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?