Siloam Inscription

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A six-line Hebrew inscription accidentally discovered in 1880 in the rock wall of the lower entrance to the tunnel of King Hezechiah that connects the Virgin's Pool (Ain Sitti Maryām), outside Jerusalem, with the pool of Siloam (Birket Siloam; Siloe: Jn 9.7), inside Jerusalem. The inscription had been chiseled out of the rock about 19 feet from the Siloam end. Above it the rock was dressed for a considerable space as though it had been prepared for more text. In 1890 the inscribed rock was hewn out to be brought to the museum, but it broke into six or seven pieces; the restored inscription is in the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul.

The text describes an incident in the boring through of the tunnel: the crews of miners that started from opposite ends successfully effected a junction that permitted the flow of water from the spring to the pool. The several lacunae in the text and an obscure hapax legomenon preclude a full understanding of the contents, but the following version does not differ in substance from others that have been proposed (brackets indicate words missing from the text; parentheticals are explanatory):

[When] it (the tunnel) was being bored through, this was the manner in which it was bored through. While the pick-axe, each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to bore through, [there was heard] the voice of a man calling to his fellow, for there was a fissure (?) in the rock on the right [and on the left]. And when it was bored through, the quarrymen struck toward each other, pick-axe against pickaxe, and the water flowed from the spring toward she reservoir for 1,200 cubits. And the height of the rock above the heads of the quarrymen was 100 cubits.

Among scholars there is agreement that the tunnel was the work of King Hezechiah (c. 715686 b.c.), who, according to 2 Chr 32.24, as a precaution against a possible siege, brought water from the only natural spring near Jerusalem by a channel through the rock to a secure place within the city. In 2 Kgs 20.20 it is stated that he "made a pool and a conduit and brought water into the city" (see Sir 48.17). Hence, both the aqueduct and the inscription must date c. 700 b.c. The orthography points to the same conclusion. The forms of the letters are more cursive than those of the mesha inscription (c. 840 b.c.), and some of the letters are palpably different. Final vowels are represented by consonants, but internal long vowels are not written fully unless they come from diphthongs, e.g., wd, from 'aud. Written in good Hebrew prose, the inscription reads like a passage of the Old Testament.

Bibliography: d. diringer, Le inscrizioni antico-ebraiche palestinesi (Florence 1934) 95102, with extensive bibliog. up to 1932. w. f. albright, tr., j. b. pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton 1955) 321. h. donner and w. rÖllig, Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften, v.2 (Wiesbaden 1964) 186.

[m. j. dahood]