SILOAM (sĭ-lō'ăm, Gr. Silōam). A reservoir located within the city walls of Jerusalem at the southern end of the Tyropoean Valley. 2Kgs.20.20 states that Hezekiah “made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city,” and 2Chr.32.30 says that he “blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David.” These words undoubtedly refer to the conduit leading from the intermittent Spring of Gihon (Jerusalem’s most important water supply) through the rock Ophel to the reservoir called the Pool of Siloam. The earliest knowledge of this tunnel dates back to a.d. 1838 when it was explored by the American traveler and scholar Edward Robinson and his missionary friend Eli Smith. They first attempted to crawl through the tunnel from the Siloam end, but soon found that they were not suitably dressed to crawl through the narrow passage. Three days later, dressed only in a wide pair of Arab drawers, they entered the tunnel from the Spring of Gihon end and, advancing much of the way on their hands and knees and sometimes flat on their stomachs, went the full distance. They measured the tunnel and found it to be 1,750 feet (547 m.) in length.

The tunnel has many twists and turns. The straight line distance from the Spring of Gihon to the Pool of Siloam is only 762 feet (238 m.), less than half the length of the tunnel. Why it follows such a circuitous route has never been adequately explained. Grollenberg suggests that it may have been “to avoid at all costs any interference with the royal tombs, which were quite deeply hewn into the rock on the eastern slope of Ophel” (Atlas of the Bible, 1956, p. 93).

In a.d. 1867 Captain Charles Warren also explored the tunnel, but neither he nor Robinson and Smith before him, noticed the inscription on the wall of the tunnel near the Siloam end. This was discovered in 1880 by a native boy who, while wading in the tunnel, slipped and fell into the water. When he looked he noticed the inscription. The boy reported his discovery to his teacher, Herr Conrad Schick, who made the information available to scholars. The inscription was deciphered by A. H. Sayce, with the help of others. It consists of six lines written in Old Hebrew (Canaanite) with pronglike characters. The first half of the inscription is missing, but what remains reads as follows: “[...when] (the tunnel) was driven through:—while [...] (were) still [...] axe(s), each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, [there was heard] the voice of a man calling to his fellow, for there was an overlap in the rock on the right [and on the left]. And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed (the rock), each man toward his fellow, axe against axe; and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1,200 cubits, and the height of the rock above the head(s) of the quarrymen was 100 cubits” (ANET, p. 321).

The importance of the Siloam inscription can scarcely be overestimated. Not only does it give a fascinating account of the building of the tunnel, but as G. Ernest Wright says, it “has for many years been the most important monumental piece of writing in Israelite Palestine, and other Hebrew inscriptions have been dated by comparing the shapes of letters with it” (Biblical Archaeology, 1957, p. 169).

In a.d. 1890 a vandal entered the tunnel and cut the inscription out of the rock. It was subsequently found in several pieces in the possession of a Greek in Jerusalem who claimed he had purchased it from an Arab. The Turkish officials seized the pieces and removed them to Istanbul where they are today.

The Siloam tunnel was not the only conduit that had been built to bring water from the Spring of Gihon into Jerusalem. At least two others preceded it, but neither was adequately protected against enemy attack. It was probably to one of these former conduits that Isaiah referred in the words “the flowing waters of Shiloah” (Isa.8.6).

It was to the Pool of Siloam that Jesus sent the blind man with the command, “Go,...wash” (John.9.7). He obeyed and came back seeing.——WWW

SILOAM sī lō’ əm (Σιλωάμ, G4978, sending). A pool and tower in Biblical Jerusalem. The term is also currently applied to the water tunnel that empties into the pool.

As a defense against the attacks by Assyria, which culminated in Sennacherib’s campaign of 701 b.c. (cf. 2 Chron 32:4), Hezekiah of Judah constructed the Siloam water tunnel from the Gihon spring, southwestward through the rocky core of Mt. Zion, and out into the central Tyropoeon Valley of Jerusalem, q.v., II, C (v. 30). The tunnel is square cut, averaging two ft. wide and six ft. high. It follows an S-shaped course, so that the direct distance of 1090 ft. involves 1750 ft. of actual tunneling. This may reflect attempts to avoid harder rock formations or deeply cut structures at higher levels, as tombs; certain of the turns were produced as the crews, working inward from both ends simultaneously, sought to contact each other. As it turned out, considerable additional construction became necessary in the S portion, namely, a lowering of the tunnel floor in order to allow a gravity flow of the water. An inscr. just inside the SW portal was discovered in 1880, which has now been cut out from the rock and removed to the Istanbul Museum. Literally tr. from the archaic Heb. (Phoen.) letters it reads: “The boring through [is completed]. And this is the story of the boring through: while yet [they plied] the drill, each toward his fellow, and while yet there were three cubits to be bored through; there was heard the voice of one calling unto another, for there was a crevice in the rock on the right hand. On the day of the boring through the stonecutters struck, each to meet his fellow, drill upon drill; and the water flowed from the source to the pool for a thousand and two hundred cubits, and a hundred cubits was the height of the rock above the head of the stone cutters” (E. Kautzsch, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, frontispiece: photograph, tracing, and transcription into square character).

