From Galilee Jesus goes up to the feast of the Pas- John V. 1.
sover, and at the pool of Bethesda heals an impotent John V. 2-9.
man. This act, done on the Sabbath day, arouses the John V. 10-16.
anger of the Jews, who conspire against His life. He John V. 17-47..
defends His right to heal on the Sabbath upon grounds Matt. iv. 12.
that still more exasperate them. At this time He hears Mark i. 14.
of the imprisonment of the Baptist, and retires to Galilee, Luke iv. 14. to begin His work there.
" After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem." Which feast was this ? Opinions are divided between Purim in March, Passover in April, Pentecost in May, and Tabernacles in September. Before considering the arguments used in favor of each by their respective advocates, let us examine the statement of John.
1 So Newcome.
There is much doubt as to the true reading, whether a feast or the feast, eopr-q or rj topTrj. Teschendorf* retains the article, Meyer and Alford reject it. The weight of authority seems against it, and at any rate the reading is so doubtful that we can lay no stress upon it.2 But if it were " the feast," rj eoprrj^ this would not, of itself, as some suppose,3 decide in favor of the Passover, as it might refer either to Passover or to Tabernacles, the two most prominent feasts. Of the latter Josephus speaks,4 as " a feast most holy and eminent;" and again,3 as " a festival very much observed amongst us." But if the article would not limit this feast to the Passover, it would certainly exclude the lesser feasts, as that of Purim.
But, if the article be wanting, it is said that the feast is still defined by the addition to it of the explanatory words " of the Jews," Tw IouSaicuv.6 It is given as a rule of Hebrew, and so transferred to Scripture Greek, that the " noun before a genitive is made definite by prefixing the article, not to the noun itself, but to the genitive." 7 Thus the phrase before us should be rendered " the feast of the Jews," or " the Jews' festival," which must be understood of the Passover. But the rule is given with an important qualification by Winer,8 " The article is frequently omitted, when a noun, denoting an object of which the individual referred to possesses but one, is clearly defined by means of a genitive following."9 As there was but one feast of Tabernacles, the phrase eoprrj To>v Ctkyjvw would be properly rendered "the feast of Tabernacles;" but as there were several feasts kept by the Jews, topTrj Tow IovSatwv, " feast of the Jews," may mean any feast. The passages cited by Robinson come all under the above rule.
1 Synopsis, xxvi., note 2.
2 It is found in the newly discovered Sinaitic manuscript, but the value of that MS. is not yet settled.
3 Hengstenberg, Robinson. 4 Antiq., 8. 4.1. « Antiq., 15. 3. 3. « Hug, Int., 449.
7 Robinson, Har., 190. See in the Septuagint, Deut. xvi. 13; 2 Kings, xviii. 15 ; also Matt. xii. 24; Luke ii. 11 j Acts viii. 5.
8 Gram., 107.
• See also Liicke in loco, who agrees that only where the governing noun exists singly in its kind, is it rendered definite by a noun following.
From the form of the expression, then, nothing can be determined. "We learn simply that Jesus went up to Jerusalem at one of the Jewish feasts. We do not even learn whether it was one of the greater or lesser feasts. It seems to be mentioned only as "giving the occasion why He went up to Jerusalem. He would not have gone except there had been a feast, but its name was unimportant to the Evangelist's purpose.1 Let us then enquire what light is thrown upon it from the general scope of this Gospel.
It is apparent that John does not design, any more than the other Evangelists, to give us a complete chronological outline of the Lord's life. But we see that he mentions by name several feasts which the Lord attended, which the Synoptists do not mention at all.2 The last Passover all the Evangelists mention in common. But these were by no means all the feasts that occurred during His ministry. That of Pentecost is nowhere mentioned, nor does John say that those mentioned by him were all that Jesus attended. During the first year of His labors, or whilst baptizing in Judea, there is good ground to believe that He was present at the three chief feasts, though the Passover only is mentioned. On the other hand, one Passover is mentioned which it is probable He did not attend, (John vi. 4.) Upon examination, we see that the feasts which are alluded to stand in some close connection with the Lord's words or acts, so that it is necessary to specify them. Thus in ii. 13, the mention of the Passover explains the purification of the temple, or driving out of the sellers of oxen and sheep; in vi. 4 it explains how such a great company should have gathered to Him in so lonely a region across the sea; in vii. 2 His words take their significance from the special ceremonies connected with that feast; in x. 22 His presence in Solomon's porch is thus explained.
