When the Bible describes King Hezekiah’s late eighth century preparations to withstand the imminent attack on Jerusalem by Sennacherib of Assyria, the Bible tells us that Hezekiah’s people “blocked up all the springs, and the streams which flowed through the land.” “‘Why’,” they said, “‘should Assyrian kings come here and find plenty of water’” (2 Chronicles 32:4; New English Bible). Later we are told that “It was this same Hezekiah who blocked the upper outflow of the waters of Gihon and directed them downwards and westwards to the city of David” (2 Chronicles 32:30).

It seems clear that the upper outflow which was blocked by Hezekiah was the flow to the Siloam Channel, as described in the accompanying article by Yigal Shiloh. The Siloam Channel waters were diverted by the flow through Hezekiah’s Tunnel which directed the waters of Gihon under the city to the reservoir on the other side of the hill.

But what were all the springs which Hezekiah’s people are said to have blocked? In some translations the reference is not to springs which were blocked, but to “fountains” which were stopped up (King James Version). It seems likely that this refers to the irrigation “windows” in the Siloam Channel which were opened and closed to irrigate the adjacent fields from the water flowing through the Siloam Channel. These irrigation “windows” are described in Dr. Shiloh’s article. When they were opened, the water flowing through these windows easily gave the appearance of fountains or springs.

If these were the fountains or springs, the ‘stream which flowed through the land” was probably the water flowing through the Siloam Channel, much of which was exposed on the surface, or perhaps the rivulets that rivulet from its outflow.

In another famous Biblical passage, the prophet Isaiah reproaches Israel for rejecting “the waters of Shiloah [Siloam] which run so softly and gently.” The passage is a powerful one:

“Once again the Lord said to me: Because this nation has rejected the waters of Shiloah, which run so softly and gently, therefore the Lord will bring up against it the strong flooding waters of the Euphrates, the king of Assyria and all his glory; it shall run up all its channels and overflow all its banks; it shall sweep through Judah in a flood, pouring over it and rising shoulder-high.”

[Isaiah 8:5–8]

The waters of Shiloah which flow so softly and gently are probably the waters of the Siloam Channel as they flowed south in times of peace from the Gihon Spring through the Kidron Valley to the “Old Pool” at the southern end of the City of David.