Holy Land Pilgrimage with Gila



II KINGS 20: 20

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's examine the Siloam Inscription in Jerusalem

Judean King Hezekiah was thirty-nine years old when Sennacherib, King of Assyria, (that is northern Iraq in our day) invaded Judea in 701 B.C.  Sennacherib captured 46 towns and besieged Jerusalem.  In Sennacherib’s words, “As to Hezekiah, the Judahite, he did not submit to my yoke….I made [him] a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.”  (This boast is inscribed on a cuneiform prism which recounts Sennacherib’s Judean military campaign.  It’s on exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.)
Hezekiah's Broad Wall in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter With the super-power Assyrians threatening his capital and his kingdom, Hezekiah took action.  He consulted the prophet Isaiah.  He attempted an alliance with the Babylonians, yet built a thick wall to secure Jerusalem’s newer western neighborhoods.  (That wall, called the “broad wall” can be seen today in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.)

And he commissioned his engineers to secure his water source by building a tunnel to divert the water from the Gihon spring over to the southwestern part of the city.  The water, then, would be protected from the enemy and accessible from within the city.  It’s believed that the tunnel could have been constructed within eight months, with one shift of tunnelers working by day and another by night.  When Hezekiah’s reign is summarized in Second Chronicles chapter 32, the tunnel

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

is specifically highlighted as his greatest

Judean King Hezekiah's Broad Wall

The first westerner to describe his exploration of the tunnel was Captain Charles Warren, in October 1867.  With a pencil, compass and field book in his hands, he held a candle for the most part in his mouth, as he crawled through the tunnel for four hours with his side-kick Sergeant Birtles behind him.  In some places they had only four inches of breathing space.  (Just for your information, the water level in Hezekiah's tunnel today is only knee-high and it’s a mere 40-minute walk!)

Hezekiah's Tunnel in the City of David

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

White arrow points to the beginning of Hezekiah's Tunnel

As meticulous an observer as Warren was, he missed the inscription chiseled into the rock by Hezekiah’s engineers, about 20 feet from the end of the tunnel.  That inscription was discovered by accident in June 1880 by a 16-year-old boy named Jacob Eliahu who was playing hooky from school.

Jacob’s imagination was fired up after learning about the subterranean conduit carved out by King Hezekiah.  He recruited a fellow student to explore the tunnel with him. He wasn’t deterred by rumors that the tunnel was haunted by a genie or dragon, for since Nehemiah’s day, the spring was dubbed the Dragon Well. (Nehemiah 2:13)

Jacob and his friend prepared floats with a candle and matches attached and tied them around their necks with strings.  The plan was for Jacob to start at the pool of Siloam and for his friend to start at the Gihon Spring, popularly called the Virgin’s Fount.  Not knowing that his friend at the other end had finked out and deserted him, Jacob fearlessly explored the cold and drafty tunnel even when his candle blew out and his matches were water-logged.

In total darkness with muddy water up to his chin, Jacob continued his trek through the tunnel.  He steadied himself by keeping his hand on the damp stone wall to guide his way.  Under his fingertips he felt the marks of ancient chiseling.  At one point he was certain that he had discovered an inscription chiseled into the rock.

Exit of Hezekiah's Tunnel which leads into the Byzantine Pool of Siloam

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Exit of Hezekiah's Tunnel

When he emerged from the tunnel by the Virgin’s Fount, the Siloam village women who were filling their jars with water shrieked and cursed, for they thought he was a genie.  Jacob ran for his life back to school and breathlessly told the headmaster about his escapade.  His report of discovering an inscription in the Siloam tunnel caused quite a sensation in the school.

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Word about the discovery spread quickly around Jerusalem.  An enterprising vandal surreptitiously removed the inscription from the rock and sold it to a Greek antiquities dealer.  The Ottoman Turks who then were ruling Palestine confiscated the inscription and brought it to the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul where it is to the present day, in a locked room on an upper floor and not accessible to the public.