1 See Luthardt in loco.
2 See ii. 13; vi. 4; vii. 2; x. 22.
In each of these cases the name of the feast is mentioned, not primarily as a datum of time, but as explanatory of something in the narrative; and as the mention of the other feasts was unimportant to his purpose, John passes them by in silence. But the feast before us he mentions, yet does not give its name. What shall we infer from this ? Some infer that it must have been one of the minor feasts, for had it been one of the chief feasts it would have been named. But as he specifies (x. 22) one of the minor feasts, there seems no sufficient reason why he should not specify this, had it been such. All that we can say is, that there was no such connection between this feast and what Jesus said or did while attending it that it was necessary to specify it. The healing of the impotent man, and the events that followed, might have taken place at any feast.
The silence, then, of John determines nothing respecting the nature of this feast. We cannot infer because he has mentioned three Passovers beside, that this was a fourth ; nor, on the other hand, that he would so specify it had it been a Passover.
Let us now pass in review the various feasts, and consider what may be said in favor of each. We have seen that in December the Lord left Judea for Galilee. The first feast was that of Dedication, which was observed in Kislev, or about the middle of December. It is generally agreed that this feast cannot be meant. The next in order was Purim, which fell in March. That this feast was the one in question was first suggested by Kepler, but has since found many eminent supporters.1 But before we consider the arguments in its favor, let us examine its origin and history
1 See Meyer in loco.
Purim was not a Mosaic feast, or of divine appointment, but one established by the Jews whilst in captivity, in commemoration of their deliverance from the murderous plans of Haman, (Esther iii. 7 ; ix. 24.) It is derived from " pur," the Persian word for lot. Haman sought to find an auspicious day for the execution of his design by casting lots. The lot fell on the 14th Adar. Failing in his purpose, this day was kept thereafter by the Jews as a festival. It seems, however, to have been first observed by the Jews out of Palestine, and eighty-five elders made exceptions against it as an innovation against the Law.1 It is mentioned in Maccabees (2 Mac. xv. 36) as Mordecai's day. It is also mentioned by Josephus,2 who says " that even now all the Jews that are in the habitable earth keep these days' festival." It is often alluded to in the Talmud.3
Such was the origin of the feast. It was commemorated by the reading of Esther in the synagogues, and by general festivity, with plays and masquerades. Maimonides says it was forbidden to fast or weep on this day. It was rather a national and political, than religious solemnity,4 and as no special services were appointed for its observance at the temple, there was no necessity of going up to Jerusalem, nor does it appear that this was their custom. Each Jew observed it as a day of patriotic rejoicing and festivity, wherever he chanced to be.5
i Lightfoot on John x. 22. 2 Antiq., 11. 6. 13.
a Winer, ii. 289. * Evvaid, iv. 261.
5 Of the mode of its observance in this country at the present time, a recent New York journal gives the following account: " The day is devoted to mirth and merry-making. In the evening and morning the synagogues are lighted up> and the reader chants the book of Esther. It is a custom among the Jews on this occasion to visit each other's house in masked attire, and exchange joyful greetings."
