Again the Siloam Tunnel

In the September/October 2013 issue of BAR, Hershel Shanks reviewed the evidence for the dating of the Jerusalem tunnels, citing recent analysis by Aren Maeir and Jeffrey Chadwick. Maeir and Chadwick rejected a chronology proposed in BASOR by Geological Survey of Israel scholars Amihai Sneh, Eyal Shalev and Ram Weinberger. Read a response by Sneh, Shalev and Weinberger below.


The meeting point of the two teams of tunnelers can be seen here. Sneh, Shalev and Weinberger suggest that the tunnel was constructed during the reign of Manasseh, rather than Hezekiah.

A recent BAR article by Hershel Shanks is devoted to the Siloam Tunnel.* The editor comprehensively summarizes the debates addressing the date of its construction. Among the opinions cited is our paper,1 in which we argue that King Manasseh, rather than King Hezekiah, built the Siloam Tunnel.

Unfortunately, Shanks’s review of our claim is entirely based on invalid comments, published most recently on the BAS website by Aren Maeir and Jeffrey Chadwick.2 Most disturbing is their accusation concerning our alleged disregard of the historical records, particularly ignoring the fact that King Hezekiah “actually had four years” (705–701 B.C.E.) to hew the tunnel. Well, the truth is that on page 62 of our paper we did argue that “in theory” Hezekiah had four years. Should we have spoon-fed the readers by stating the obvious: that Hezekiah could not have had prior knowledge of the Assyrian war plans, i.e., that Assyrian forces would be engaged in three years of military campaigns in the east and could only reach the gates of Jerusalem in the year 701 B.C.E.?

Some other basic data were also questioned and deserve clarification: Channel II—based on Reich and Shukron3—comprises two sequential segments: a northern Canaanite channel and a southern Israelite, eighth-century B.C.E. tunnel. It is this southern segment that Grosberg4 considered the tunnel hewed by Hezekiah in preparation for the Assyrians invasion. We support this view.5 All of the above points were clearly explained in our paper.

In summing up his review of our position, Shanks states that our “effort to attribute Hezekiah’s Tunnel to Manasseh” should be judged “just as unsuccessful as Sennacherib’s siege on Jerusalem.” But was the siege, in fact, unsuccessful? The miracle of the defeat of Sennacherib is beautifully commemorated in Byron’s poem (“The Destruction of Sennacherib,” 1815): “… And the might of the Gentile unsmote by the sword / Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.” Yet we (as geologists) prefer to rely on historical records rather than on theological interpretations. An account of the assault on Jerusalem is inscribed on Sennacherib’s Prism, describing how the Assyrian king brought Hezekiah down to his knees, forcing him to bring the spoils to Nineveh, to pay tribute and accept servitude. If this was Sennacherib’s “failure,” then we believe our proposal more than holds water.

Visit the BAS Hezekiah’s Tunnel Scholar’s Study page.

We were not surprised that since the publication of our paper, our proposal on the length of time needed to complete the Siloam Tunnel project has not been opposed. To corroborate our appraisal, we of course welcome field tests using any kind of tools. This must be carried out following a thorough study of the rocks examined. The BAR article mentioned testing rocks “on the other side of the Kidron Valley”; however, such a comparison could be problematic. Knauf,6 for example, compared the hewing of the Eupalinos Tunnel in Samos with that of the Siloam Tunnel. Assuming the rocks in both places are similar, he reached a conclusion that it should have taken four years to complete the Siloam Tunnel and therefore Manasseh must have been responsible for its construction. However, the rocks in Samos are bedded limestone and not massive dolostones and are thus much easier to hew. Noting the difference would have altered the study, resulting in a longer timetable for the project (though still during the reign of Manasseh), whereas consideration of other parameters such as rock stability would tilt the balance in the opposite direction.

Regretfully, Shanks bothered to quote Maeir and Chadwick, who wondered about the conduct of the editor of BASOR with regard to our 2010 publication. This out-of-place criticism of the editor by two “leading archaeologists” is definitely reprehensible. Likewise inappropriate is the recurring reminder in the text of our geological education even where it has no bearing on the issues at hand.

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* Hershel Shanks, “Will King Hezekiah Be Dislodged from His Tunnel?Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2013.

1 Amihai Sneh, Eyal Shalev and Ram Weinberger, “The Why, How, and When of the Siloam Tunnel Reevaluated,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR) 359 (2010), pp. 57–65.

2 Aren M. Maeir and Jeffery R. Chadwick, “Regarding Recent Suggestions Redating the Siloam Tunnel.” Biblical Archaeology Society. Bible History Daily web-exclusive discussion published 08/26/2013.

3 Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron, “Channel II in the City of David, Jerusalem: Some of Its Technical Features and their Chronology,” in C. Ohlig, Y. Peleg and T. Tsuk, eds., Cura Aquarum in Israel: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on the history of water management and hydraulic engineering in the Mediterranean region, Israel. May 2001 (Sieburg: Deutschen Wasserhistorischen Gesellschaft, 2002), pp. 1–6.

4 Asher Grossberg, “How did Hezekiah Prepare for the Sennacherib’s Siege?” in E. Baruch, Z. Greenhut and A. Faust, eds., New Studies on Jerusalem: Proceedings of the 11th Conference (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University, 2006), pp. 113–128 (in Hebrew).

5 Amihai Sneh, Eyal Shalev and Ram Weinberger, 2010.

6 Ernst Axel Knauf, “Hezekiah or Manasseh? A Reconsideration of the Siloam Tunnel and Inscription.” Tel Aviv 28.2 (2001), pp. 281–287.

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