Who built the “Siloam Tunnel”?

In the most recent issue of BASOR, there is an article that proposes a new understanding of the so-called Siloam Tunnel (or sometimes called “Hezekiah’s Tunnel“).
The article (Sneh, A., Weinberger, R., and Shalev, E. 2010. The Why, How, and When of the Siloam Tunnel Revisited. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 359: 57–76) is written by three geologists from the Geological Survey of Israel. After examining the tunnel, they claim that it was excavated following existing karstic cavaties. In addition, they claim that that it would appear that this it would have taken about 4 years to excavate the tunnel.
Based on this, the authors suggest that perhaps, the tunnel was not excavated by Hezekiah in preparation for the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, since, according to them, there would not have been enough time. Accordingly, they suggest that it was prepared by Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, who was known to have had all kinds of public projects, or, perhaps, by Hezekiah, but much earlier in his reign.

All this is very nice, but the authors seem to have forgotten one major piece of historical evidence! Hezekiah actually revolted against the Assyrians in 705 BCE, right after the Assyrian king Sargon II was killed in battle. Sargon’s son, Sennacherib, was busy quieting other parts of his kingdom in the immediate years after his father’s death, and only 4 years later, in 701 BCE did he get around to campaigning to Judah. In the four years between the revolt and the actual campaign, Hezekiah made all kinds of preparations. On the one hand he tried to get together a wide coalition of Levantine kings (which quickly fell apart when the Assyrians arrived), while on the other hand he made all kinds of material preparations at home, including fortifying Jerusalem and various towns in his kingdom, preparing supplies (e.g., the LMLK jars), and, most logically, as described quite clearly in the biblical text, improving Jerusalem’s water sources – by building this unique tunnel.

While there is no doubt that we cannot prove without any reservations that it was Hezekiah who in fact made this tunnel, but the suggestion put forward by the authors is hardly convincing – particularly since there is just 4 years between the beginning of the revolt and the siege – just the time that they think it would have taken to quarry the tunnel.

This raises several questions: How could the authors not have related to this issue – if even simply to suggest an explanation including this important piece of historical data (perhaps, due to the fact that they are geologists were not sufficiently familiar with the relevant historical sources [but this appears in just about any book describing the events leading up to Sennacherib’s siege]). But more disturbingly – how did the editors of BASOR not catch this blooper?


7 thoughts on “Who built the “Siloam Tunnel”?

    1. arenmaeir

      Karl – just my point.
      George – The have a complicated calculation, based, inter alia, on discussions with local stone masons.


  1. I do not have access to the article, but I’m curious what estimates they used for the labor force. Can you share that? Was 4 years the longest time working 24/6 at both ends?

    And what exactly was the “blooper”? You lost me on your last sentence.


  2. Achish Melek Gat

    I have always thought that Hezekiah may have begun the tunnel project prior to his revolt (i.e. prior to 705), and certainly he must have been thinking about it prior to 705. As Aren points out, there was time between 705 and 701 for a four year project. But I can see it having begun before 705, with no inconsistencies about how we understand either the tunnel or Hezekiah’s reign. But, I wonder, did the authors of the study cite 2 Chronicles 32:30, which specifically mentions that “Hezekiah stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon (the old Siloam Channel) and brought it down to the west side of the city of David” — if the authors did not mention this passage, they missed a MAJOR piece of evidence.



  3. arenmaeir

    They do mention the II Chron 32:30, but suggest that it relates to the Siloam Channel, the water channel that runs along the eastern side of the City of David.



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  5. Peter van der Veen

    I haven’t seen the article either yet, but I did check the palaeography about a year ago and it needs to be said that it supports a slightly later date than Hezekiah (or perhaps very late Hezkiah). This idea is not new. It was suggested longer ago by an Israeli scholar (forgot his name) who argued that Manasseh was the builder. Andrew Vaughn argued in BASOR 1999 that the writing style indeed supports a later 7th cent. date. So to say it with Qohelet there is nothing new under the sun.


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