Lightfoot (on Mark i. 38) remarks that if the feast did not come on a synagogue day, those living in a village where was no synagogue, need not go to some other village to read the book of Esther, but could wait till a synagogue day.1
From this brief survey of the history, and the manner of observance of this feast, it is highly improbable that it is the feast meant by John. It was not one of their divinely appointed feasts, nor was there any legal obligation to keep it. It was not a feast specifically religious, but patriotic; a day, making due allowance for difference in customs and institutions, not unlike the day that commemorates our own national independence. There were no special rites that made it necessary to go up to Jerusalem, and even those residing in villages where was no synagogue were not obliged to go to a village where one was to be found. Why then should Jesus go up from Galilee to be present at this feast ? It was not a time in which men's minds were prepared to hear spiritual instruction, nor could He sympathize wTith the rude and boisterous, not to say disorderly and drunken manner in which the day was kept. Stier, (v. 75,) who defends Purim, admits " the revengeful and extravagant spirit which animated it," and " the debauched manner in which these days of excess were spent." Yet he thinks motives of compassion disposed the Lord to visit once "this melancholy caricature of a holy festivity." But we can see no sufficient motive for such a journey. The tenor of the narrative naturally leads us to think of one of the greater and generally attended festivals. If it be said of a Jew that he went up to Jerusalem to a feast, the obvious understanding would be that it was a feast that he was legally bound to attend, and which could be rightly kept only at Jerusalem.
1 See generally Hengstenberg, Christ, iii. 240 Hug, Int., 449; Wieseler, 222; Brown, Jew. Antiq., i. 574.
The chief argument in favor of Purim is that it is brought by John into such close connection with the Passover, (vi. 4,) and that if it be not Purim, then a year and a half, at least, must have elapsed ere Jesus visited Jerusalem again, the next recorded visit being that to Tabernacles, (John vii. 2.) It certainly, at first sight, seems improbable that a year should intervene between v. 1 and vi. 4, as would be the case if the former were a Passover. But this is not the only instance in which John narrates events widely separated in time, without noting the interval. Thus, ch. vi. relates what took place before a Passover, and ch. vii. what took place at the feast of Tabernacles, six months later. In like manner, in x. 22, is a sudden transition from this feast of Tabernacles to that of Dedication. Why the intervening events are not mentioned finds explanation in the peculiar character of this gospel. That Jesus should have absented Himself for so long a time from the feasts, is explained by the hostility of the Jews, and their purpose to slay Him, (John v. 16-18; vii. 1.)
On the other hand, if this feast be Purim, and the Passover, vi. 4, the first Passover after, or the second of the Lord's ministry, then the interval between them, about three weeks, is not sufficient for all the events that must have taken place. And still less is the interval between December, wThen most of the advocates of Purim suppose the Lord's Galilean work to have begun, and the following Passover (vi. 4) sufficient to include all that the Evangelists relate. The feeding of the five thousand, as is generally agreed, and as will be hereafter shown, marks the culmination of His work in Galilee; yet this took place, according to this view, in three or four months after His work began, for it was a little before the Passover, (vi. 4.) And into this short space are crowded two-thirds, at least, of all that He did in Galilee, so far as recorded. This would be very improbable, even if, as is supposed, His labors there extended only through a year. In the highest degree improbable is the view of Wieseler, followed by Ellicott, that for all this, the little interval between Purina and Passover was sufficient.1
Upon these grounds we think the feast of Purim is to be rejected. It was a feast which it is not at all probable Jesus would go up to Jerusalem to attend, and whose introduction here brings chronological confusion into the gospel history.
The next feast in order is that of the Passover. In favor of this feast it may be said, that it was one which Jesus would naturally attend, as having for Him a special significance. It was also the feast that had the most distinctly religious character, and it was very generally attended by the people, especially the most serious and devout. According to Hengstenberg, " it was the only one at which it wTas a uersal custom to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem." 2 We may thus infer that He would certainly go, unless prevented by the open hostility of the Jews. But no such hostility appears. It was aroused by the healing of the impotent man (John v. 16-18) into activity, but till this event He was unmolested.
