Hezekiah’s Tunnel

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Summary: A historical-archeological defense of Hezekiah’s tunnel.

PREMISE: Hezekiah’s tunnel (also known as the Siloam tunnel) was built as recorded in the Bible.
PURPOSE OF ARTICLE: To use historical and archeological reasoning to demonstrate that King Hezekiah constructed the tunnel mentioned in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.


2 Chronicles 32:1-4: “Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah…And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come…he planned with his officers and his mighty men to stop the water of the springs that were outside the city; and they helped him…they stopped all the springs and the brook that flowed through the land…”

2 Chronicles 32:30: “This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works.”

2 Kings 20:20: “The rest of the deeds 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 the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?”


In 701 B.C., King Sennacherib of Assyria planned to attack Jerusalem. Hezekiah, the king of Israel, took steps to cut off freshwater sources outside of the city in case they were discovered and used by the Assyrian army. According to the above Bible passages, he also ordered his workers to construct a tunnel that would bring water from the Spring of Gihon to the city of Jerusalem during the siege.

For years, skeptics wondered if such a tunnel was possible; it would have to run hundreds of meters and maintain a complex configuration. These doubts were cleared up when American biblical scholar Edward Robinson discovered the tunnel in 1838 and British explorer Sir Charles Warren studied it in 1867. The tunnel is now considered to be an amazing feat of engineering and contains an inscription (known as the Siloam Inscription) that describes how it was built: by having two teams of men dig from each end until they met at the center of the tunnel.1

But was the tunnel commissioned by Hezekiah, since his name is not on the inscription? The answer lies in radiocarbon (or Carbon-14 dating), and it confirms that the tunnel was indeed built during the time of Hezekiah. In the 2003 Nature article “Radiometric dating of the Siloam Tunnel, Jerusalem”, Amos Frumkin, Aryeh Shimron, and Jeff Rosenbaum “report radiocarbon and U–Th dating of the Siloam Tunnel 3–10, proving its Iron Age II date; we conclude that the Biblical text presents an accurate historic record of the Siloam Tunnel’s construction.”2 This article was so influential that it was mentioned in National Geographic,3 and, in fact, there are other instances of radiometric dating confirming the tunnel’s completion at around 700 B.C.

But for some, this is not a satisfactory explanation. In 2011, Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron wrote an article titled “The date of the Siloam Tunnel reconsidered”, in which they demonstrated that excavation evidence pointed to an earlier completion date than what the Bible describes.4 However, this is not a problem since the Bible itself concedes that parts of the conduit were already existing before Hezekiah’s reign and that he merely added on to it. Archeology professors Aren M. Maeir and Jeffrey R. Chadwick say, “[There is] textual evidence that suggests that the Siloam Channel actually existed prior to Hezekiah’s reign. Specifically, the contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous allusions in Isaiah 7:3 (to ‘the conduit of the upper pool’) and 8:6 (to ‘the waters of Shiloah,’ a.k.a. Siloam) strongly suggest that the Siloam Channel was already in…well before the reign of Hezekiah.”5

Other skeptics contend that the 533-meter-long tunnel could not have been constructed in a short period of time because of how complex it is. Amihai Sneh, Ram Weinberger, and Eyal Shalev argue, “Because of the time needed to complete the project (we estimate at least four years), [the tunnel] could not have been undertaken as a countermeasure to the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s siege in the year 701 B.C.E.”6 But historically, the workers certainly had time before the impending siege. According to Maeir and Chadwick, “there were four years between the beginning of the revolt against Assyria…in 705 B.C.E. and the attack on Judah in 701 B.C.E. This is the same amount of time – four years – that Sneh, Shalev and Weinberger say was necessary to have quarried out and constructed the Siloam Tunnel! Yet they do not even mention this obvious chronological similarity.”7


The fact that Hezekiah’s tunnel even exists is a testament to the historical accuracy of Biblical narratives. Today, any tourist can visit Hezekiah’s tunnel and observe that it runs from outside Jerusalem to the former Pool of Siloam. Radiocarbon dating has demonstrated that most of the tunnel was constructed at the time of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C., and reasonable historical analysis shows that there was enough time to construct the tunnel to prepare for an invasion.


[1] “The Ancient Hebrew Inscription Discovered at the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem,” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement 13.3 (July 1881): 141-154.

[2] Frumkin, Amos, Aryeh Shimron, and Jeff Rosenbaum. “Radiometric Dating of the Siloam Tunnel, Jerusalem.” Nature 425.6954 (2003): 169-71. Web.

[3] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/09/0911_030911_SiloamTunnel.html

[4] Reich, Ronny, and Eli Shukron. “The Date of the Siloam Tunnel Reconsidered.” Tel Aviv 38.2 (2011): 147-57. Web.

[5] Maeir, Aren M., and Jeffrey R. Chadwick. “Regarding Recent Suggestions Redating the Siloam Tunnel.” Bible History Daily. Biblical Archeological Society, n.d. Web.

[6] Sneh, Amihai, Ram Weinberger, and Eyal Shalev. “The Why, How, and When of the Siloam Tunnel Reevaluated.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 364 (2011): 53-60. Web.

[7] Maeir, Aren M., and Jeffrey R. Chadwick. “Regarding Recent Suggestions Redating the Siloam Tunnel.” Bible History Daily. Biblical Archeological Society, n.d. Web.

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