By Stephen Cauchi
September 11, 2003
2 Kings 20:20
“And the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made a pool, and a conduit, and brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah”?
Israeli and British scientists have accurately dated one of Jerusalem’s most ancient tunnels, the Siloam, confirming that it is the same structure mentioned in the Old Testament.
The tunnel, whose age has been the subject of fierce debate, was considered one of the greatest works of ancient water engineering.
According to the journal Nature, in which the research was published, it is the first use of radiocarbon dating for an unquestionably biblical structure.
This makes it one of the best-dated such structures, and refutes theories that it was not the tunnel mentioned in the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles.
The scientists confirmed that the tunnel, built to safeguard water supply into the city against invading armies, was built 2700 years ago, not five centuries later, as some scholars thought.
The 530-metre S-shaped tunnel, which drains into Siloam pool, is still intact today.
The Bible’s historical credibility is often tested by comparison with archeological finds, said the scientists.
One of the team, Amos Frumkin, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that biblical structures were difficult to date because they were poorly preserved, hard to identify, hard to reach, and had no materials suitable for dating. “Because of these problems, no well-identified biblical structure has been radiometrically dated until now,” he wrote in Nature.
“We conclude that the biblical text presents an accurate historical record of the Siloam Tunnel’s construction.”
According to the Bible, the tunnel was built by a Judahite king, Hezekiah, about 700BC. It was constructed to move water from the Gihon spring into a pool within the walls of ancient Jerusalem, protecting the city’s water supply in case of siege from the Assyrians.
However, an inscription in the tunnel does not mention King Hezekiah, casting doubt on its age. Architecture of that period and place often praised monarchs for their architectural achievements.
In addition, the tunnel was cleared of debris during the early 20th century, robbing potentially dateable artefacts.
Instead, the team collected “extraordinarily well-preserved” plaster fragments that cemented the tunnel’s floor, wall and ceiling, as well as stalactites. These were suitable for radiocarbon dating.
“Our dating agrees well with the date commonly assigned to King Hezekiah, whom the biblical text describes as having constructed the Siloam tunnel,” wrote the scientists.