But the objection is taken that if this be a Passover, and another is mentioned, (vi. 4,) which apparently He did not attend, then He was not present at any feast till the feast of Tabernacles, (vii. 2,) a period of a year and a half.3 This objection has been already alluded to. Whether the Lord did actually go up to any feast between that of v. 1 and that of vii. 2, cannot be determined.4 We know, at least, that He would not, after the rulers at Jerusalem had sought to slay Him, needlessly expose His life to peril. To the laws of God respecting the feasts He would render all obedience, but with the liberty of a son, not with the servile scrupulosity of a Pharisee.
1 See Lichtenstein, 174; Kiggenbach, 406.
2 See Luke ii. 41, where this feast is specially mentioned.
3 Hug, Int., 448.
4 Jarvis, Int., 570-576, makes Him to have attended them all, even that of Dedication. This is in the highest degree improbable.
As He was Lord of the Sabbath, so He was Lord of the Feasts, and He attended them, or did not attend them, as seemed best to Him. From John, (vii. 21 and 23,) where He refers to a work which He had previously done at Jerusalem, and which we must identify with the healing of the impotent man, (John v. 5,) it appears obvious that He had not, during the interval, been publicly teaching there, and therefore had not attended any feast. Still the point is not certain, as He might have been present as a private worshipper, and without attracting public attention; yet this is improbable.1
Another objection to identifying this feast with the Passover is that John relates nothing as having occurred between v. 1 and vi. 4, an interval of a year. This objection has already been sufficiently noticed.
Pentecost is the feast next in order, and occurred this year on the 19th May. This feast is not mentioned by any of the Evangelists. Though it has had some able advocates, as Calvin, Bengel, and lately Townsend, and was adopted by many of the ancients, it has no special arguments in its favor. It was not so generally attended as Passover or Tabernacles, and no reason appears why Jesus should have omitted Passover and gone up to Pentecost.
The feast of Tabernacles followed upon the 23d of September. The chief argument m its favor is that it brings the feast of v. 1 into close connection with that of vii. 2, only a year intervening, and thus best explains his words, vii. 2123.a But some months more or less are not, under the circumstances, important, for the miracle with its results must have been fresh in their minds even after a much longer interval.
1 See Greswell, ii. 247, who maintains that the five instances recorded byJohn " embrace all the instances of our Saviour's attendance in Jerusalem at any of the feasts."
2 So Riggenbaeh, 408.
If He had not in the interval between these feasts been at Jerusalem, as is most probable, His reappearance would naturally carry their minds back to the time when they last saw Him, and recall both His work and their own machinations against Him. Lichtenstein (175) defends this feast, but it is in connection with the view which we cannot adopt, that our Lord spent the summer of 780 in retirement.
The great objection to identifying the feast before us with that of Tabernacles, is that it puts between the end of chap. iv. and the beginning of chap. v. a period of eight or nine months, which the Evangelists pass over in silence.1
Comparing these various feasts together, that of the Passover seems to have most in its favor, and that of Purim least. Some incidental points bearing upon this question will be discussed as we proceed. We give the following order as the result of our inquiries : Jesus ceases baptizing and leaves Judea in December, 780. His disciples depart to their homes, and He lives in retirement till March, 781, when He goes up to this feast, the Passover. At this time, on His way or after His arrival, He hears of the imprisonment of John, and returns to Galilee to begin His work there.
The name of the pool, Eethesda, locus benignitatis, "house of mercy," indicates that it was a place of resort for the sick, and that its waters had, naturally or supernaturally, healing virtue.* Its position is mentioned as being near the sheep gate, for so cm ry 7rpo/3aTu<r) is generally understood. About the pool were five porches or arches, where the sick might be sheltered.
1 Ebrard avoids this objection, but falls into another as great by supposing nothing recorded between the two feasts, (John v. 1, and vii. 2), but the sending of the twelve and the feeding of the five thousand.
