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An Important Tunnel

The year is 701 BC, you are in Jerusalem, and you are in deep trouble. The Assyrian king wants to attack your city. This means they will first lay siege, surrounding the city and cutting off supplies and water. You are the king, Hezekiah, and you have to decide what to do. So you decide to build a tunnel. Read on to discover why.

This story is told in II Chronicles 32:1-8: Sennacherib king of Assyria planned to attack Judah. Hezekiah had all the wells outside the city walls filled in, which would cut off the water supply if Sennacherib made it to Jerusalem. But that led to another problem: the area inside the city walls had no reliable spring. Hezekiah decided to build a tunnel through rock, I repeat, through rock to a spring outside the city walls, thereby allowing water to come into the city without the enemy knowing it. This feat is mentioned in two different places: II Chronicles 32:30: "It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David" and II Kings 20:20: "As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?"

In order for the water to flow from the spring into the city, the ending point of the tunnel had to be lower than the spring. This meant that they had to start digging at a low point inside the city walls. The point from which they started was 1000 feet from the spring. Yet the Tunnel does not travel in a straight line, instead winding left and right until it arrives at the spring. In actuality, then, the Tunnel is 1750 feet long, with a height tall enough to walk through. In a couple of places builders realized they were gong in the wrong direction and so stopped and corrected themselves in a new direction. Therefore, as one walks along the tunnel, there are a couple of "dead ends."

Why bring this seemingly unimportant biblical point to light? Because this tunnel can be visited today! It is another example of something mentioned in the Bible which archaeologists have discovered. A great website which shows pictures inside the tunnel is www.geocities.com/Athens/oracle/1631/hez2.html.

Plus get this: at the end which is inside the city walls the builders left an inscription on the wall. It describes the act of the two sides breaking through to each other (part of it is missing): "[...when] (the tunnel) was driven through.  And this was the way in which it was cut through:  While [...] (were) still [...] axe(s), each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, [there was heard] the voice of a man calling to his fellows, for there was an overlap in the rock on the right [and on the left].  And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed (the rock), each man toward his fellow, axe against axe; and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1200 cubits, and the height of the rock above the head(s) of the quarrymen was 100 cubits." How excited they must have been once they broke through! The feat was accomplished plus the city now had a reliable water source.

But if you travel to Jerusalem and walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, you won’t see the inscription. It was secretly chiseled out in 1891 and broken into fragments, apparently to fetch a better price on the black market. The British Consul at Jerusalem recovered most of them, and they ended up in the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul, Turkey, where they remain to this day.

©2007 Mark Nickens

Questions/comments contact Mark at drnickens@triad.rr.com.

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