If you were trying to escape the Roman blitz of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., you weren’t left with many options. One option was to follow Simon, son of Giora. “This Simon,” writes the contemporaneous historian Josephus, “took the most faithful of his friends with him… and let himself and his party into one of the secret passages.” Josephus refers to these secret passages—an elaborate system of underground tunnels—repeatedly in his account of the Roman siege of Jerusalem.
A recent archaeological find supports Josephus’s reports. A research team led by Ronny Reich, of the University of Haifa, and Eli Shukron, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, discovered a major tunnel located directly under first-century Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare. Pottery sherds, vessel fragments and coins from the period helped researchers date the tunnel. Built of ashlar stones and covered with heavy slabs—the paving stones of the street itself—the tunnel reaches heights of up to 10 feet, large enough to accommodate people on the move.
The tunnel, whose primary function was drainage, attests to an unusually high degree of urban planning compared with other Near Eastern cities of the era. It is estimated that this tunnel extends nearly half a mile, from the Temple Mount to the Siloam Pool in the south. Of the countless refugees who used tunnels to escape the Roman onslaught, some were discovered and killed and others were able to slip out the city’s southern end, according to Josephus. It is believed that this newly unearthed tunnel ends in the Kidron Valley, which leads to the Dead Sea.—A.S.