I haven’t written anything for a few days, mostly because I’ve been reading these two fat books, and some journal articles, and have been going through the prophecy of Zephaniah again (which is what I wrote my Master’s thesis on in 2003). It’s going to be a while before I’m ready to write anything about all of that.


But I hear folks at home want an update! Yesterday I went out into the sunshine again to do some things which are maybe a bit more entertaining to read about. I took what everyone calls the “Arab bus” into Jerusalem (it only costs 5½ shekels, which is about £1) and walked from the Jaffa Gate down to the village of Silwan. This is where you can visit the “City of David”, the oldest part of Jerusalem, although it now lies outside the city wall.

This is a complex part of East Jerusalem, with complex politics, where the academic exercise of archaeology serves multiple ends. I’ll not write any more about that at the moment for reasons I’ll explain when I get back home.

I came here with Jenny in 2010, but there were a couple of things I wanted to do which I thought I could combine. One was to try to get a better understanding of the complex ancient water systems focussed around the Gihon spring. The other was to walk what I think must be the route to Gethsemane taken by Jesus and his disciples after the Last Supper.

Everyone agrees that the reason Jerusalem finds its origin on the South Eastern hill, rather than on the higher, more easily defensible, surrounding hills is that there is water there. The Gihon rises in a cave on the eastern slope of the hill. A complex system of ancient tunnels testifies to various schemes through the ages employed to move pool this water, or to move it to the south of the city.

The most famous of these feats of engineering is what has become to be known in recent years as “Hezekiah’s Tunnel”. Here’s a nice, over-simplified map, nicked from the Biblical Archaeological Review, illustrating this solution and ignoring the other more ancient ones.


Over a length of 533 meters this tunnel carries the water from the spring downwards (a change in height of just 30cm across its length) through a pitch dark tunnel to a pool, known in Second Temple times as the Pool of Shelakh/Siloam (Nehemiah 3:16; John 9; Josephus, Wars 5.140).

The reason this tunnel has become known as “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” is that in four places the bible describes the king undertaking a project such as this (2 Kings 20:20, Isaiah 22:9-11; 2 Chronicles 32:1-4, and 2 Chronicles 32:30). If this identification is correct, then it means the tunnel was cut in the years leading up to the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem is 701 BC.

An inscription found inside the tunnel describes its method of construction:

And this was the matter of the tunnelling. While [the hewers wielded] the axe, each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be he[wn, there was hear]d a man’s voice calling to his fellow, for there was a zdh1 in the rock on the right and [on the lef]t. And on the day of the tunnelling through, the hewers hacked each man toward his fellow, axe upon axe. And there flowed the waters from the spring toward the reservoir for two hundre[d and] a thousand cubits. And a hu[nd]red cubits was the height of the rock above the head(s) of the hewers.

Last time I went through this tunnel I didn’t notice the “join” where the two groups of tunnellers met and I was quite keen to have a good look at it this time. However, at the time I turned up yesterday – about 10am – it was just when all the school parties were arriving. Lots and lots of excited children whooping and screaming as they stepped into the watery darkness of the tunnel. The problem is you can’t really stop if there are people behind you, because there’s not enough width in the channel for anyone to pass you. And you certainly can’t start insisting that people turn round and go back if you think you’ve missed something.

So I waited until the screams of the children had faded away in the distance, and then I set off. Being on my own I was acutely aware that the only light source I had was my own torch. It’s completely pitch dark in there, and it would have been wise to bring spare batteries or a second torch!

Eventually to my great satisfaction I found the “join”. As can be seen on the map above, the tunnel is very twisty in the region of the join, almost certainly bearing witness to a trial-and-error final stage in the word of the two cutting crews. The heights of the two tunnels are slightly different too, which is something I attempted to capture in this photograph. I fear I may have failed.

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At the “join” in the Siloam Tunnel

When you emerge from the south side of the tunnel you reach what used to be thought to be the pool of Siloam. The rags-to-riches Empress Aelia Eudocia (401-460 AD) thought so, and had a church built there, the remains of which can be seen today.

However, on the 30th May 2004, Gihon, the municipal water company, started digging a channel in a nearby orchard in order to replace a sewage main. Within minutes their bulldozer struck some ancient steps. The work was stopped, and the area properly excavated, and lo-and-behold, the true Pool of Siloam once again saw the light of day.


Or at least part of it. The rest of it lies under the orchard belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church.

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I spent some time here drying my feet and the soggy bits at the bottom of my trouser legs, thinking of the people of Second Temple Jerusalem who came here for vital supply of water that the pool provided. And of the man who once came here to wash spit-formed mud from his eyes, and went away having experienced the power of Jesus.

The Siloam Pool marked the end of the first part of my day, and the start of the next part. I’ll write about that tomorrow, while everyone at home is busy at the polling booths.




1 Hebrew word of uncertain meaning. Perhaps “fissure”.

2 The story is very entertainingly told by Ronny Reich, Excavating the City of David (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2011) 225-236.