Hezekiah’s Tunnel and the Pool of Siloam

This is the twenty-third post in a series of reflections on my trip to Israel in the summer of 2016. I’m almost done, I promise (to read them all, click here).

June 28 AM

Leaving the calm environs of Saint Anne’s, our group walked outside the east wall of the Old City through the Lions’ Gate. The day was cloudy, and cooler than pretty much any other day of the trip so far. Once outside, we made our way south, with the wall of the Temple Mount on our right and the Kidron Valley on our left.

There is now a Muslim cemetery in this area, but also a walkway that allows you to pass on through without having to weave in and out of tombstones. This pathway took us past the Golden Gate, walled up since the Middle Ages.

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At the southeast corner of the Temple Mount, our group leader, Tim, stopped us and pointed out the differences between the stones of the wall around the Temple Mount. The smaller stones toward the top date to the Middle Ages, and the larger stones below date to Herod’s temple, destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

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Once past the southern edge of the Temple Mount, we arrived at a narrow hill running north-south called the City of David. The City of David contains ruins that have been labeled the Royal Quarter. This may include the palaces built by David and Solomon, though I think that hasn’t been established definitively. When we got there our Israeli tour guide, Ariel, told us about what had been excavated there.

For us, the main point of interest in the City of David was the Siloam Tunnel, also known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel after the eighth century BC king of Judah who likely had it built between the Gihon Spring and the Pool of Siloam (according to 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:2–5, 30). An inscription was found written on the walls of the tunnel that describes the day it was completed. The original inscription has been removed, but there is a copy of it inserted where the original used to be. Here is how it read:

[ … when] (the tunnel) was driven through. And this was the way in which it was cut through:—While [ … ] (were) still [ … ] axe(s), each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, [there was heard] the voice of a man calling to his fellow, for there was an overlap in the rock on the right [and on the left]. And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed (the rock), each man toward his fellow, axe against axe; and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1,200 cubits, and the height of the rock above the head(s) of the quarrymen was 100 cubits.

—James Bennett Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament , 3rd ed. with Supplement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 321.

The tunnel is open for people to walk through, and has cool water in it that ranges from the ankles to the knees. The height of the tunnel varies quite a bit. The clearance is very high in some places and requires stooping in others. There is also no light inside, so we all made sure we had sandals or water socks on, got out our flashlights, and trooped through single-file. It took about 20 minutes. We stopped at one point, turned off our flashlights, and sang the first verse of “Amazing Grace.”

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(A couple of minutes later I jokingly suggested to Kurt, who was walking in front of me, that we sing the classic passing-the-time tune “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” which he proceeded to do. He was later blamed for this act of levity, so I want to make clear that I suggested it to him. And others joined in. You know who you are.)

At the western end of the tunnel is the Pool of Siloam, which, like the Pool of Bethesda, played a role in one of Jesus’ healings (he told a blind man to wash his eyes there in John 9:7). Thanks to this trip, I’ll never get them confused again. Unlike the Pool of Bethesda, though, this site is only partially excavated. The remainder of the original pool is located on land owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, and they have not given permission to dig.

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I could probably say this about any of the sites we visited on this trip, but what struck me most about Hezekiah’s tunnel is that this is the stuff of real life. The ruler of a tiny ancient kingdom was worried about Assyria, the fiercest military power of his time, and wanted to prepare Jerusalem in advance of a possible siege. So he expanded the city wall in a certain spot and dug a tunnel to bring a water source inside the wall.

When the siege did eventually happen, in 701 BC, Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet cried out to God, and the besieging army of Assyria was annihilated overnight. The tunnel Hezekiah had dug created a pool that was still there seven hundred years later when Jesus told a blind man he had just healed to go wash in it.

The sudden death of much of an army, the healing of a blind man—these are very unusual events. Miracles, even. But the Bible places them side-by-side with the kinds of things, like an engineering project, that we see every day. God acted in the midst of everyday life—and, I believe, continues to act. Am I looking for what he is doing?

 

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