The Debate over Hezekiah’s Tunnel

City of David

Pastor John and daughter Rachel in Hezekiah’s Tunnel

One of the most special experiences while in Jerusalem is to walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel.  This 1,720 foot-long shoulder-wide tunnel was designed to bring water that flows from the Gihon Spring outside the city to the inside area of the city.  It is even clearly mentioned in the Bible in the texts of 2 Kings 20 and 2 Chronicles 32.  The context for carving out of the bedrock this water tunnel is mentioned in detail by Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 36 & 37).  As a young student, I used to play “hide and seek” in the tunnel on occasion.  While there are only a few places to “hide” in this narrow tunnel that once flowed with waist-deep water, the game’s intensity was heightened by playing it in the pitch dark.  The level of water today is only about knee deep.

Today, 100s of groups walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel each month to re-live the amazing history of the Bible.  Yet remarkably there are some who like to distance the name of Hezekiah from the tunnel.  Doesn’t biblical history have any credibility among some in “scholarship” any longer?  Is archaeology the starting point, and not the historical narrative of the Scriptures?  I am saddened to inform you, but unfortunately this seems to be the trend.

Siloam InscriptionThe tunnel was actually discovered in 1838 by American explorer Edward Robinson.  Compared to the water tunnel in Hazor (82 feet long) and Megiddo (262 feet long), this water tunnel was much longer.  According to a theory proposed by Henry Sulley in 1929, the carving of this tunnel followed a natural crack in the rock.  Others suggest that the two team of rock cutters followed a natural karstic dissolution channel.  The inscription found in 1880 by Arab boys towards the end of this “S-shape” tunnel gives us a hint of how it was carved.  The inscription says,

“[…when] (the tunnel) was driven through. And this was the way in which it was cut through: While […] (were) still […] axe(s), each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, [there was heard] the voice of a man calling to his fellows, for there was an overlap in the rock on the right [and on the left]. And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed (the rock), each man toward his fellow, axe against axe; and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1200 cubits, and the height of the rock above the head(s) of the quarrymen was 100 cubits.”

Hezys tunnelThe Bible is clear that it was Hezekiah was the one responsible for the tunnel in order to prepare for the attack by Sennacherib, the Assyrian king.  In his own words, this invading king from the north, while mentioning the 46 fortified cities he sieged at the time, describes surrounding Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage.”   Yet at least three different dates have now risen to dislodge Hezekiah from the tunnel, dating the tunnel to a different time period.

According to the the recent BAR article ( BAR 39:05, Sep/Oct 2013), the first argument for re-dating the tunnel is the Siloam Inscription.  While now housed in the archaeological museum in Istanbul, Turkey, the inscription is dated to a much later time period (e.g. Hasmonean Period) by John Rogerson and Phillip Davies.  Based on their paleographical studies, the type of handwriting on the inscription suggests this later date.  This means they date the tunnel to a time period about 550 years after Hezekiah.

The second re-dating effort concerns the amount of time it would have taken to dig the tunnel.  Based on the type of rock, geologists Amihai Sneh, Eyal Shalev, and Ram Weinberger contend that the tunnel could have been hewn in no less than four years.  For them, this brings into question whether Hezekiah would have had ample time to be the one to carve it in light of the invading Assyrian army.  Thus, some suggest the tunnel should be called the Manasseh Tunnel, named after Hezekiah’s son and successor.

TunnelDiagramLargeTo add the mix of opinions, Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron, two leading archaeologists who are currently excavating the City of David near the Gihon Spring (I actually talked with Dr. Shukron in July), believe that the tunnel dates to an earlier time period.  Reich and Shukron believe that the part of the tunnel called into question dates to the 9th or 8th century, or 100-200 years before Hezekiah even enters the scene.  If this is the case, perhaps the tunnel should be called Jehoash Tunnel, after the Judean King who reigned from 835-801 BC.

While these three proposed alternative dates for the tunnel involves some fascinating discussion, I think I’ll stick with the sure thing, namely, that if the Bible says that Hezekiah carved the tunnel, that’s good enough for me.

With the biblical record leading the way, I believe that a missing piece of the puzzle concerns the additional information that the ancient Assyrian records provide.  If these Assyrian records are accurate, King Hezekiah, while not joining a previous revolt in 714 BC when Ashdod revolted, was one who actually did join a coalition of states who revolted against Sennacherib in 705 BC.  This was when Sargon died and Sennacherib took over his father’s reign.  This was precisely when Hezekiah refused to pay tribute.  Anticipating Sennacherib to eventually invade Judea, Hezekiah thus started his tunnel project in Jerusalem for the purpose of safely diverting the water of the Gihon Spring into the city.  It was a four year project (precisely how long, incidentally, geologists suggest it would have taken to complete a tunnel project of this length) that was completed before Sennacherib and his 185,000 troops surrounded Jerusalem in 701 BC.  The chronology matches up!

Three cheers for the accuracy of Scripture!

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Comments

The Debate over Hezekiah’s Tunnel — 2 Comments

  1. I am compiling a Field Guide of Biblical sites for tours to Israel, and I would like to use the map of Hezekiah’s Tunnel from your website. Can you give me permission to use this sketch in my Field Guide, or tell me where I should go for permission? Thank you very much.
    Kathy B

    • Sure you can use it. Just reference “Biblical Israel Ministries & Tours”

      Do you lead trips yourself? Cool! Let me know how I can help in any way! I lead about 7-8 trips/year, highly biblical and archaeological.\

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