Siloam-Gihon Tunnel: Siloam Inscription,

a Hebrew inscription recovered from the Siloam tunnel in Jerusalem. The text commemorates the excavation of the tunnel, which connected the spring of Gihon, the principal source of water for ancient Jerusalem, with a reservoir within the city known as the pool of Siloam.

The Gihon arises on the eastern slope of the Ophel, the southeastern hill of Jerusalem, upon which the City of David was located. Originally, therefore, it emptied into the Kidron Valley. After the occupation of the site, however, an open basin was dug at the mouth of the spring to collect the waters. From this basin, known as the upper pool, the waters were conveyed south along the slope of the city mound by an aqueduct called ‘the conduit of the upper pool’ (2 Kings 18:17); (Isa. 7:3). Recent excavation has shown that this aqueduct was in part a tunnel and in part an open canal, so that in addition to receiving the flow from the upper pool it collected rainwater from the slope of the mound. It contained a number of ‘windows,’ through which water could be released for the irrigation of the valley below. The reference in Isa. 8:6 to ‘the waters of Shiloah that flow gently’ probably reveals the name for this water system that was in use during the reign of Ahaz. ‘Siloam’ is a later, Greek form of ‘Shiloah.’ At the mouth of the aqueduct was another reservoir called ‘the lower pool’ (Isa. 22:9 ). ‘The Pool of Shelah’ (Neh. 3:15) and ‘King’s Pool’ (Neh. 2:14) are probably other names for this second reservoir.

Because the original Shiloah or Siloam channel lay outside the fortifications of the city, it was difficult to protect during a siege. As part of his preparations for Sennacherib’s attack on Jerusalem, therefore, Hezekiah sealed the old outlet of the upper pool (2 Chron. 32:2-4, and 32:30; cf. Isa. 22:8-11 ) and devised an underground passage to divert the flow of the Gihon to a reservoir within the fortified precincts of the city (2 Kings 20:20), evidently the ‘reservoir between the two walls’ of Isa. 22:11. The shaft of Hezekiah’s tunnel followed a sinuous path through 1,749 feet of bedrock under the City of David to a new pool on the western slope of the Ophel in the valley later known as Tyropeon. The name of the older aqueduct was transferred to the new system. The first century Jewish historian Josephus knew the western reservoir as Siloam, and in John 9:7 Jesus refers to it as ‘the pool of Siloam.’ However, the modern village of Silwan, which also preserves a form of the ancient name, is located across the Kidron to the east of the Gihon spring.

The Inscription, now in the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul, was found in 1880 by two boys wading inside the tunnel some 20 feet above the western reservoir. It consists of six lines incised on the lower part of a prepared surface on the rock wall of the shaft. The blank upper surface has led some scholars to suppose that part of the inscription is missing; others believe that the text was originally intended to be surmounted by a relief. The Inscription cannot be dated long before 701 b.c., the year of Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem. The script is the Hebrew lapidary hand of the eighth century b.c., and the language is comparable to the standard Hebrew prose of the Bible. The text describes the completion of Hezekiah’s tunnel by two crews who, having set to work from opposite directions, dug until only three cubits (ca. 4.5 feet) of rock separated them at a point one hundred cubits (ca. 150 feet) beneath the streets of the city. From there they were able to guide each other through the remaining rock by shouting. This was possible, we are told, because of something extending north and south in the rock. Perhaps this was a fissure, as the translation below suggests, but the Hebrew word is obscure.

The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962

The Inscription may be translated as follows: (with gaps indicated)

"1. The [ ] of the penetration. This is how the penetration took place. While [the diggers were] still [wielding]
2. their axes towards each other, with three cubits still to be pen[etrated, they could he]ar each other sho-
3. uting, for there was a fissure in the rock running to the south [and to the nor]th. So at the moment of pene-
4. tration, the diggers struck towards each other, axe against axe. Then the waters flowed
5. from the spring to the pool one thousand two hundred cubits. And one h[un-]
6. dred cubits was the height of the rock above the heads of the digger[s]."

* Achtemier, Paul J., Th.D., Harper’s Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.) 1985 The numbers list the actual lines on the original inscription..

Verse 10: Walls: The account of Hezekiah's preparation for the siege includes the building of an extra wall and breaking down the houses between the wall for extra strength and possibly to hide the aqueducts carrying water from hidden springs. See 2 Chron. 32:5.

Isa 22:11 You made also a ditch between the two walls for the water of the old pool: but you have not looked to the maker of it, neither had respect to him that fashioned it long ago.

You can read much more on the Gihon tunnel in the commentary on Isaiah in Chapter 22. click here and also read the comments on verse 9.