Saturday, June 26, 2004

History unearthed

An archeological discovery sheds light on the Second Temple-period water system

Earlier this month archeologists explored an area of the City of David that had lain untouched for more than 2,000 years.

What is thought to be the Pool of Siloam, discovered when archeologists decided to check the site before the municipality launched infrastructure work in the area, dates back to the Second Temple period.

"One of the supporting walls of the pool was the southernmost wall of the city," says Jerusalem regional archeologist John Seligman, who is working on the excavation. "The wall acted as both a dam and a fortification. The pool was actually a reservoir where the waters of the Gihon Spring were collected for the city. It is a very important find because it helps form our understanding of the water system of Jerusalem in ancient times."

Seligman works alongside archeologist Eli Shukrun of the Israel Antiquities Authority who, together with Prof. Ronny Reich of Haifa University, has been exploring the area since 1995. Pursuing a gut feeling that there was an interesting discovery to be made, Shukrun and his colleagues set to work brushing away the dirt for several hours, until Shukrun discovered they were working on a step.

"We knew that the Siloam Pool from the Second Temple period was located in this area, we just didn't know where it was exactly," he says, pointing to a map in Dan Bar's Jerusalem Encyclopedia that shows the City of David with the supposed area of the Siloam Pool. Although the shape of the pool in the drawing is different from that of the actual discovery, the general area of the location correlates.

Until now, another pool from the Byzantine era (adjacent to the Byzantine Church), discovered by archeologist Blis Vediki at the end of the 19th century, was known as the Siloam Pool.

Shukrun claims his recent discovery is the Second Temple-era Pool of Siloam, mentioned twice in the Torah, both in Nehemia 3:15 ("Pool of Shelah") and in Isaiah 8:6 ("waters of Shiloah"). It is also referred to in the New Testament, in John 9:7 ("Pool of Siloam"). By comparing Nehemiah 3:15 and 12:37, it is clear that the "Pool of Shelah," the stairs that descend from the City of David at the southern part of the Temple Mount, and the king's garden were all near each other. Judeo-Roman historian Josephus Flavius also makes frequent mention of Siloam in The Jewish Wars.


UPDATE (16 August): Archeologist Blis Vediki? I'm afraid not. Todd Bolen unpacks this mystery name, which is really an interesting textual corruption:
Actually he is two people, and the phrase was something the journalist apparently copied down in haste without bothering to check himself. Ve is "and" in Hebrew - it's Blis AND Diki, or more correctly, Bliss and Dickie. Frederick Jones Bliss and Archibald Campbell Dickie.

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