This post is a continuation of our Top Ten Biblical Discoveries in Archaeology series. To see the complete series please click here.
A Tough Time to be Alive
Our #7 biblically significant discovery in archaeology takes us back again to the time of the #10 discovery. If you haven’t read about the Assyrian Lachish Reliefs please click here to become more familiar with the events of 8th century BC Judah.
The year is 701BC. Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, has destroyed nearly every prominent town in the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel lies in ruins. Sennacherib thrusts the power of the Assyrian army toward the all-important city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem houses the God of the Jews. The defeat of Jerusalem would be a large strategic and symbolic victory.
The Assyrians employ the military strategy of the siege. The army surrounds the fortified walls of a city, cut off all water and food to the city, and then they wait. The term, “siege” derives from sedere, Latin for “to sit”. Attacking armies would wait weeks, months or even years. Assyria had recently besieged nearby Samaria, destroying it after waiting 3 years. As the people in the city grew sick and weak the healthy army would then advance to destroy the city. There are usually only three outcomes of a siege: survive by finding a way to get food and water, surrender or die.
Jerusalem faces certain ruin. Hezekiah, one of the few godly kings, encourages his people to trust in God. God will deliver them from Sennacherib. 2 Kings 18:7 tells us, “He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him.” In 2 Kings 18 we learn the Assyrian commander tells the people of Jerusalem, “Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the kind of Assyria?” The Assyrians first try to convince the people of Jerusalem to overthrow Hezekiah.
The head Assyrian commander tells the people of Jerusalem, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed to with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?” (2 Kings 18:27) If the people of Jerusalem don’t overthrow Hezekiah they, their wives and children will be forced to desperate measures just to stay alive.
The people of Jerusalem had a secret. They had been involved in one of the greatest engineering feats of the ancient world. It’s amazing what humans can accomplish when their backs are against the wall. The inhabitants of Jerusalem, facing certain death, found a secret way to get a constant source of water into Jerusalem. The Bible, in three areas, briefly mentions our #7 discovery:
“And the rest of the acts 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 Kings 20:20
“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 32:2-4
“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.” 2 Chronicles 32:30
Hezekiah trusted in the supernatural power of God to deliver him AND he also employed immense hard work and ingenuity to keep his people alive. The Bible tells us he hid the Jerusalem water supply from the Assyrians and brought it underground into Jerusalem. This is all we know from Scripture.
In 1838 American biblical scholar Edward Robinson shook up the archaeological world by discovering Hezekiah’s Tunnel. The tunnel was far more spectacular than anyone could have imagined. Two other tunnels had been dug in Israel out of soft chalky rock. The tunnel in Hazor is 82 feet long. The tunnel in Megiddo is 262 feet long. Hezekiah’s tunnel, in comparison, was dug through solid bed rock. What is the length of his tunnel? 1,750 feet!
The tunnel provides a constant stream of water through the city of Jerusalem. The tunnel takes water from the Gihon Spring and empties out at a place called the Pool of Siloam. The tunnel, surprisingly, does not follow the most direct route from the spring to the pool. The tunnel travels in an s-shape. If the tunnel was straight it would have only needed to have been 1070 feet, or 40% shorter. While the tunnel is far underground (appx 131 feet underground), the slope of the tunnel is precise. The tunnel slopes at a steady 0.6% grade. Once inside the tunnel another surprise is apparent. The head room within the tunnel varies considerably. The tunnel is always about as wide as a man’s shoulders. At the beginning of the tunnel the head room is pretty tight causing people to have to walk through it a bit hunched over. The last 160 feet of the tunnel, however, the ceiling soars up to 17 feet tall.
Toward one end of the tunnel, amazingly, an ancient Hebrew inscription was found on the wall. The inscription commemorates the point when two teams, digging from each end, finally met in the middle. The inscription reads:
“[…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.”
Scientists have used several techniques to confirm the 8th century date of the tunnel. Some, especially those who claim the Jewish people did not have a sovereign kingdom in Jerusalem, claim the tunnel must have been created substantially more recent than 2,700 years ago. Analysis of the ancient writing; Carbon 14 dating of the plant life disrupted by the tunnel; uranium-thorium dating of the stalactites and stalagmites that grew after completion of the tunnel have all supported a date of around 700BC, the date given in the Bible for these events.
Construction of the Tunnel
How was Hezekiah’s Tunnel constructed without modern day equipment? How could two teams 131 feet underground, without GPS, meet in the middle connecting the two tunnels? How were the workers and subsequent users of the tunnel able to breathe oxygen? Why was the tunnel S-shaped and not straight? How were the workers able to maintain a precise 0.6% grade slope underground for 1,750 feet? These questions, ultimately, remain a mystery.
Over the past 150 years many theories have been offered to explain all these questions. Room is not available in this post to go into all of the theories. The wonder of it all is that the tunnel stands today, undisputed, still carrying water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam.
Visiting the Tunnel Today
If you ever get the chance to visit Jerusalem I highly recommend you take the time, walk down the steep hill from the temple mount and walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Most famous archaeological discoveries are only observable behind the glass of a museum. Hezekiah’s Tunnel is the equivalent of an amusement park. Many tours to Israel, unfortunately, do not include in the itinerary a walk through the tunnel. Others make the tunnel an optional part of the trip. Yes, if you are claustrophobic you might not like some of the portions of the tunnel. Yes, your feet may become numb as you walk through the cold spring water. Remember what was on the line for the people constructing the tunnel. Be successful or your friends, your parents, your kids, your wife may all be dead soon. Step into Hezekiah’s day and walk through the tunnel with the absolute awe of people who trusted in God and worked their heart out.
Hezekiah’s Tunnel brings to living color an amazing engineering feat at a desperate time in the history of Jerusalem. If the tunnel was 10 feet long and 5 feet underground it would still be a valuable discovery. The grandeur of Hezekiah’s Tunnel propels it to the front of the line. Few significant artifacts exist from the 8th century BC. The interaction we can have today with Hezekiah’s Tunnel is stunning.
What do you think? Join the conversation by posting a comment to this post. Do you consider Hezekiah’s Tunnel one of the Top Ten discoveries?