Why these notes?
I am a doctor who now also finds himself ill.
I am by no means a professional theologian. All thoughts are my own imperfect attempts.
I created this site to record what I am learning about God through this process. These writings are largely focused on themes of disease, healing (or the absence thereof), and belief. I primarily hope that someday these spiritual reflections will benefit my children.
The Pool of Siloam (and the healing that takes place there) is probably one of the least-understood stories in the Biblical book of John. To be certain, there is a surface-level narrative that is easy to follow, but some of the most beautiful details of the story are perplexing:
Why does Jesus spit on the ground and put mud over the blind man’s eyes? He never did that with any other blind man. Elaborate ritual was never a part Jesus’ other healings. So why now?
Why the Pool of Siloam? Why did Jesus send the blind man to a pool that is not visited or mentioned anywhere else in the Gospel texts?
And why does John, who includes only two stories of physical healing in his entire book, choose to include this one?
The first story of healing that is recorded in the book of John is about a crippled man who lays near the pool of Bethesda. For centuries, actually, the residents of Jerusalem—whether Jewish or Roman—believed that this pool’s waters had supernatural healing powers. And like others, this crippled man lay near the pool, hoping that one day when he entered the waters, he would be healed.
In the story, Jesus heals this crippled man with just a word—no supernatural water needed. Though the crippled man can see and talk and even has an extended conversation with Jesus about the healing properties of the water, scholars have noted that the man fails to ask who Jesus is. It seems, in spite of being miraculously healed, he has little interest in even learning Jesus’ name. Apparently, he takes up his mat and gets on with his life.
The second (and only other) story of healing in the book of John is about a blind man. It seems that John is contrasting the two stories of healing. And this is where things get interesting.
First, Jesus spits on the ground and makes mud. Then he smears the mud on the blind man’s eyes and tells him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam.
The archaeological site of the Pool of Siloam was only discovered and partially excavated in 2004, so there is much that we do not yet understand about the pool. But some information is emerging.
First, the pool is large, much larger than Bethesda or any other ritual bathing site that has yet to be discovered. This has led some scholars to speculate it was actually a swimming pool and served no ritual function.
Second, the pool is far from Bethesda and central Jerusalem. The blind man had to walk far south of the Temple to arrive.
Third, the pool possibly had recurrent problems with silt or mud infiltration, probably with heavy rains. The pool is located in one of the lowest elevation areas in Jerusalem and when the pool ceased to be in use after the destruction of the city, it filled up with and was buried by several feet of mud, obscuring its location for centuries until it was discovered in 2004 during a sewage system construction project.
So now the ridiculousness of the story becomes clearer. Jesus sends a blind man with mud over his eyes wandering through the streets of the city, far south of the healing pool of Bethesda, to what was possibly a muddy swimming hole. It’s not clear why the blind man trusts Jesus, but something happens in this story that doesn’t in the account of the crippled man. Even though this blind man could not see Jesus, he learns his name. And when the blind man is healed in the swimming pool of Siloam and later meets Jesus on the streets, he worships Him. He doesn’t just resume his life as usual. Now he sees.
Do we notice the difference between the two stories?
On the surface, these are stories about physical healing. But in reality, they are actually about a deeper restoration. Who is Jesus? Are we learning to see?