It was one of the greatest finds of the 21st century—the discovery of the Pool of Siloam where Jesus cured the blind man (John 9:1–11).a In our double 200th issue we included it in our “Ten Top Discoveries.”b
We always knew that the Pool of Siloam was at the 052southern end of the Siloam Tunnel, also commonly called Hezekiah’s Tunnel, but before the discovery of 2004, the Pool of Siloam was identified as a small pool built by Byzantine Christians in the fourth century who knew only that the Pool of Siloam—where the miracle occurred—was at the end of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. They simply built a church and pool at the end of the tunnel to commemorate the New Testament miracle of the blind man’s cure. In modern times, Arab women often washed clothes in this Pool of Siloam.
It was widely accepted, however, that this was not the Siloam Pool of Jesus’ time, but no one knew precisely where that was until the Second Temple Siloam Pool was uncovered in 2004—southeast of the remains of the Byzantine church and pool.
Hezekiah’s Tunnel, on the other hand, was well known. It carried the waters of the Gihon Spring, ancient Jerusalem’s only fresh water supply, to the other side of the city—where it debouched into the Pool of Siloam. In recent years, many issues have been raised and fiercely debated about this remarkable tunnel. How did the tunnelers digging from opposite ends manage to meet? Why didn’t they just dig in a straight line, which would have been much 053shorter? Was it to avoid the supposed royal Judahite cemetery above? And most of all: When was the tunnel dug—under which Judahite king—and why?
The traditional answer was that it was dug by King Hezekiah in anticipation of the assault on Jerusalem by the Assyrian monarch Sennacherib in 701 B.C.E. (see 2 Chronicles 32:2–4; 2 Kings 20:20). In this way, besieged Jerusalemites within the walls would be assured of water from the Gihon Spring outside the walls. But this has now been hotly questioned by different groups of scholars. In 1996 two scholars in England argued that the tunnel was not dug until the late Second Temple period, near the turn of the era. This argument was widely and convincingly rejected, however.c Then Israeli excavators of the area around the tunnel, Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron, shocked the archaeological world by arguing that the tunnel had been dug not by Hezekiah but by one of his predecessors, perhaps Jehoash (835–801 B.C.E.), in which case it should be called Jehoash’s Tunnel, not Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This would backdate the tunnel from the late eighth century B.C.E. to the ninth century B.C.E. Another group of scholars argued just as vociferously that the tunnel had been dug after Hezekiah’s time. We titled our report on the controversies regarding the date of Hezekiah’s Tunnel “Will Hezekiah Be Dislodged from His Tunnel?”d
But the question that was never raised is: Where is the Siloam Pool of the First Temple period? Whether it was Hezekiah or Jehoash or someone else who dug the tunnel, where was the Siloam Pool at the end of it?
Recently, Israel Finkelstein, one of Israel’s leading and most contentious archaeologists, has gotten into the fight. He is best known as the originator of the so-called Low Chronology, according to which everything we thought was attributed to King Solomon was really a century later; the result is that the archaeological remains from Solomon’s time are poor and meager, and, Finkelstein argues, Solomon was just a chieftain of a small tribal entity. In the dating of the Siloam (Hezekiah’s) Tunnel, however, Finkelstein has sided with the traditionalists; it was indeed Hezekiah who built the tunnel, he says. But in his view, Hezekiah built it not in anticipation of 054Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem, but because of the need to get water to the other side of town. During Hezekiah’s reign the population of Jerusalem significantly increased, first, because of the flow of refugees from the north as a result of the Assyrian conquest of the northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.E. and, second, because of the general prosperity from Judah’s incorporation into what Finkelstein calls the “Assyrian world economy.”1 As a result Jerusalem expanded west to the adjacent hill, and these people needed a supply of water without having to go all the way to the Gihon Spring.
One of Finkelstein’s reasons for rejecting the early date (ninth century B.C.E.) recently proposed by excavators Reich and Shukron is based on his analysis of the famous inscription originally engraved in the wall of the tunnel (now in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum) recording how the two teams of tunnelers met in the middle. Finkelstein argues that—based on paleography (the shape and form of the letters)—this inscription, which is contemporaneous with the building of the tunnel, cannot be as early as Jehoash’s reign in the ninth century B.C.E.
But Finkelstein goes on to ask the next question, 055which has seldom been asked before: Where is the Pool of Siloam of the First Temple period, the Pool of Siloam of the late eighth century B.C.E. when Hezekiah (or whoever) ruled Judah?
Finkelstein speculates that it is “probably under the Roman Siloam Pool [i.e., the Siloam Pool of Jesus’ time] unearthed in recent years.”
Of course Reich and Shukron thought about this long ago, but they did not suggest a specific location, as far as I know. They thought about making a cut under the steps of the Second Temple Siloam Pool that they discovered to see if pottery from the First Temple period might be below. Another way to search for the remains of the First Temple period Pool of Siloam would be to dig a few test pits in the orchard south of the steps of the Second Temple Pool of Siloam. This orchard is owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, so presumably any digging here would require the church’s permission. But, who knows, they may say yes.
Is all this far-fetched? Maybe. But isn’t it worth a try—to locate the Pool of Siloam of Hezekiah’s time?
Where is the original Pool of Siloam, the water pool that fed Jerusalem in the First Temple period? While the Roman-period Pool of Siloam—where Jesus cured the blind man—has recently been discovered, the earlier Pool of Siloam remains unknown. BAR’s editor investigates a possible location—another piece of the great Jerusalem water system puzzle.
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