2 As to other etymologies, see Herzog, Encyc. ii. 118 ; Riggenbach 406, note.
A pool has long been shown at Jerusalem as the pool of Bethesda. It lies near St. Stephen's gate, along the north wall of the Temple, and is 360 feet long, 130 broad, and 75 deep.1 There are still to be seen at the southwest corner two arched vaults, one of which Dr. Robinson measured 100 feet westward. He infers that this excavation, is part of the deep trench that once separated the temple enclosure from the adjoining hill,2 and that it extended to the northwest corner of Antonia. It was afterward used as a reservoir, its walls within being cased over with small stones, and these covered with plaster, but bearing no special marks of antiquity.3 Ferguson, however,4 affirms that from " the curiously elaborate character of its hydraulic masonry it must always have been intended as a reservoir of water, and never could have been the ditch of a fortification." 5 The traditional site is defended by Williams, and approved by Ellicott. According to Wilson, it was both the "fosse" and the "pool." De Saulcy, (ii. 285,) following Jerome and some of the early travellers, maintains that the language of the Evangelist should be understood, "Now there is in Jerusalem by the Probatica (pool) a pool called Bethesda," &c. Thus there were two pools, piscinw gemiU lares, "twin fish pools," one called Probatica and one Bethesda, of which the latter is the same as that now known by this name, and the two wore connected together by the arches still to be seen. Stewart, (278) also, supposes that two separate pools lay along the northern wall of the Temple enclosure, the sheep gate being between them, one of which was the Struthius of Josephus, the other the pool of Bethesda. Robinson (i. 342 ; iii. 249) would identify the pool of Bethesda with the present fountain of the Virgin. The waters of this fountain flow irregularly or intermittently, and thus "the moving of the water," v. 3, may be accounted for.
i Robinson, i. 293. 2 Josephus, War, 5. 4. 2.
a With Robinson, Porter, i. 115, and Barclay, 324, agree.
* Smith's Bib. Diet., i. 1028.
s See also Idem, art. Bethesda, 200; Stewart, Tent and Khan, 217.
The fountain is thus described by Porter (i. 139) : " The water springs up at the bottom of an artificial cave some 25 feet deep, excavated in the rock of Ophel. Descending by a flight-of 16 steps, we reach a chamber 18 feet long by 10 wide and 10 high. Thence going down 14 steps more into a roughly hewn grotto, we reach the water." Barclay says (516) "the stream ebbs and flows quite irregularly, but generally three or four times a day in Autumn, and oftener in Spring, running from two to four hours in the twenty-four, and appearing perfectly quiescent during the remainder of the day, although a little water always runs." It is plain that this fountain, a deep excavation in the rock, difficult of access, and without any space in its narrow chamber for the five porches, cannot have been the place where "lay a great multitude of impotent folk." Barclay also objects that there is no proof that it was intermittent in the time of the Lord, and derives an argument from the silence of Josephus, and of the Koman writers. The narrative seems plainly to imply supernatural agency.1 Lightfoot makes the pool of Bethesda to be that of Siloam. To the waters of Siloam he ascribes supernatural virtues. In regard to Bethesda he says (v. 238): "The general silence of the Jews about the wondrous virtue of this pool is something strange, who, in the abundant praises and privileges and particulars of Jerusalem which they give, yet speak not one syllable, that I have ever found, toward the story of Bethesda." Barclay (326) finds another site for this pool on the lower side of the sheep quarter, to the east of the Temple. By some it has been held to be a tank just north of St. Stephen's gate.
1 It should, however, be remembered, that verse 4, " For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool," &c., is of doubtful genuineness. It is rejected by Tischendorf, Meyer, and Alford, but defended by De Wette and Stier. See Alford in loco; Trench, Mir. 203.
