Biblical Archaeology Review 39:5, September/October 2013

Will King Hezekiah Be Dislodged from His Tunnel?

By Hershel Shanks

It is one of the most famous sites in Jerusalem—right up there after the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall. And it is also one of the most exciting to visit—Hezekiah’s Tunnel. But is it really his?

The story is well known and oft told. In preparation for the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s attack on Jerusalem, which in 701 B.C.E. came, as the poet Lord Byron said, “like a wolf on the fold,” King Hezekiah of Judah dug his famous tunnel to ensure the city besieged would have adequate water. The city’s only supply of fresh water, the Gihon Spring, lay outside the city wall, so Hezekiah’s tunnelers excavated a remarkable 1,750-foot, S-shaped tunnel under the city that connected the spring to the Siloam Pool on the other side of the city.

Hezekiah’s extraordinary achievement is even recorded in the Bible:

When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib intended to attack Jerusalem, he planned with his civil and military officers to stop up the water of the springs outside the city; and they helped him. They gathered together a large number of people and stopped up all the springs and the stream which flowed through the land. ‘Why should the king of Assyria come here and find much water?’ they asked … Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the City of David.

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