Dream Gates

Dream Gates


The Angel That Troubles the Waters

posted by Robert Moss

- Bethesda_angel Central ParkThe pool of Bethesda is famous. Its name has been borrowed by countless hospitals and medical centers, and by a town in Maryland that is a bedroom community for WashingtonDC. One of the distinctions of Bethesda, MD is that it has one of the longest subway escalators in the world. To come off the bright street to be confronted by that steep descent into darkness is very much like looking into the mouth of the Underworld. Bethesda is the right name for the subway station, as well as for all the hospitals.

You can view a splendid winged version of the angel of Bethesda, designed by Emma Stebbins, at a fountain  in Central Park in New York City. However, this feminine angel is very unlike the one that troubled the waters at the original Bethesda.

You may have heard of him, as I first did in Sunday school, in the King James version: “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]

His presence explains the “multitude” of the sick, the lame and the impotent who are gathered around the pool at Bethesda, in hopes of healing, when Jesus arrives and performs one of his best-known miracles. Jesus cures a lame man by telling him to get up and walk. The lame man had been waiting by the pool for years in hopes that some day he would manage to get in first when the waters were troubled, but the moment had always been snatched from him.

In modern revisions of the New Testament, the angel of Bethesda disappears. The whole verse that presents him has been excised from the New Revised Version, the New American Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible; you’ll only find it in a footnote in minuscule type. The learned justification for this blue-penciling is that John 5:4 is missing from the earliest Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of John, and contains expressions that do not conform to its style. [cf Andrew T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to John. New York: Continuum, 2005, p.206n.4]

Without the angel, the mystery of why a multitude is waiting for the troubling of the waters is unexplained. Are all these people simply convinced that the waters of Bethesda have healing properties that are augmented when they gush more strongly from the nearby spring that feed them? We can’t understand what is going on here until we grasp that before textual scholars deleted the angel, early Christians deleted a pagan god, who was literally born from dreams and healed through dreaming.

French scholar Antoine Duprez made a careful study of the archeological evidence from Bethesda that suggests at least three stages of religious activity around the Pool of Bethesda. The earliest is a complex of pools and grottos from the second century BCE. This was likely a place of sacred healing, but the evidence does not tell us in whose name it was conducted. The structures of that time were destroyed, along with much of Jerusalem, in 70 CE. “They were replaced by a sanctuary of the healer-god Asklepios-Serapis”, a composite deity. This sanctuary was replaced in turn in the fifth century by a Christian church commemorating the miracle of John 5. In the tenth century, the Crusaders built yet another church, dedicated to St. Anne, on top of all the above.

Who was first worshipped at the site? Duprez argues that given the popularity of the Asklepian religion in Syria, Palestine and Egypt in Hellenistic times, it is entirely likely that a healing temple was operating at the gates of Jerusalem, near the Roman garrisons.

Against this backdrop, textual analysis of John 5 suggests that a creative editor took an older miracle story and relocated it at Bethesda, the site of a popular pagan temple of healing (just as churches were often built at pagan places of power) in an effort to claim the glamour of the old religion for the new one. In this analysis, John 5 is the first testimony to the struggle between primitive Christianity and the religion of the healing gods, which centered on dreaming at places of power where prayer had been valid.

 

Adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.



Previous Posts

As Lady Sarashina crossed a bridge of dreams
From a thousand years ago, in a slim autobiographical novel gusting with moonlight and desire, we have a dozen dreams of an anonymous Japanese woman wh

posted 10:40:02am Feb. 26, 2015 | read full post »

The first Valentine, from the captive prince
Why the day of Saint Valentine is associated with romantic love is a mystery. A couple of sainted Valentines, both martyred, are known to the early church but what little is known of them has nothing to do with romance. They are so obscure that the feast of St.Valentine was removed from the General

posted 2:17:39am Feb. 14, 2015 | read full post »

The best way to understand a dream
The best way to grasp the meaning of a dream, and to determine what action the dream requires, is to go back inside the dream and recover more of the story. We should never confuse a dream report - what we remember and can say about a dream - with the full experience of the dream itself. Even a very

posted 10:59:39am Jan. 22, 2015 | read full post »

The Underground Railroad of Dreams
Harriet Tubman dreamed of flying to freedom, over landscapes she subsequently crossed on foot when she made her escape from slavery in the South. Later she was guided by specific precognitive or clairvoyant dreams to safe houses, river crossings and friendly helpers she had never encountered in waki

posted 9:22:16am Jan. 15, 2015 | read full post »

Back to Basics (4) We Dream the Future, All the Time
Our dreams are constantly coaching us for challenges and opportunities that lie ahead of us on the roads of life. It’s possible that we rehearse everything that will take place in the future in our dreams, though we forget most of it. Across human evolution, dreaming has been a vital survival mech

posted 2:17:41am Dec. 27, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.