As the healing of the impotent man took place on the Sabbath, it gave the Jews the desired opportunity of accusing Him of a breach of the law; and it seems indeed as if the Lord desired to judge their whole system of legal righteousness, by an emphatic condemnation of the interpretation they gave to one of the most important of the commandments. Lightfoot [in loco) observes: " It is worthy our observation that our Saviour did not think it enough merely to heal the impotent man on the Sabbath day, which was against their rules, but farther commanded him to take up his bed, which was much more against that rule." A rigid observance of the Sabbath, even to the prohibition of the healing of the sick on that day, (Luke xiii. 14,) was a main element of Pharisaic righteousness, and therefore on this point He took issue with them. According to the order we follow, it was the first time that He had healed on the Sabbath, and the question how such a work should be regarded, whether as lawful or unlawful, came before the ecclesiastical authorities at Jerusalem for their decision. That they decided it to be unlawful, appears from the angry opposition which subsequent cases of healing on that day called forth.
With this miracle, the healing of the impotent man, the Lord's Judean work, or the first stage of His ministry, came to its close. It brought out the enmity of the Jews at Jerusalem into full manifestation, and showed how unprepared were the rulers, the priests and scribes, and elders, to receive Him. In vain John bore witness to Him, in vain He Himself taught and wrought miracles. They had neither eyes to see, nor ears to hear. It is apparent that from the very first they had regarded Him with great suspicion, arising from His peculiar relations to John the Baptist, whom they disliked and rejected. His assumption of authority at the purification of the temple, and the sharp reproof which that act implied, of their own criminal remissness, must have been in the highest degree offensive to them ; nor did any miracle that He subsequently wrought remove their dislike, or convince them of His divine commission. Although they took no active measures to stay Him in the work of baptizing, yet it is evident that they were annoyed and angry at the numbers that flocked to His baptism. But there was yet no sufficient ground for open opposition, and they seemed to have gained a victory, in that He had given up His work of baptizing and retired into Galilee. But now that He comes to Jerusalem, and violates the Sabbath by working in public a miracle on that day, the way is open to proceed against Him as a breaker of the law. There can be little doubt that He was now brought before the Sanhedrim, and that the discourse given (John v. 17-47) was spoken before that tribunal. This appears from His allusion to the deputation from Jerusalem to the Baptist, (verse 33,) " Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth; " a deputation sent by those He was then addressing.1 Whether any judicial action was now taken, does not appear, but the Evangelist a little later explains the fact of His ministry in Galilee, by saying that He could not walk in Judea, " because the Jews sought to kill Him," (vii. 1.) From this we may infer that it was formally determined upon to seize Him and put Him to death if found ^in Judea.2 From this province He was thus, by the act of the ecclesiastical rulers, excluded.
The ground of defence in the Lord's discourse before the Sanhedrim, based upon His divine Sonship and His equality with God, only the more inflamed the anger of His enemies. Not only did He claim to be the Messiah, but more ; He made Himself equal with God. Regarded as the last appeal to them to receive Him, the closing words of His Judean ministry, this discourse has a special significance.
1 So Meyer, Lange, Tholuck. a Compare John vii. 25-32.
It states first the relation between the Father and the Son, and the threefold evidence by which His own mission was confirmed. The Baptist bare witness; His own works, wrought in the power of the Father, bare witness ; and finally, the Scriptures bare witness.1 But even this " threefold cord " did not bind them, and nothing now remained but to turn away from a people that received Him not, (verse 43,) and enter upon a new stage of His work in despised Galilee. It is well said by Ellicott, (141,) " This is the turning point in the Gospel history. Up to this time the preaching of our Lord at Jerusalem and in Judea had met with a certain degree of toleration, and in many cases even of acceptance ; but after this all becomes changed. Henceforth the City of David is no meet or safe abode for the son of David; the earthly house of His Heavenly Father is no longer a secure hall of audience for the preaching of the Eternal Son."
As Jesus now left Judea and only returned to it after a considerable interval, and then only for very brief periods at the feasts, His enemies in that province had little opportunity to arrest Him. We know, however, that in point of fact they attempted to do so at the very first feast He attended, (John vii. 32.) So long as He was in Galilee, all they could do was to watch His proceedings there, and seize upon every occasion that presented itself to destroy His reputation, and hinder His work. How zealously they labored to this end will appear as our history proceeds.
» See "The Messiah," 153.