by Wayne Simpson
I've had some difficulty getting around by myself in Jerusalem. Though I have added greatly to my knowledge of modern Hebrew during the past week, thanks to Arieh's patience in answering my questions, I still feel woefully inadequate to communicate completely with many Israelis. While about 90% seem to understand my English, I can't fully understand their English responses. It is especially difficult to get directions from them, because they speak as if I know more about the landmarks of the city than I do. The bus routes are only published in Hebrew, and no copies are available for me to study long enough to decipher it. Israelis take it for granted and make glib answers like "just get on bus #9". But I don't know the landmarks well enough to know when to get off.
I finally got enough nerve to follow one of the terse instructions given to me by the hotel manager. So I got on bus number 14 with the full assurance that would get me to Hezekiah's Tunnel. The fare was cheap enough only four and a half shekels (about $1.40) but the bus made only 2 stops after I got on. The last one was the inside the Old City about a quarter mile from the Dung Gate. I knew exactly where I was, having knocked around there on foot for the past two days. But I was no closer to finding Hezekiah's tunnel than before. I was the last one to get off the bus. I looked bewildered and asked the driver how to get to Hezekiah's tunnel. He looked at me blankly, appearing not to understand a word I had said, he shut off the engine and held both hands up pushing his palms toward me - a classic gesture I have seen before in Israel among the merchants at the street kiosks. It means, that's all - our transaction is complete - we're done - good bye. I had no doubt that this was the end of the line.
I was situated on high ground in the Jewish Quarter. I could plainly see the Dome of the Rock over the Western Wall ahead of me. I so wanted to visit the Dome of the Rock before my trip was over, but I had not been able to get anyone to tell me how to get into the guarded complex where it is located. It is located in an Arab controlled area that is politically very sensitive. There are several entrances, but access is restricted to different people at different times. I had found one entrance but I was not allowed to enter, even though a group of Muslim women just ahead of me were allowed to pass unhindered. None of the Israeli guards spoke English enough well enough to explain how and where I could enter. My trip was almost over and it looked like I would not get to see the Dome of the Rock. So I put that out of my mind for the moment and concentrated on my immediate purpose which was to find Hezekiah's Tunnel.
After I got off the bus I proceeded to walk past the Western Wall and out the Dung Gate. I had no desire to rummage around the Old City any more. I frankly found it boring and disorienting to wander around the narrow corridors being accosted by overzealous merchants and Arab boys with their hands out. There is very little with real biblical connection there. Several sites are touted as genuine when, in fact, they are as bogus as a third leg. A good example of this is the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It purports to contain the sepulchre of Jesus and the site of the crucifiction. Though widely accepted by thousands of adoring pilgrims who come to pray there and kiss the stones there in adoration, the authenticity of these sites is based on absolutely nothing but the supposed visions of Roman emperor Constantine and his mother' Helena, three centuries after the fact. Another such fabrication is the Via Delorosa (the street of pain). It is said to be the street down which Jesus carried the cross on the way to his crucifixion, complete with the stations of the cross where he is said to have stopped. The clear truth is that the streets of first century Jerusalem lie buried twenty feet or more below those now existing streets of the Old City as is demonstrated by the new excavations that can be seen in the Ophel area. It's OK to do the Old City once or twice, but that is not why I came to Jerusalem.
Outside, the influx of cabs and tour busses was truly amazing. This Passover holiday season was attracting tourists from all over the world. I crossed the street to a place where I could look down the hill toward the area where I expected Hezekiah's tunnel to be. All I could see was the steep high hill I had tried unsuccessfully to climb in the heat the day before. It was covered by a dreary looking Arab neighborhood that stretched for several miles down the Kidron Valley. The features I was looking for were underground and therefore I couldn't see anything to guide me to them.
About that time a young Arab man walked up to me and asked if he could take me somewhere. I saw his taxi nearby, so I asked him to take me to Hezekiah's tunnel. We got in and he asked my a few questions about other places I wanted to go. I was expecting the kind of high pressure pitch I had before from the cabbies, but this man seemed to be just trying to organize my plans into a coherent route in a very low key way. After a few minutes we drove down the hill to the very area I had been searching intently. Soon we turned into a non- descript alley way where an ancient structure stood among the drab buildings that surrounded it. Only a 2 x 3 foot sign identified the spot as the Gihon spring (the northern terminus of the tunnel, and it was not visible from the road. The Arabs have a lot to learn about promoting their tourists attractions. But maybe they like it this way. A small gravel parking lot held several Arab men who welcomed us to the spot. My driver, a thoughtful 28 year old man named Fausey Tuffaha, had lived here all his life. He knew all the people there by name.
He had cautioned me not to enter the tunnel at this point because I would be charged to enter - probably too much. But he wanted me to see this entrance to the ancient tunnel so I would know where it goes when we enter the other end. One of the men invited me into his antiquities shop where he had numerous artifacts that had been recovered right in this area. He also pitched me a small booklet about the tunnel that had been written by a Ph.d who grew up in this neighborhood. He told me proudly the author was his cousin. The booklet was the kind of material I was looking for so a quickly purchased it but declined to show any interest in antiquities. He then offered to serve as my guide around the city, to which Fausey politely but firmly told him to back off because I was his fare.
