Biblical Water Systems
of David, which was Biblical Jerusalem,
is located on a low, narrow spur south of the Temple
Mount and today's Old City.
A settlement existed here in the Bronze and Iron Ages, of which remains
of fortifications and buildings have been found (see Archeological Sites
in Israel No.1, pp. 19-23).
The City of David was built on a hill of hard limestone,
in which underground water created karstic caves. The Gihon Spring,
the only source of water of the city, emerges in the Kidron Valley,
east of the City of David. It is mentioned many times in the Bible,
e.g., its location in the valley east of the city (II Chronicles 33:14);
the anointing of Solomon as King of Israel (I Kings 1:35, 45). It made
the founding of the City of David possible, and sustained its existence
for thousands of years. The Hebrew name of the spring is derived from
the verb meaning "to gush forth," reflecting the flow of the
spring, which is not steady, but intermittent, its frequency varying
with the seasons of the year and annual precipitation. It is a siphon-type
karst spring fed by groundwater that accumulates in a subterranean cave.
Each time that space fills to the brim, it empties at once through cracks
in the rock and is siphoned to the surface. This natural feature made
it necessary to accumulate water in a pool, to be available at times
when the spring was not "gushing forth."
The spring emerged in a cave on the eastern slope
of the City of David above the Kidron Valley, and from there water flowed
into the valley, watering the terraced, agricultural plots on the slope
of the City of David. This area is called in the Bible the "King's
Garden" (II Kings 25:4; Jeremiah 52:7; Nehemiah 3:15). Today, the
bed of the Kidron Valley is filled with 15 m. of erosion and debris,
which have accumulated over the millennia. During the Second Temple
period, a vault was built over the spring, to which one could descend
via a long staircase. Water flowed from the spring along Hezekiah's
Tunnel to the Siloam Pool, (John 9:7) which is located in the low, southern
part of the Tyropoeon Valley, west of the City of David.
Three waterworks, fed by the Gihon spring, were carved
into the rock beneath the City of David in antiquity and they are the
most complex and advanced of any known from Biblical cities. The systems
were planned in different periods, served varied purposes and functioned
in distinct ways. All three water systems were in operation simultaneously
in the First Temple period, and each contributed to the efficiency of
the city's water supply. They also attest to the efforts of the kings
of ancient Jerusalem to guarantee the water supply in time of siege.
The "Warren's Shaft"
In times of war and siege, the City of David's water
supply was vulnerable, since the Gihon spring in the Kidron Valley was
outside the city walls. The "Warren's
Shaft" System is the earliest subterranean water system and,
filled with accumulated debris, it was discovered by C. Warren in 1867
and named after him. Investigation and documentation were conducted
by H. Vincent (1909-1911). In the early 1980s, the Warren's Shaft System
was cleared and reinvestigated by Y. Shilo and, since 1995, new research
included excavation of the eastern extremity of the shaft.
The entrance to the Warren's Shaft System is located
in the middle of the eastern slope of the City of David, within the
ancient city's walls. It consisted of a subterranean, rock-cut tunnel
with a shaft at its end. At the entrance, the tunnel slopes steeply
downward in a stepped passage. This portion is covered by a well-constructed
vault from the Second Temple period, which prevented soil and rocks
from falling into the system. Farther down, the tunnel becomes less
steep. At first, it extends in a northeasterly direction, then angles
sharply to the southeast. The total length of the tunnel is 41 m. and
it descends 13 m.; its width is 2.5-3.0 m. and its height varies from
1.5 m. at the entrance to a maximum of 5 m. At its easternmost end is
a narrow, irregularly shaped vertical shaft some 2 m. wide and 12.5
m. deep, which leads to the waters of the Gihon Spring; going down the
tunnel to the shaft, water could be drawn with a container fastened
to a rope. Thus, in time of siege it was possible to safely draw water
from the spring without venturing outside the walls. The narrow vertical
shaft at the end of the system was impenetrable from the outside.
Most scholars were in agreement that the Warren's
Shaft System was man-made and the product of a tremendous effort. However,
a hydrological study conducted at the beginning of the 1980s, established
that the shaft and most of the tunnel were natural karstic fissures
in the rock. The planners of the system had taken advantage of these,
combining and adapting them in cutting a complete system that made subterranean
passage from the city to the spring possible.
On discovery of the Warren's Shaft System it was proposed
to identify it with the tsinnor (Hebrew, pipe or shaft) mentioned in
the Bible in the description of David's conquest of the city (II Samuel
5:8): And David said on that day, whosoever gets up to the tsinnor,
and smites the Jebusites
The meaning of tsinnor is problematic
and a parallel description of the city's conquest by David (I Chronicles
11:4-7) fails to mention it. For this reason, and in light of comparative
archeological research, the identification of the Biblical tsinnor with
the Warren's Shaft System was not accepted by most modern archeologists.
Such an identification would have meant dating the tsinnor to the period
of Canaanite and Jebusite rule in the city (i.e., prior to David's conquest
in the 10th century BCE), for which there was no archeological evidence.
It should also be noted that other Biblical cities (Megiddo, Hatzor) had water
systems combining similar elements, and these are dated to the period
of the Divided Monarchy (9th century BCE).
This was the accepted theory about the Warren's Shaft
System until renewed research in the 1990s. Next to the Gihon Spring,
remains of fortifications and of a waterwork from earlier days of Jerusalem
were unexpectedly uncovered. Exposed were two massive towers of enormous
stones that protruded eastward from the line of the city wall. Between
them was a very deep rock-cut pool. The towers protected the spring
and the pool, denying access to them while guaranteeing the water supply
in time of siege. The excavators dated this fortification system to
the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE (Canaanite period).