A translation of the inscription which was written in the ancient Hebrew alphabet was first published by the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement in July 1881. Here is a modern translation:

“This is the story of the boring through.  While [the tunnelers lifted] the pick-axe each toward his fellow and while three cubits [remained yet] to be bored [through, there was heard] the voice of a man calling his fellow – for there was a split [or crack or overlap] in the rock on the right hand. When the tunnel was driven through, the tunnelers hewed the rock, each man toward his fellow, pick-axe against pick-axe.  And the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for twelve hundred cubits.  The height of the rock above the head of the tunnelers was a hundred cubits.”

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On a visit to Istanbul in June 1998, I was determined to see the Siloam Inscription. The museum guards told me it was located in an upper room “closed for renovations.” I found that a generous offering of baksheesh ($$) facilitated opening the locked room.  I was not only able to see the inscription, but also to put my hands on it – and photograph it as well.  (Baksheesh, the oil that keeps everything running smoothly here in the Middle East, is a legacy from the Ottoman Turks.)

Siloam Inscription found near the end of Hezekiah's Tunnel

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Siloam Inscription describes the meeting of the 2 teams of tunnelers

It’s not yet possible to view the Siloam inscription in Jerusalem, but perhaps it will be, by the time of your next pilgrimage. The President of Israel, Shimon Peres, during his November 2007 state visit to Istanbul, asked the Turks to return the inscription to its home in Jerusalem.  Rumor has it that the Turks are considering this request and may “loan” the inscription to Jerusalem as a way of participating in Israel’s 60th birthday celebrations this year.

The inscription would be a great place to honor King Hezekiah and his engineers.  And we can discuss all the various theories of how the crews actually did manage to meet up.  Was it a crack or an overlap or a subterranean stream or soft rock or a mathematical formula or pure luck?   Or was it divine providence???

Copyright 2008, 2010 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Gila Yudkin, a Connecticut Yankee guiding in King David’s court, is looking forward to showing you the Siloam inscription when it arrives in Jerusalem.  In the meantime, she’d be happy to splash with you through Hezekiah’s Tunnel and show you Warren’s Shaft as well as many of Jerusalem’s other ancient treasures.  Be sure to contact her in the beginning stages of planning your tour to check her availability.  

My long-time friend Curtis Manor from Searcy, Arkansas gave me the tip of how to put my hands on the ancient Siloam inscription not "open to the public" in Istanbul.  Here is his most memorable experience of leading a group through Hezekiah's Tunnel:

"In 1979 I reluctantly took a stubborn 90-year-old woman through the tunnel, and she almost gave out about half-way through.  My partner, who happened to be walking right in front of her, tried to steady her, but, the passage being too narrow either to walk beside her and steady her or pick her up and carry her, had to walk backward, holding her by both hands, as we all moved at a crawling pace, all the rest of the wade!  Meanwhile, Nell and I were guiding a blind couple through the channel--although we really didn't need to.  The darkness didn't slow them down at all! 

The whole crowd had a jolly time talking about it for the rest of the tour, and decided we had probably set an all-time one-of-a-kind record for wacky accomplishments in Hezekiah's tunnel.  We figured that, in fact, we may have set three: (1) Oldest person to walk through it, (2) first blind couple to walk through it, and (3) first person to walk through it backwards!"

The first Connecticut Yankee to leave gigantic footprints behind in the Holy Land was Edward Robinson.

Read more about Captain Charles Warren, nicknamed the "intrepid mole" who explored underground Jerusalem from 1867 to 1870.

Water flowing through Hezekiah’s Tunnel spilled into the Pool of Siloam which is mentioned in John chapter 9.  Read Gila’s highlight about the twenty-first century discovery of the 2,000-year-old pool in “Let’s wash in the Pool of Siloam.”

If you are contemplating leading a tour to the Holy Land or know someone who is, don’t miss Gila’s tips about baksheesh and other matters guaranteed to make your Holy Land pilgrimage a rave success.  Read Tips from A to Z for Holy Land Tour Leaders.

Read about another accidental archeological discovery -- at Armageddon.




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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin