Hezekiah's Tunnel - Engineering Marvel - (Even by todays standards)

 In approximately 700 B.C., in the city of Jerusalem, a massive attack and siege by Sennacherib of Assyria was imminent. The Assyrian army was vast, well trained and battle tested. Sennacherib had defeated every advisory that stood in his way, and now his army posed a grave danger to Jerusalem and her people. The city walls were formidable and would not be easily penetrated, so a lengthy siege of Jerusalem was expected. King Hezekiah knew if the city were to survive a siege it would need a constant supply of drinking water as well as additional fortifications. For the moment we will focus strictly on the water supply. Without fresh water the city would fall. To accommodate this need Hezekiah developed a masterful plan that was ingenious and at the same time filled with risk and danger.

"It was Hezekiah who stopped the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah was successful in everything that he did." 2 Chronicles 32:30

The Spring of Gideon is located outside the city walls of Jerusalem and could not be protected from the advancing armies. Rather than attempt to protect the water supply at its source, Hezekiah decided to bring the precious water into the city. This would be accomplished by digging a tunnel through the bedrock from the spring all the way to the Pool of Siloam inside the city walls, a distance of over a third of a mile. In order to accomplish this monumental task in the time available, Hezekiah had two teams of men digging, one from each end of the planned tunnel.

These Teams worked in extreme conditions to complete their task in a very limited amount of time. The only light source were small oil lamps and the tunnels had a limited air supply. On average the tunnel was only three feet wide so the task of digging and removing the ruble to the surface was no small feat. Even more remarkable is the fact the tunnel did not go in a straight line but had several major bends and turns. Somehow, without modern technology, these two teams were able to meet and create what appears to be an almost seamless tunnel. How they were able to line up properly, side to side as well as at the proper depth, is somewhat of a mystery.

Hezekiah's Tunnel
The tunnel, when completed, was some 1,800 feet in length, or approximately a third of a mile. Even today the tunnel still carries water into the city and modern tourist can walk the full length of the tunnel. At certain times such a trek is very difficult and not for the timid as the water can be chest deep and your only source of light are hand held flashlights. In the time of Hezekiah the end of the tunnel located at the spring was carefully disguised to hide the spring and the water diverted into the tunnel. This prevented the Assyrian army from having a local water supply as well as allowing the city to receive a fresh and constant water supply throughout the siege. Through his ingenuity Hezekiah had provided the life giving water the city desperately needed. He also supplied the city with additional fortifications and the Bible tells us he also had help from a higher authority.

As well as digging the water tunnel Hezekiah also built new walls to help fortify the city. These walls were excavated by archaeologist in 1970 and they are massive. The portions excavated are twenty-three feet thick and stand as much as ten feet in height. It is believed several homes were torn down in order to make room for the wall as well as to supply raw materials for the walls. In one excavation it was found where the wall had been built over a demolished home. This action matches almost exactly with what is recorded in the book of Isaiah regarding these troubled times

“And ye have numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses have ye broken down to fortify the wall.” Isaiah 22:10

The Assyrians were record keepers and keep a detailed account nearly all of their conquests and military campaigns. The campaign which included the siege of Jerusalem was recorded on what is known as the Taylor Prism which was discovered in Nineveh in 1830. With some 500 lines of writing the prism tells of the cities and armies defeated by the Assyrian forces as well as of their siege of Jerusalem. It does not record the Assyrian victory over Jerusalem. This is because the great Assyrian army could not conquer the city. This could be in part attributed to the fact there was no adequate water supply for their troops, or perhaps the additional fortifications kept them out, but the Bible records yet another reason the Assyrians were not victorious.

In the Book of Isaiah the author records how God sent out an angel who struck down 185,000 in the Assyrian camp. Additionally it tells how the angel destroyed every mighty warrior and commander in the Assyrian army. The Assyrian King Sennacherib retreated in shame and was eventually killed by his children. 

Just why did the Assyrians leave without a victory? Why could they not achieve the victory which seemed almost a certainty given the size of their army? Is it possible the events in the Bible actually took place just as they are recorded? The physical facts, as revealed by archeological excavations, show the Bible recorded these details correctly and with amazing accuracy. Why then would we doubt the remainder of the text simply because it discusses events which cannot be confirmed by any archaeological discovery? It is somewhat interesting however, that history records Sennacherib died just as the Bible tells us, at the hands of his own sons.

In addition to the Biblical account of Hezekiah’s tunnel, archaeologist also discovered an engraving in the rock wall near the tunnel outlet. The inscription was apparently carved by the workers who dug the tunnel. The engravings was removed and is on display in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul Turkey. The inscription reads;

“… the tunneling through. And this is the account of the tunneling through. While [the workmen raised] the pick each toward his fellow and while there [remained] to be tunneled [through, there was heard] the voice of a man calling to his fellow, for there was a split in the rock on the right hand and on [the left hand]. And on the day of the tunneling through the workmen struck, each in the direction of his fellow, pick against pick. And the water started flowing from the source to the pool, twelve hundred cubits. And the height of the rock above the head of the workmen was a hundred cubits.”

This tunnel played a major role in the history of Israel and Jerusalem. It was a marvel of engineering which helped hold off a massive army and even today is still performing the task it was designed and built for nearly 3,000 years after its construction. An amazing feat by a group of men armed with picks and shovels and working under a timeline, which if not meet, could mean the fall of Jerusalem and the deaths or enslavement of their families and countrymen. While not considered one of the major archaeological finds, the Hezekiah Tunnel must be considered one of the most intriguing and unique discoveries related to Biblical Archaeology ever to be brought to light.

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