For those who live in or grew up in colder climates, the reopening of the swimming pool at the beginning of every summer was a big deal. It symbolized for many the miracle that they had made it through another school year, and it was time for the rebirth of summer vacation. A pool of a different kind has reopened in Jerusalem and it is also associated with miracles and books of a different kind. The Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel National Parks Authority and the City of David Foundation announced that the 2,700-year-old Pool of Siloam – which played a big part in the birth of the city and at least on major biblical miracle – is about to be reopened to the public. What is the Pool of Siloam and what is its significance in both archeological and biblical history?
“The Pool of Siloam, located in the southern portion of the City of David and within the area of the Jerusalem Walls National Park, is an archaeological and historical site of national and international significance. The Pool was first constructed some 2,700 years ago, as part of Jerusalem's water system in the 8th Century BCE, during the reign of King Hezekiah, as described in the Bible in the Book of Kings II, 20: 20.”
The announcement of the planned reopening of the Pool of Siloam was made in a press release by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs touting both the historical and biblical significance of the pool. According to archeological records of the area, the original Pool of Siloam is actually a number of rock-cut pools on the southern slope of the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood located outside the walls of the Old City to the southeast. They were believed to have been built during the reign of Hezekiah (715–687/6 BCE) to protect the area’s main source of water - the Gihon Spring – from invading armies. Gihon Spring, later known as the Fountain of the Virgin or Saint Mary's Pool, rises from a cave in the Kidron Valley and was key to the first settlement of ancient Jerusalem as it was the only local source of drinking and irrigation water. However, the Gihon Spring was intermittent – flowing only a few times a day – so a retaining reservoir needed. The Pool of Siloam was dug located 586 yards (535 meters) from the spring. The underground channel connecting Gihon Spring and the Pool of Siloam is now called the Siloam Tunnel.
"Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made the Pool, and the conduit, and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of Chronicles of the kings of Judah?"
The Book of Kings II refers to the building of the pool by Hezekiah. The Books of Chronicles, 2 Chronicles tells of an older tunnel built by the Canaanites that was not well protected and the Book of Kings refers to an older Upper Pool connected to it. Hezekiah sealed up the old tunnel and built the new Siloam tunnel and Lower Pool just in time to save them from attacks by the Assyrian king Sennacherib. All of this is supported by history from the First Temple period.
“Due to its location and importance, the Pool of Siloam was renovated and expanded some 2,000 years ago at the end of the Second Temple period. It is believed that the Pool was used during this time as a ritual bath ('mikveh') by millions of pilgrims who converged at the Pool of Siloam before ascending through the City of David to the Temple.”
The press release notes that the Pool of Siloam took on new significance during the Second Temple period as a cleansing pool for pilgrims. Reconstruction may have been finished during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BCE) and it is not clear if the new pool is in the same location as the old one. It is this version that is referred to in the Gospel of John as the place where Jesus sent "a man blind from birth" to wash his eyes – resulting in him being able to see … the famous miracle of the blind man. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough of a miracle to save the Pool of Siloam from destruction after the First Jewish–Roman War in 70 CE. Coins from the period confirm the date and erosion from nearby hills soon buried the pool and the valley under silt layers up to 4 meters (13.1 feet) deep.
A pool built in the same location in the 5th century was thought to be the original pool until the 1838 when archeologist Edward Robinson discovered the real Siloam tunnel. In 1880 16-year-old Jacob Eliahu student exploring the tunnel found an inscription carved in the rock on the eastern side about 19 feet from the Siloam Pool. In 1890, a resident of Jerusalem had the inscription removed from the wall, resulting in it breaking into six or seven pieces and losing a few letters. Nonetheless, the pieces were recovered and put on display. Researchers eventually identified the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, a regional variant of the Phoenician alphabet. Despite the damage, it was translated and is now known as the Siloam inscription.
“... the tunnel ... and this is the story of the tunnel while ...
the axes were against each other and while three cubits were left to (cut?) ... the voice of a man ...
called to his counterpart, (for) there was ZADA in the rock, on the right ... and on the day of the
tunnel (being finished) the stonecutters struck each man towards his counterpart, ax against ax and flowed
water from the source to the pool for 1,200 cubits. and (100?)
cubits was the height over the head of the stonecutters .... ‘’
This is currently the only known ancient inscription from ancient Israel and Judah which commemorates a public construction work – the Siloam inscription is now held by the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.
Meanwhile, archeologists continued to search for the original Pool of Siloam. In 2004, during excavations for a sewer, some of the Pool's steps were found. The IAA took over the excavation under the direction of Professors Roni Reich and Eli Shukron and soon found the northern perimeter and a small portion of the eastern perimeter of the Pool of Siloam, including some of the series of steps which allowing bathers to sit and immerse themselves in the waters. The archeologists estimate the Pool of Siloam covered 5 dunams (1¼ acres) and believe it will be uncovered in its entirety in the coming years. In the meantime, the Pool of Siloam will be opened to the public piece by piece beginning in the next few months.
"The Pool of Siloam in the City of David National Park in Jerusalem, is a site of historic, national and international significance. After many years of anticipation, we will soon merit being able to uncover this important site and make it accessible to the millions of visitors visiting Jerusalem each year."
Let us hope that the Pool of Siloam can perform one more ‘miracle’ and bring the fighting over the area to an end and help those blinded by their religion to see that it is a place of historical significance and celebration for all … just like the old neighborhood pool on the first day of summer.