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Pools in Scripture

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In the English Bibles, the word "pool" stands for three Hebrew words: (1) 'agam means properly a pond of stagnant water; in Exodus 7:19 and 8:5, it designates probably sheets of water left in low places by the Nile from the inundation; (2) miqveh signifies originally "the gathering together" of the waters (Genesis 1:10), hence a place where waters flowing from different directions are collected together, a reservoir being usually formed by damming up the valley; (3) berekah (comp. Arab. birket) is an entirely artificial reservoir generally excavated in the rock and covered inside with a lining of masonry to prevent leaking. These three words convey a fair idea of the way the natives of Palestine and neighbouring regions have at all times secured a sufficient supply of water, a precaution by no means unimportant in countries where dry weather prevails for the greater part of the year. Natural pools of the kind described in Scripture by the name 'agam are practically unknown in Palestine. If importance be attached to the vocabulary of the sacred writers, we might be justified in supposing that most pools were wholly artificial, for all are indiscriminately styled berekah in the Hebrew Bible. Yet there can be no doubt that some were reservoirs obtained by building a dam across valleys; such was, at any rate, the Lower, or Old, Pool (Birket el-Hamra, south of Jerusalem), which, before the Upper Pool ('Ain Silwan) was constructed, was filled from the Gihon (the Virgin's Fountain) by a surface conduit, along the eastern slope of the spur of Ophel, and later was fed from the surplus water overflowing from the Upper Pool.

The other pools in or about the Holy City were all entirely artificial, being excavated in the rock. Those mentioned in Scripture are: (1) the Pool of Siloe (A. V. Siloah; Nehemiah 3:15; John 9:7), or Upper Pool (2 Kings 18:17; Isaiah 7:3; 36:2), or the King's Pool (Nehemiah 2:14), built by Ezechias "between the two walls" (Isaiah 22:11), to bring into the city through an underground conduit, the Siloe tunnel, the water of Gihon; (2) the Pool of Bethsaida (A. V. Bethesda; John 5:2); the exact location of this pool is to this day an object of dispute; commonly but quite groundlessly it is identified with the Birket Israil, north of the Temple and southwest of St. Stephen's Gate (Bab Sitti Maryam); others (Conder, Paton etc.) see it in the pool at the Fountain of Gihon ('Ain Sitti Maryam), southeast of the Haram---the berekah 'asuyah (i.e. "well made") of Neh. (II Esd.) iii, 16; others finally think it should be sought some distance north of the Birket Israil and west of St. Ann's Church and recognized there in old constructions still suggesting the form of porticoes; (3) the Berekah 'asuyah of II Esd. has just been mentioned; it was the reservoir of the intermittent spring of Gihon; (4) we should perhaps cite also the Dragon Fountain of Nehemiah 2:13, which lay between the Valley Gate (practically the modern Jaffa Gate) and the Dung Gate (about due west of the southern end of the Birket es-Sultan); probably connected with the Dragon Fountain was the Serpent's Pool mentioned by Josephus (Bell. Jud., V, iii, 2), but the site of both is now a mere matter of conjecture. Despite the historical interest attached to them, it is needless to recall here the various pools of the Holy Land more or less incidentally mentioned in Scripture: the Pool of Gabaon, which witnessed the bloody encounter of the servants of David with the defenders of Saul's dynasty; the Pools of Hesebon, and finally the pools alluded to in Eccl., ii, 6 as being the work of Solomon. These are supposed by some to be the famous Pools of Solomon (about eight miles south of Jerusalem) from which several winding aqueducts, one forty-seven miles long, brought the water into the city.


BAEDEKER-BENZIGER, Palestine and Syria (Leipzig, 1906); BLISS, Excavations at Jerusalem (London, 1898); MASTERMAN, The Pool of Bethesda in Biblical World (Feb., 1905); PAL. EXPLOR. FUND, Quart. Statement (oct., 1896; Jan., 1897); IDEM, Jerusalem; PATON, The Meaning of the Expression "Between the Two Walls" in Journ. Of Biblic. Literature, I (1906); IDEM, Jerusalem in Biblical Times, particularly c. iii, The Springs and Pools of Ancient Jerusalem (Chicago, 1908); HEIDET, Bethsaide in Vig., Dict de la Bible; MAUSS, La piscine de Bethesda a Jerusalem (Paris, 1888); VINCENT, Les murs de Jerusalem d'apres Nehemie in Revue Biblique (1904), 56-74.

About this page

APA citation. Souvay, C. (1911). Pools in Scripture. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Souvay, Charles. "Pools in Scripture." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Judy Levandoski.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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