We left and drove to another equally unimpressive site down the road. Again no sign announced what lay just a few meters from the main road. A small fenced in area contained the well known Siloam pool mentioned in the New Testament. This was the other terminus of Hezekiah's tunnel. This was a spot where people gathered an Jesus time for healing of various ailments. It was believed that the waters would at times be troubled by an angel and that the first one in the pool would be healed. So sick people waited here for the appropriate moment. This is where Jesus is said to have healed the man with the withered hand.
The pool of Siloam didn't attract much attention in this day however. While thousands were at the top of the hill in the old city, there was only a single woman here when we arrived. She had just emerged from the tunnel into the pool. Fausey asked her if there were others following her through the tunnel. She said that there was a group of people that were a few minutes behind her. We would not be able to go the full length of the tunnel because the passage is too narrow for two people to pass. I probably should have waited until the group emerged but before I knew it Fausey had stepped down in the water of the tunnel and was ready to help me get in without slipping. I had the foresight to bring a pair of small flashlights and to wear canvas shoes for wading. Fausey was wearing sandals.
The tunnel is almost uniformly shoulder width but you naturally turned slightly sideways as you walked in the knee deep cool water. The ceiling of the tunnel was about 20 feet high in most areas. The tunnel was very irregular and meandering. But what an awesome experience it was to be in this tunnel that was in use 2800 years ago and is mentioned prominently in several places in the Bible and in the Apocrypha.
In 2 kings 20:20 it says that Hezekiah "made the pool and the watercourse and brought water into the city." A later account in 2 Chronicles 32:30 says that "Hezekiah blocked up the upper outlet of the waters of the Gihon and directed them down to the west of the city of David". In Ecclesiasticus 48:17 we read "Hezekiah fortified his city, directing water into it; with bronze he hacked through rocks and dammed up the water into a pool."
In 1880 two boys at play in the tunnel discovered an inconspicuous inscription 20 feet inside the south entrance. The paleo-Hebrew inscription was the kind of script used by the Hebrews prior the Babylonian captivity. The inscription was then crudely hacked out of the rock, causing some damage, and carted off the Turkey during Ottoman rule. It now lies in the Istanbul Archeological Museum. The story it tells is amazing.
"... breakthrough. And this was the account of the breakthrough. While the laborers were still working with their picks, each toward the other 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 (meaning of this word is not clear) in the rock to the south and to the north. 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 1200 cubits. And the height of the rack above the laborers was 100 cubits."
Putting all these accounts together, we learn that the original source of the spring was outside the city walls. King Hezekiah concealed and covered this spring routing it underground to a point just inside the walls of the city. He then engineered a passage to the area of the Siloam pool by taking advantage of a natural passage in the rock. This would explain the wandering character of the tunnel. If the entire tunnel were engineered it undoubtedly would have been straighter and more direct. There may have been a crack in the rock between the two locations that the workers enlarged to suit their purposes. In any case such an engineering feat was astounding for the period of 700 BC.
But the Gihon spring figures in an even earlier account in the Bible. In 2 Samuel 5 we read that when David was faced with conquering the site of the Jebusite city that is now Jerusalem, he faced a daunting walled city on a steep slope. The situation was complicated, according to the Talmud, by a centuries old treaty made between their ancestor Abraham and Melchizedek that when Abraham's descendants take possession of the land that Melchizedek's descendants would be treated kindly. This is why the Bible said the Isrealites could not drive out the Jebusites. It is not that they physically could not defeat them, but that they were bound by this treaty not to drive them out. Now those Jebusutes actually Shemites who were living among the Canaanite squatters who had secretly taken control of the land and dominated it. As minority peoples, the Shemites came to be called by the Canaanite name Jebusites, even though they were ethnically Shemites, and they had a legitimate right to live in the land.
The obstacle of taking the city was so difficult that the Jebusites taunted David saying that the lame and the blind could even fight off David's forces. David came up with a plan to climb up some kind of waterspout into the city from the inside. In 1 Chronicles 11:4 -7 David enticed his men to find a passage into the city by offering the successful man the position of General of his Army. Joab ultimately found the passage and became David's general. That passage was believed to be a natural karst system that is known today as Warren's shaft. It connects inside the mountain with the Gihon Spring conduit that was re-engineered centuries later to become Hezekiah's tunnel.
It was thought that the Jubusites were able in times of siege to pass through the underground passage to a point where a bucket could be dropped some 30 feet into the water of the Gihon spring. All under cover of the mountain. This passage can be seen overhead as you pass through Hezekiah's tunnel. So David's men were able to sneak inside the city and take it over from the inside in a virtually bloodless action. However, it has recently been shown by archeologists that Warren's shaft did not reach the surface of the ground in the time of David and Hezekiah. So the exact passage into the city has once again passed into the realm of mystery.
In any event, this was a very exciting experience for me. My driver, Fausie, has proven to be very useful to me in getting to the locations that I want to see while here in Israel. He has come to be a good friend as well.
(C) Copyright 1999 by Wayne Simpson Distributed by Biblical Research Foundation 629 Lexington Road Sapulpa, OK. 74066
Reproduction and distribution permitted provided this copyright notice is retained on all copies.
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