valid landscape. The “sheep pool” was more probably the Pool of Israel, closer to the Sheep Gate and closer to Temple Mount (it is now covered by a car park) – and was thus identified during the Crusader period. But if the Jesus miracle is moved further west to this pool the rest of the story doesn’t fit at all! Why would the sick gather around a sheep dip?
Notice that the paralytic in John’s yarn does NOT “believe” in Jesus (a shortcoming which in Nazareth prevented JC from doing “mighty work”). He does not even know who Jesus is (John 5.13) but evidently the invalid does believe in the healing powers of the pool when “stirred up” (that is to say, by the rival god).
Amusingly, the “stirred waters” bit troubled some early Christians (a natural manifestation of the water flow but seemingly the action of non-Christian spirits). So some copies of John’s gospel added in an acceptable explanation: the water was stirred by an angel of the Lord! Healing was the prize of a cruel race:

“For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.” – John 5.4.

But if there was already Christian magic at work, what need was there for Jesus to intervene? So later versions of John removed the angel!
The second, more ominous, part of the Christian “Bethesda” message occurs a few verses later when JC again encounters the healed man. NO cheery words of encouragement from Mr Loving Kindness, NO stress upon “faith’, but a threat to the poor man should he sin again.

“Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him,
Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”

– John, 5.14.


One wonders what sin a man sick for thirty eight years could have committed. Could it be worshipping the wrong god? The answer is prosaic. Woe betide you if you patronise the competition!

The priestly purpose of the “healing miracle” of Bethesda was to have Jesus neutralise the ancient magic of Asclepius.


Those "five porches"


Archaeology does not support the claim made by Christian apologists (following the lead of 3rd century Origen) that “porticos” surrounded the two reservoirs. By supposing that another ran across the central “dam”, they derive the “five porches” referred to by John.

And yet the sick and lame would never enter 13 metre deep reservoirs (and nor would sheep be washed in them!). It was the numerous small, medicinal baths within the Asclepieion which were used for healing. If the “five porches” referred to anything, it is rather more likely that the Asclepieion here, as elsewhere, had an E-shape facing the pools and thus might be said to have “five porches”.


In the empire of Christ created by the Christian emperors, Asclepia were quite unnecessary. Prayer and the touch of a saint’s bones were the only medicine a Christian required. God himself would decide who lived or died. To interfere with that divine judgement was sacrilege and the Devil’s work.
To totally eradicate their ancient rival, and armed with the “gospel truth” as their guide, the Byzantines built a church directly above the sanctuary of the old god.
On its debris arose first a church to Jesus’ mother. As the legend grew, the original church of Mary was replaced by a church honouring Jesus’ purported grandmother Anne, a character without any gospel pedigree.
In the dreamscape of Christian fantasy, not a healing shrine of Asclepius but the house of Mary’s childhood underlay the basilica!
Does that make Mary a water nymph?

The smaller pools of the Asclepion – NOT the deep reservoirs – served for healing. The pagan sanctuary was first destroyed and then built over.

"Porches" at the Asclepieion of Cos, Greece.

Where DID they get their ideas from?

Spit, Touch and Faith – The Miracles of Jesus

Mark provides a prototype in which blindness is cured by faith. The tale is copied, almost word, for word by Luke (18.35,43):
“At Jericho … blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called … And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.” – Mark 10.46,52.
Mark also reports a cure for blindness involving spit and touch, though seemingly without faith:
“And he cometh to Bethsaida and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. – Mark 8.22,26.
Spit is obviously an important aspect of Jesus magic and works equally well with deafness:
“He came unto the sea of Galilee … And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.” – Mark 7.31,35.
In Matthew’s report of the healing at Jericho, it is JC’s touch alone that affects a cure (though he does double the magic with two blind men, not just one):
“At Jericho … two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David … And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you? They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened. So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.” – Matthew 20.29,34.
“Two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou son of David, have mercy on us … and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. And their eyes were opened.” – Matthew 9.27,30.

Curiously, the blind are always male, never female. Another indication that the Jesus yarn is pious fiction not historical fact?


  • Robert Gordon, Holy Land, Holy City (Paternoster, 2004)
  • H. J. Richards, Pilgrim to the Holy Land (McCrimmons,1985)
  • S. Gibson, J. Taylor, Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Palestine Exploration Fund, 1994)
  • W. Keller, The Bible as History (Hodder and Stoughton, 1969)
  • Joan Taylor, Christians and Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins (Clarendon, 1993)
  • Martin Biddle, The Tomb of Christ (Sutton, 1999)
  • Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land (Oxford, 1986)
  • Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem (HarperCollins, 1997)

Related Articles:

Jesus miracle site?

Jerusalem. The Church of St Anne and the excavated site of the “pools of Bethesda”.
The Church of St. Anne is also known as the Church of the Paralytic in homage to the purported Jesus miracle.
But the miracle is bogus. The yarn was concocted to scupper the ancient cult of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing.

Jesus miracle site?

“Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it; even unto the tower of Meah they sanctified it, unto the tower of Hananeel.”
– Nehemiah 3.1.

Jesus miracle site?

“In Hadrian’s grid plan a street ran across the dyke dividing the ancient pools to terminate in front of the temple.”
– O’Connor, The Holyland, p30.

Limited excavation around the Church of St Anne in 1957 and 1962 revealed the foundation walls of the sanctuary of Asclepius and numerous pools and basins, overlaid by later Byzantine and Crusader churches.

Stirring the water

Asclepius rises from the healing pool. (Asclepieion mosaic, Kos, Greece)

So popular and widespread was the following of Asclepius that the cult not only had sanctuaries throughout the Greek world but even had a shrine within the shadow of the Jewish Temple.

The cult of Asclepius, combined veneration of the god with the healing arts.
The deep reservoirs of Bethesda were built, possibly as early as the 2nd century BC, to store winter rains for use in the Jewish temple.
Nearby shallow pools and basins offered healing and recuperative services.

"Five Porticoes"

Dreamland. Is that five or seven porticoes? Christian apologetics' bizarre and dangerous concept.

How the Asclepieion may have looked, with the sanitaria arranged to provide treatment in the small pools and baths.

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