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The Siloam Inscription

September 6, 2018

Introduction

 

In 1880, 16 year old Jacob Eliahu, was exploring the City of David with a classmate.  While enjoying the cold water flowing through an ancient rock cut tunnel near the Siloam Pool, he noticed ancient writing on the tunnel wall. He alerted his teacher, Conrad Schick, a Swiss-German missionary, architect, archaeologist and longtime resident of Jerusalem, to examine the find.  Schick, an agent of the Palestine Exploration Fund, immediately recognized the importance of this inscription and quickly published news of its discovery (Schick 1880).  Additional studies by other scholars soon followed (e.g., Sayce, Condor, Taylor, Beswick and Sulley 1881).  A Judahite scribe incised the inscription on a previously smoothed section of wall, but only utilized the bottom half of this surface. The inscription itself essentially celebrates a great engineering achievement and captures a moment in time, commemorating the meeting of two work parties that, working from opposite ends of the tunnel, cut through 533 m. of solid rock until they heard each other’s voices and broke through the final few feet (Younger 2003).  The tunnel, carefully sloped, brought water from the Gihon Spring, in the Kidron Valley, inside Jerusalem’s walls and to the Siloam Pool at the southwestern base of the City of David.  The abrupt beginning of the inscription seems to indicate that the scribe planned to include an introductory section for the upper half of the prepared surface, but sadly never completed the task.  Workers cut away the inscription from the wall of the tunnel, slightly damaging the text, before placing it on public display.  Because Palestine was then under Ottoman rule, Turkish officials eventually transferred the inscription to the National Museum at Istanbul, where it remains today:  http://www.istanbularkeoloji.gov.tr/web/27-111-1-1/muze_-_en/collections/archaeological_museum_artifacts/siloam_inscription.

 

Relevance to the Biblical Account

 

From the time of its discovery, the Siloam inscription has been linked to King Hezekiah’s royal projects (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:3-4, 30; Isaiah 22:11; Ben Sira 48:17), carried out during his preparations to revolt against Assyria (705-701 BC). At issue was the protection of Jerusalem’s water supply.  Earlier Jebusite and Amorite rulers of the city built a massive fortified wall that enclosed the spring.  Hezekiah’s engineers abandoned this already ancient fortification for a new solution; diverting the water from the spring into the city via a long tunnel.  This both protected Jerusalem’s water supply and aided the efforts of residents living on the Western Hill to fill their daily household water jars.  Recent studies have argued that the Siloam Tunnel may date earlier, or much less likely, later than Hezekiah’s reign (see Reich and Shukron 2011; Rendsburg and Schniedewind 2010; Sneh; Weinberger; and Shalev 2010).

 

Physical Description and Text

 

The Siloam inscription measures about 25 inches in width and 9 inches in height and cut into hard Mizzi Ahmar limestone.  The text reads as follows:

 

[The day of] the breach…. This is the record of how the tunnel was breached.  While[the excavators were wielding] their pickaxes, each man towards his co-worker, and while there were yet three cubits for the brea[ch], a voice[was hea]rd each man calling to his co-worker; because there was a cavity in the rock (extending) from the south to[the north].  So on the day of the breach, the excavators struck, each man to meet his co-worker, pickaxe against pick[a]xe.  Then the water flowed from the spring to the pool, a distance of one thousand and two hundred cubits.  One hundred cubits was the height of the rock above the heads of the excavat[ors] (translation by Younger 2003:145-46). 

 

The Horn Museum collection includes a museum quality replica of the Siloam Inscription; a specially commissioned copy of the original.

 

Historical Significance

 

The Siloam inscription is the only appreciably long Hebrew monumental inscription dating to the Old Testament Israelite monarchy.  The Siloam inscription, because of its eighth century BC date, strong biblical context and reasonably long text, quickly became a tremendous study aid for students of early Hebrew orthography, syntax and paleography and remains a central tool for the study of pre-exilic Hebrew.  Biblical scholars and historians still hold out hope for discovering additional monumental Hebrew inscriptions, such as stele or building inscriptions. 

 

Parallels

 

Apart from the Siloam text, only small fragments of monumental Hebrew inscriptions have been recovered to date.  Three derive from Jerusalem and one from Samaria.  A monumental inscribed stone plaque, with the top part broken off and missing, appeared in a private Israeli antiquities collection in 2001.  Lacking any provenance, reports claiming that thee plaque originated from a Muslim cemetery near the Temple Mount cannot be verified.  The text describes repairs made to the Temple during the reign of Jehoash, King of Judah (2 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 24).  Questions persist regarding the authenticity of the plaque.  The matter is hotly debated with many scholars strongly assert that this so-called Jehoash inscription is nothing more than a modern forgery.  Others argue that it may well be genuine.  A handful of Ammonite and Moabite texts, as well as the Aramaean Tel Dan Stele and the late dedicatory inscription from Ekron, largely comprise the only other known monumental inscriptions from the southern Levant during the period of the Israelite monarchies. 

 

Bibliography

 

Sayce, A. H.; Condor, C. R.; Taylor, I.; Beswick, S.; and Sulley, H.

1881    The Ancient Hebrew Inscription in the Pool of Siloam Palestine Exploration Fund                      Quarterly Statement13: 282-97.

 

Reich, R., and Shukron, E.

            2011    The Date of the Siloam Tunnel Reconsidered.  Tel Aviv38: 147-57.

 

Rendsburg, G. A., and Schniedewind, W. M.

2010    The Siloam Tunnel Inscription:  Historical and Linguistic Perspectives.  Israel                            Exploration Journal60: 188-203.

 

Schick, C.

1880    Phoenician Inscription in the Pool of Siloam.  Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly                    Statement12: 38-39.

 

Sneh, A.; Weinberger, R.; and Shalev, E.

2010    The Why, How, and When of the Siloam Tunnel Reevaluated. Bulletin of the American                Schools of Oriental Research 359: 57-65.

 

Younger, K. L.

2003    The Siloam Tunnel Inscription.  Pp. 145-46 in Volume 2 of The Context of                                    Scripture:  Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World,eds. W. W. Hallo and K. L.              Younger. Leiden:  Brill.

 

 

 

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