HOME / Table of Contents = Civilizations - Cultures - Areas - Regions - Prehistory
Other Archaeological Sites / The Neolithic of the Levant (500 Page Book Online)


The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Volume 4 Pages 510-11 (1995)

SILOAM (Greek) SHILOAH (Hebrew) SHELAH SILOAH: A name that in view of its meaning (“conducted") was probably applied first to an aqueduct on the east side of Jerusalem then to one or more pools connected with Jerusalem‘s water supply and finally to an area adjoining the southeast hill. It survives today as the name of an Arab village there (Silwan).

I. Early History---The waters of Siloam issue from the spring GIHON, commonly known as the “Virgin‘s Fount" and originally flowed naturally SSW down the lower part of the Kidron Valley. Possibly in Solomon's reign and certainly before Isaiah’s lifetime, some of the water was “conducted“ by an open aqueduct, traces of which remain down to a pool just inside the southeast city wall. Isaiah 8:6 (Shiloah) refers to the aqueduct and Nehemia 3:15 (Shelah) to the pool. The latter was possibly identical with the King's Pool (Nehemia 2:14) and may also have been known as the lower pool and/or the old pool (Isaiah 22:9-11). But various obscurities surround these identifications and modern scholars have by no means agreed about them.

[This is before the discovery in 2004 of the actual location of the Siloam Pool and the continuing excavation in the City of David]

ll. Hezekiah’s Tunnel---Late in the 8th century B.C. Hezekiah, faced with imminent Assyrian invasion, improved Jerusalem‘s water supply by constructing an underground aqueduct from Gihon into the city and a new reservoir to take the water (2 Kings 20:20). “This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David" (2 Chronicles 32:30). Probably the exit of the water at Gihon was entirely covered up and the water flowed [instead] through 533 metres (1749 feet) of tunnel and emerged in the pool made for it near the mouth of the Tyropoeon Valley. This second reservoir lay some 100 metres (330 feet) NW of the earlier pool, which seems to have taken the overflow from it. The tunnel was now the aqueduct and hence the name Shiloah was transferred to it and presumably to the new pool.

More recent excavations have suggested that the new pool was not an open reservoir but an underground cistern of which only the access point needed to lie inside the city walls; an underground channel conducted the overflow into the earlier pool.

Ill. The New Testament and Josepha---Although John 9:7 gives no details to aid certain identification, two facts support the probability that the NT pool of Siloam was the upper pool rather than the original lower-lying pool of Shelah. First, Josephus several times called Siloam a “spring", by which he meant the mouth of the tunnel. Second, a fifth-century Christian church was built, doubtless to commemorate the miracle by Jesus, at the exit of the tunnel. On the other hand, Josephus further stated that the “spring" of Siloam was at the mouth of the Tyropoeon Valley; this description seems rather to support the identification with the earlier pool, where traces of Herodian buildings have been found. The identification of the NT Siloam with the upper pool is not, therefore, absolutely certain.

IV. Present Situation---The site of the earlier pool is today known as Birket el Hamra, “the red pool", even though it is now dry. The upper pool still preserves the biblical name as Birket es-Silwan, “the pool of Siloam“. Hezekiah's tunnel still opens into it and the water is still known as a “spring” (Ain Silwan). The pool is used by local people though the water is brackish and unpleasant to taste. It is possible, except when the water level is exceptionally high, to wade into and along the tunnel.

V. Siloam Inscription---The underground aqueduct of Hezekiah has been known for some centuries but it was not until A.D. l880 that an inscription in the tunnel wall just inside the southern end came to light. Removed from the wall, it is now in the museum of Istanbul. Famous as one of the earliest known Hebrew inscriptions, it reads as follows: "... the completing of the piercing through. And this is the story of the piercing through. While (the stone-cutters were swinging their) axes, each towards his fellow, and while there were yet three cubits to be pierced through, (there was heard) the voice of a man calling to his fellow, for there was a crevice on the right. . . . Then ran the water from the spring to the Pool for twelve hundred cubits and a hundred cubits was the height of the rock above the head of the stone-cutters".

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium