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Hezekiah's Tunnel

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Hezekiah's Tunnel - Hezekiah's tunnel was dug in the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judea, about 701 B.C.E. It was hewn in bedrock for over half a kilometer, about 40 meters beneath Ophel (the city of David) in Jerusalem, between the Gihon spring and the pool of Shiloah or Siloam. Its purpose was to deny water to the Assyrian army under Sennacharib, that was expected to lay siege to Jerusalem and to provide a water source to Jerusalem during the siege. It is a winding tunnel  533m in length, and has approximately a 0.6% gradient, causing water to flow  along its length from the spring to the pool. The tunnel was discovered by the American biblical archeologist Edward Robinson in 1838 and explored by Warren and others.

Dating of Hezekiah's Tunnel

The dating of the tunnel has been disputed, particularly by anti-Zionists, who insisted that the tunnel was built at a much later date, and that the Jewish people did not have a sovereign kingdom in Jerusalem. However, radiometric measurements by Amos Frumkin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his colleagues, reported in Nature  vol 425, p 169, 2003 and summarized in New Scientist, proved rather conclusively that plant life disrupted by the tunnel (by C-14 dating) and stalactites and stalagmites that grew after completion of the tunnel (by uranium-thorium dating) originated about 700 BC.

Hezekiah's Tunnel Inscription

An inscription in the tunnel in ancient Hebrew script explains that two teams, began at opposite ends and dug toward each other in the bedrock, and met.  The script corresponds to ancient Hebrew script of this period, and is therefore additional proof of the dating of the tunnel. Below is an enhanced photo of the inscription, and beneath it is a transcription into modern Hebrew lettering.

Hezekiah's Tunnel: photo of ancient inscription  
Hezekiah's Tunnel: transcription of ancient inscription  

The translation of the inscription is as follows: (ellipses indicate missing text)

... the tunnel ... and this is the story [the thing - "dvar"] of the tunnel while ... the axes were against each other and while three cubits [were left] to cut? ...the voice of a man ... called to his fellow, for there was a through-passage ["Zedah"] in the rock, from the right ... and on the day of the tunnel [being finished] the tone hewers struck [literally "hit"] each man towards his fellow, ax against [literally: "on"] ax, and the water went from the source to the pool for two hundred and a thousand cubits. and one hundred (?) cubits was the height over the head of the stone hewers.

The inscription was not at the center of the tunnel, but near one end, and it was missed by Robinson and Warren and others. It was found by a local Arab youth about 1880 and was apparently removed for pillage, being damaged in the process. British authorities recovered it and it is now in the Istanbul Museum.

Biblical Authority for Hezekiah's Tunnel

The tunnel of Hezekiah is mentioned in the book of Kings and in the book of Chronicles:

2 KINGS 20:20 And the rest of the of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made a pool, and a conduit, and brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?  

2 Chronicles 32:2-4  And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib was come, and that he was purposed to fight against Jerusalem, He took counsel with his princes and his mighty men to stop the waters of the fountains which were without the city: and they did help him. So there was gathered much people together, who stopped all the fountains, and the brook that ran through the midst of the land, saying, Why should the kings of Assyria come, and find much water?

2 Chronicles 32:30 This same Hezekiah also stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works.

The Engineering of Hezekiah's Tunnel

The tunnel was built without recourse to intermediate shafts dug from the surface to determine the course of the dig, a method used in constructing other ancient tunnels. It follows a very winding path - over 500 meters, whereas a straight-line tunnel would have been about 300 meters long. There are several "blind alleys" - false starts - where the tunnel was apparently dug in the wrong direction, as well as the right angle near the center where the two teams of stone hewers met, as recorded in the inscription. The winding course suggests that the hewers followed a natural karst, a channel cut by water in the limestone.

Earlier channels

At least one other channel, a ditch about 6 meters below the surface and covered with stone slabs, has been discovered leading from Shiloah to Gihon. It dates from about 1800 B.C. and was apparently guarded by towers. This channel could have been discovered fairly easy by an invader and apparently did not take all the waters of Gihon, giving the besieging forces a water supply.

Political Significance of Hezekiah's Tunnel

Ever since the 19th century, a school of biblical archeology and philology has tried to prove that the Old Testament is a relatively late work, and that the events it describes, including those detailed in the books of Kings and Chronicles, are not necessarily historical. Subsequent scholarship and archeology has tended to disprove these notions. However, physical evidence for Jewish presence in the land of Israel and particularly in Judea in the period of First Temple is relatively scarce. Most of the promising archeological sites are inaccessible for political or religious reasons, or because they are under densely inhabited areas. The Temple Mount itself was probably ruined for archeological research by extensive excavations of the Muslim Waqf, who have been building a large mosque beneath the Haram as Sharif (Temple Mount) area and carelessly removing "debris" by the truckload, including with archeological findings.

The attempt to discredit the Old Testament accounts and Jewish tradition received new impetus and political significance when the Palestinian Authority came into being under the Palestinian Authority, created as a result of the Oslo accords. The Mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrema Sabri, announced on more than one occasion that there was no evidence for Jewish presence in Jerusalem in ancient times, and Palestinian academics publish works that describe the entire tradition as "myths."  The age of the Hezekiah tunnel was accordingly doubted and assigned by some to the Second Temple period, even though the script of the inscription is similar to that of older inscriptions of the time of Hezekiah.  The double radiometric dating of the tunnel itself should be sufficient to convince reasonable authorities of the antiquity of the tunnel and of Jewish presence in Jerusalem during the period of the First Temple. It also vindicates the account in the book of Chronicles, and provides evidence that at least the chronicles were historical annals of the kings of Judea, supporting the claim that the ancient kingdoms of David and Solomon were historical fact. 


Synonyms and alternate spellings: Hezekiah, Shiloah, Siloam, Gihon

Further Information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hezekiah_tunnel http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=713&letter=S http://www.snunit.k12.il/njeru/eb26.htm


 

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions::

'H - ('het a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

chh - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.


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This work and individual entries are copyright 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel

 

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