Biblical Archaeology Review 17:3, May/June 1991

Please Return the Siloam Inscription to Jerusalem

By Hershel Shanks

The Siloam Inscription is the most famous, most significant and most precious ancient Hebrew inscription ever discovered. Carved in elegant paleo-Hebrew letters, the kind used by the Israelites before the Babylonian Exile, it was found in 1880 carved in the rock wall of Hezekiah’s Tunnel, beneath the oldest inhabited part of Jerusalem known as the City of David. Soon thereafter vandals chiseled the carefully prepared surface out of the rock, breaking the inscription into several pieces. The pieces were then sold to an antiquities dealer, from whom the Ottoman authorities recovered them, ultimately taking them to Istanbul. The inscription is now in a display case in a part of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum not generally open to the public, so it is rarely seen today.

The Siloam Inscription should be returned to Jerusalem.

There is ample precedent for the return of this great cultural treasure to its original home—especially since there is no question where it came from, to whose culture it belongs or that it was removed from an immovable monument. Moreover, for the Turks it has little, if any, significance. Nor is it particularly beautiful—unless you appreciate the finer points of ancient paleo-Hebrew lettering. Turkey will be especially understanding of such a request because she herself is seeking—and obtaining—the return of cultural treasures from her own plundered past.

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