The short section of the tunnel from the low eastern
end of the Warren's Shaft was cleared during the new excavations and
found to lead to the surface on the eastern slope of the City of David,
opposite the pool and towers just described. This new research supports
the old view that the Warren's Shaft system was entirely man-made, by
two teams of workmen beginning work on opposite sides.
According to this new view, the Warren's Shaft System
consists of two chronologically distinct phases of rock cutting. In
the first phase, on construction of the towers and the pool near the
spring (at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE), the upper part
of the system was cut into the soft chalk. This low tunnel followed
a curving course with a gradual slope to its outlet on the surface,
opposite the rock-cut pool protected by the towers. In the second phase
(8th century BCE, under the United Kingdom), the tunnel was deepened
and cut into harder rock. Work was stopped when the tunnel encountered
the top of the vertical shaft, through which water could be drawn from
the Gihon Spring.
This new research, though leaving several important
problems unresolved, nevertheless enables us once more to consider its
possible connection to the Biblical tsinnor.
The Siloam Channel
Channel, cut at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE, emerges
from the Gihon Spring and extends approximately 400 m. southward along
the low, eastern slope of the City of David, around the city's southern
end and empties into a reservoir in the Tyropoeon Valley. The channel's
northern part is 2.75 m. deep and is covered by large stones; the southern
part is open, but becomes a rock-cut tunnel towards the end. Openings
along the channel allowed water to flow out and irrigate the terraces
on the eastern slope of the City of David.
Some identify the Siloam Channel with the waters of
Shiloah that go softly (Isaiah 8:5). It was blocked after the cutting
of Hezekiah's Tunnel. The biblical passage referring to this is probably
II Chronicles 32:4: So a great many people were gathered together, who
stopped up all the springs, and also the wadi that ran through the midst
of the land, saying, Why should the kings of Ashur (Assyria) come and
find much water?
tunnel is the latest and most impressive of the
water systems built in the City of David. Although its
existence was known hundreds of years ago, its systematic
investigation was undertaken only in the last century.
Clearance of the tunnel, thorough study and mapping
were carried out by H. Vincent between 1909 and 1911.
The Siloam Inscription, discovered in the tunnel at
the end of the 19th century, was removed and is today
in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul.
The tunnel was cut into the rock beneath the City
of David, in a 533 m.-long, "S"-shaped course. In a straight
line, the distance from the Gihon Spring to the Siloam Pool is only
325 m. The average width of the tunnel is about 60 cm.; it is about
2 m. high along most of its course, but reaches 3 - 4 m. in some sections
at the beginning and the end. The Tunnel was finely carved out, with
chisel marks visible. The downward slope from beginning to end is very
gentle, approximately 2 m. altogether, with an average decline of 0.4%.
The tunnel was cut during the reign of King Hezekiah
of Judah (end of 8th century BCE) and described in detail in a six-line
inscription, in paleo-Hebrew script, cut into the rock near the exit:
breakthrough and this was the account
of the breakthrough. While the laborers were still working with their
picks, each toward the other, and while there were still three cubits
to be broken through, the voice of each was heard calling to the other,
because there was a zdh [crack?] in the rock to the south and to the
north. And at the moment of the breakthrough, the laborers struck each
toward the other, pick against pick. Then the water flowed from the
spring to the pool for 1,200 cubits. And the height of the rock above
the heads of the laborers was 100 cubits."
The project is mentioned in the Bible (II Kings 20:20): "...and
how he made a pool, and a conduit, and brought water into the city
and again in II Chronicles 32:30: "This same Hezekiah also stopped
the upper watercourse of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the
west side of the city of David."
In view of the threat of an Assyrian invasion of Judah,
work on the fortifications and the cutting of the tunnel had to be carried
out in great haste. Included was a fortified wall surrounding the western
hill (Mt. Zion and the southern part of today's Old City), thus including
the Siloam Pool in the Tyropoean Valley, within the city walls.
The curving course of Hezekiah's Tunnel, and the description
of how it was cut by two teams of workers, raises questions about engineering
and planning capabilities enabling the two teams to meet; not a simple
matter considering that work was carried out in the depths of the earth,
with minimal lighting by oil lamps, and with little oxygen. There must
have been a reason for the long, curving route, requiring so much more
effort than a straight one. Several explanations have been proposed
over the years. According to one, the workmen followed curving rock
formations; another, erroneous one, was that the curve was intended
to bypass the (mistakenly identified) Tombs of the House of David; the
most probable explanation is that the workmen followed a crack in the
rock through which some water flowed from the Gihon to the Tyropoean
Valley. The Siloam Inscription mentions that "there was a zdh in
the rock", which could be interpreted as a crack (geological, or
the result of karstic activity, or both), in which some water flowed,
and which they enlarged into a tunnel. The entrance to the spring in
the Kidron Valley was then skillfully disguised.
Since removal of the debris that blocked Warren's
Shaft, it has been open to visitors. Hezekiah's Tunnel may also be traversed,
walking through the water that flows in it to the Pool of Siloam.
The Warren's Shaft System was cleared
and examined by the Y. Shilo expedition to the City of David (1978-1985)
on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Exploration
Society and the Jerusalem Foundation. Under its auspices, a hydrological
survey of the water system was carried out by D. Gil. New excavations
have been conducted since 1995 by R. Reich and E. Shukron on behalf
of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Hillel Geva studied
archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, participated in excavations
in the Jewish Quarter and the Citadel in Jerusalem, and is author of
the entry "Jerusalem" in the New Encyclopedia of Archeological
Excavations in the Holy Land and editor of Ancient Jerusalem Revealed.