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Parting the Waters of the City of Jerusalem in the Siloam Tunnel of King Hezekiah

Parting the Waters of the City of Jerusalem in the Siloam Tunnel of King Hezekiah

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Hezekiah's Tunnel, or Siloam Tunnel, was a part of a magnificent water system in Jerusalem. It was built during the Iron Age at the end of eight century BC, and remains one of the greatest architectural treasures of the city.

It was mentioned in the Bible and became one of the symbols of biblical Jerusalem. According to 2 Chronicles 32:2-4 and 2 Kings 20:20, the tunnel was created during the reign of the famous king Hezekiah of Judah. He wanted to prepare his city for the impending attack of the Assyrian King Sennacherib. The tunnel is 530 m (1750 ft.) long, which makes it perhaps the longest ancient tunnel. The Greek tunnel of Euphalios, which is the second longest one, was made during the 6th century and was only 335 m (1070 ft.) long.

Roman custom of proclamation of emperor on the shield. King Hezekiah. From Chludov Psalter.

Roman custom of proclamation of emperor on the shield. King Hezekiah. From Chludov Psalter. ( Public Domain )

An Ancient Tunnel of Secrets

The tunnel was made as one of the oldest systems to bring fresh water to the entire city. This system of bringing water to places located further from a river was also known in Ancient Egypt. In circa 1,800 BC, a Canaanite tunnel collected spring water which was used by the people during the dry periods of the year. In the Bible, King Hezekiah was said to have been afraid that Assyrians would block the city with a siege and his people would die from a lack of water. Thus, he decided to create a system of tunnels which would allow them to bring in and accumulate water inside the city.

The tunnel connects the Gihon Spring with the Pool of Siloam. The Gihon Spring was also known as the Fountain of the Virgin, and for centuries it was the main source of water in Jerusalem. It rises in a cave near the Kidron Valley and has acted as a source of drinking water. The spring has also been used to water gardens. The Pool of Siloam is a rock-cut pool cut that is located in the southern part of the old site of Jerusalem. Over the centuries, it received water carried by two aqueducts and provided a water source for the city’s inhabitants.

Artist's reconstruction of the Pool of Siloam in the “City of David”.

Artist's reconstruction of the Pool of Siloam in the “City of David”. ( Public Domain )

The tunnel wasn't forgotten over the years, and it was used by local people for a long time. It is unknown when the tunnel stopped bringing water to the city. Excavations in the City of David started long before archaeology was created as a formal science. The tunnel was described for the first time in modern texts in 1625, when the Italian writer and orientalist Franciscus Quaresmius visited the city.

The Siloam Inscription

In the 19th century, the tunnel was explored by the famous American biblical researcher Edward Robinson. In 1865, British officer General Charles Warren also explored the tunnel. However, neither of them were able to detail the place very well. General Warren believed that it was related to the story of the Pool of Siloam, which was perhaps dug by the order of King Hezekiah.

Pool of Siloam – Jerusalem, in 2005.

Pool of Siloam – Jerusalem, in 2005. ( Public Domain )

In 1884, the Siloam inscription was discovered and finally opened the doors to a more thorough analysis of the structure. The pool was a part of a temple construction during the Second Temple period. It is known that there were upper and lower pools of Siloam, so the construction was even larger in the past. The pool which exists today is located near the reconstructed pool from the Byzantine period. Before excavations, this pool was believed to be the legendary Pool of Siloam.

The original pool was trapezoid and had three or five steps. On the site, archaeologists discovered coins from the period of the First Jewish Roman War, which took place between 66 and 70 AD - suggesting that the pool worked for at least 8 centuries. The inscription has been dated to circa 701 BC and it was carved in a stone which is 1.32 meters (4.33 ft.) wide and 0.21 meters (0.69 ft.) tall.

The inscription in its current location.

The inscription in its current location. ( deror_avi)

According to Robert B. Coote, the translation from ancient Hebrew is:

''[. . .] the tunneling; and this was how the tunneling was completed: As [the laborers employed] their picks, each crew toward the other, and while there were still three cubits remaining, the voices of the men calling out to each other [could be heard], since it got louder on the right [and left]. The day the opening was made, the stonecutters hacked toward each other, pick against pick. And the water flowed from the source to the pool [twel]ve hundred cubits, (despite the fact that) the height of the rock above the stonecutters' heads was one hundred cubits.''

Researchers still argue about the dating of the tunnel. Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron from Israel suggest that the construction may be older than commonly believed. According to their research presented in 2011, the tunnel could have been created in the 9th century or early 8th century BC. Moreover, they believe that the starting point of Hezekiah’s Tunnel was a tunnel which is connected to the Round Chamber of the rock-cut pool. They explored the underground construction to confirm that the tunnel really comes from the times of the Biblical king.

Siloam Tunnel sketch 1884, from "The survey of Western Palestine".

Siloam Tunnel sketch 1884, from "The survey of Western Palestine". ( Public Domain )

A Touristic Paradise and Questions Without Answers

Every year, thousands of tourists visit Jerusalem. Some of them travel to this incredible city for religious reasons while others want to enjoy the historical sites located there. Nowadays, the Jerusalem tunnels consist of a much larger system of crisscrossing tunnels that bring water to the citizens.

The tunnel created in the 8th century BC is still one of the most mysterious attractions and one of the oldest existing systems of a fresh water supply. Researchers continue to look for answers to the questions about the origins and the history of the first tunnel but they need to dig deep under the city, passing through hundreds of meters of the water supply tunnels in search of the answers.

Hezekiah's tunnel.

Hezekiah's tunnel. ( Daniel Wong/CC BY SA 2.0 )

By Natalia Klimczak

Top image: Hezekiah's Tunnel ( Tamar Hayardeni/ CC BY 3.0 ) Hand-colored photo of the site of the Pool of Siloam. (c. 1865) ( Public Domain )

References

Hezekiah’s Tunnel Reexamined, available at: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/hezekiah%E2%80%99s-tunnel-reexamined/

Hezekiah's Tunnel, by James E. Lancaster, Ph. Dd, available at: http://coastdaylight.com/hez1.html

Hezekiah's Tunnel, available at: http://www.bibleplaces.com/heztunnel/

Radiometric dating of the Siloam Tunnel, Jerusalem, by Amos Frumkin, Aryeh Ervin Shimron, Jeff Rosenbaum, available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/10573097_Radiometric_dating_of_the_Siloam_Tunnel_Jerusalem

Siloam Inscription, available at: http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/westsem/siloam.html

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