Friday, August 12, 2005

Follow-up on the Pool of Siloam

It's been an interesting week for me to see the Pool of Siloam story play out. Because I made a page about it last month, it was listed in the search engines when the LA Times published their story. But it was the DrudgeReport that posted a teaser about it, without a link to the LA Times article, that got the most attention (I'm guessing). So many went looking for more information and googled "Pool of Siloam" and found BiblePlaces.com. I think there were about 5000 hits on that page in the first 24 hours. One of the visitors was a CNN producer who emailed about using some of the photos. They aired an interview with the excavator yesterday, using some of the BiblePlaces photos during the interview and crediting the photographer on the air. Thus, my two seconds of "fame."

I don't know that many picked up on this, but the press conference was called by Biblical Archaeology Society, in part to highlight their upcoming article on the pool. The managing editor of BAR emailed me that the article is now posted on their website in pdf format. That's a great thing for them to do - to give the article away for free. I recommend you both read the article and subscribe to the magazine, if you don't already.

The BAR article is not long, but it is written by Hershel Shanks and it is good. (That's no surprise, since he wrote the best popular book on Jerusalem.) A good bit of the info was covered in the LA Times article, but Shanks' treatment is devoid of the mistakes and goofy quotes that the newspaper had. I'll make a few comments nonetheless.

One question that Shanks raises, but doesn't answer, is the connection of Hezekiah's Tunnel to the Second Temple period pool. I don't think the archaeologists have an answer for this, but it's an important point, because there is a distance of 50 meters (?) between the end of the tunnel and the northern end of the pool. Possibilities that I can think of: there was a channel that carried the water, or there was another pool where the Byzantine pool sits today. My money goes with the latter.

The diagram on page 18 is misleading in showing the size of the new pool. In fact it is about four times longer than the Byzantine pool, which would also make the two closer together. One thing that is not mentioned on the article but drawn on the diagram and certainly worthy of further study (and future articles) is the "Siloam Channel." The last word has not been said on that watersystem.

Perhaps this is just a matter of poor wording and not necessarily the intended point, but the article makes it sound like the pool of Hezekiah's time is different than the pool of Nehemiah's time (p. 18), but I think the point in Neh 3:15 is that this is the repair of a previously existing pool.

I don't think if you live in Israel during June, you think of the winter rains as "fast approaching." In fact, you think the summer will never end :-). This August has been quite pleasant, and it even sprinkled a few days ago.

This is an interesting sentence: "The landings served as a kind of esplanade for people to stand on when the steps were submerged in water." There are actually two landings revealed (so far), which suggests, if Shanks is right, that the various landings would have been in use at different times depending on the present water level. OR the water level of the pool did not come up all the way to the top. I wouldn't rule the latter possibility out. You only need steps for about 6 feet under water.

"How far into the valley the pool extended, the archaeologists are not sure. Ronny’s best guess is that it is about the same as the width of the pool on the side they have uncovered." This is less of a guess than you might think. The orchard really is a good guide for where the pool was. The modern roads/paths around it are simply successors to roads/paths that have been there for millennia. Those define the area of the pool. The orchard is a very fertile one because of the runoff deposited in the pool over the years.

If you're interested in a clearer explanation and more detail for how the pool was dated, Shanks has it. He confirms some points I made concerning beginning and end dates that were not accurate in the LA Times article.

"The archaeologists found it under nearly 10 feet of mud in places." My guess is that there is even more fill, and this doesn't take into account the fact that bottom (probably) has not been reached. 


When Byzantine Christians returned to the area in the fourth century, they assumed the Pool of Siloam referred to in the New Testament was at the end of Hezekiah’s Tunnel, so they built their pool and a commemorative church where the tunnel comes out of the rock.

I'm not yet convinced this is the full story.

Shanks makes a good point about one problem with the pool being a mikveh - it has to be done in the nude. This reminds me of a crazy theory that Kenyon had when trying to rationalize her (now thoroughly discredited) minimalist view of Iron Age Jerusalem. She said that Hezekiah's Tunnel emptied into a cave, such that it was protected from Assyrian attack. This she had to invent because of the problem with diverting the water from outside the city on the east to outside the city on the west. Since there were no walls beyond the Eastern Hill, she invented the cave. I suppose the cave idea would keep the boys modest! Shanks adds,

Perhaps there was some means of providing privacy.

Could be, but for those of you who haven't been there, the pool is surrounded by hills on all sides, so it seems to me that there would have to be a covering over (part of) the pool. No evidence of that yet, that I know of.

This struck me as strange:

However, Ronny and Eli do not want to dig into the verdant orchard that now fills the unexcavated portion of the New Testament-era Pool of Siloam.

I've never heard of archaeologists not wanting to expose more of what they're excavating, especially when the excavation is relatively young and major questions remain. This sounds to me like a "be nice" approach. And that's confirmed (to me) by the next two sentences:

Besides, it belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, which, like Ronny and Eli, would not want the orchard destroyed. But they would like to make a very small cut through the trees to see how deep the pool is and to learn whether there are Iron Age remains beneath.

Of all the places to remove an orchard, I'd say this is a good one. Usually the problem archaeologists have is that there is some building in the way, like a house. Those are harder to dig through.

The Book and the Spade has just posted an interview with Ronny Reich about the pool. I haven't had time yet to listen to it, but may make some comments when I do.

Time to head home. Our daughter Bethany is 3 today, and I'm planning to assemble the new IBEX grill. Shabbat shalom.

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