By Christian times the name Siloam had, understandably, become transferred to the newer pool; for Josephus refers to the πηγή, G4380, spring, fountain, by which he intended the water at the outlet of Hezekiah’s tunnel (War V. 4. 1, 2). The Tower of Siloam, which collapsed at the cost of eighteen lives (Luke 13:4), must have stood on the slope of Mt. Zion to its E. The NT thus designates this pool, to which Jesus sent the man who had been born blind, as the Pool of Siloam and appropriately interprets it to signify “sent” (John 9:7). Traces remain of a Herodian reservoir and bath structure, c. seventy ft. square, with steps on the W side. Here the man would have washed, and he miraculously received his sight (vv. 8, 10).

A commemorative Byzantine church was constructed just NW of the reservoir in c. a.d. 440 by the Empress Eudocia, together with elaborate porticoes about the pool. Only fragments remain visible, and the pool itself now rests eighteen ft. below the surrounding ground level. The surviving pool carries the title Birket Silwan, may be reached by a steep flight of stone steps, and measures 16X50 ft. A small mosque stands over the ruins of the church, and the name Silwan has become attached to the Arab village across the Kidron Valley to the E.


G. A. Smith, Jerusalem (1907), I: 91-98; H. Vincent and F.-M. Abel, Jérusalem Nouvelle, IV (1926), 860-864; J. Simons, Jerusalem in the OT (1952), 175-194; H. Vincent, Jérusalem de l’At, I (1954), 264-284, 289-297; IDB, IV: 352-355; K. Kenyon, Jerusalem, Excavating 3000 Years of History (1967), 69-77, 96-99.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

si-lo’-am, si-lo’-am, si-lo’-a, she’-la, shi-lo’-a:

(1) me ha-shiloach (shiloach or shilloach is a passive form and means "sent" or "conducted") "the waters of (the) Shiloah" (Isa 8:6). (2) berekhath ha-shelach, "the pool of (the) Shelah" (the King James Version "Siloah") (Ne 3:15). (3) ten kolumbethran tou (or ton) Siloam, "the pool of Siloam" (Joh 9:7). (4) ho purgos en to Siloam, "the tower in Siloam" (Lu 13:4). 1. The Modern Silwan:

Although the name is chiefly used in the Old Testament and Josephus as the name of certain "waters," the surviving name today, Silwan, is that of a fairly prosperous village which extends along the steep east side of the Kidron valley from a little North of the "Virgin’s Fountain" as far as Bir Eyyub. The greater part of the village, the older and better built section, belongs to Moslem fellahin who cultivate the well-watered gardens in the valley and on the hill slopes opposite, but a southern part has recently been built in an extremely primitive manner by Yemen Jews, immigrants from South Arabia, and still farther South, in the commencement of the Wady en Nar, is the wretched settlement of the lepers. How long the site of Silwan has been occupied it is impossible to say. The village is mentioned in the 10th century by the Arab writer Muqaddasi. The numerous rock cuttings, steps, houses, caves, etc., some of which have at times served as chapels, show that the site has been much inhabited in the past, and at one period at least by hermits. The mention of "those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them" (Lu 13:4) certainly suggests that there was a settlement there in New Testament times, although some writers consider that this may have reference to some tower on the city walls near the Pool of Siloam.

2. The Siloam Aqueduct:

Opposite to the main part of Silwan is the "Virgin’s Fount," ancient GIHON (which see), whose waters are practically monopolized by the villagers. It is the waters of this spring which are referred to in Isa 8:5,6: "Forasmuch as this people have refused the waters of Shiloah that go softly, .... now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the River."

The contrast between the little stream flowing from the Gihon and the great Euphrates is used as a figure of the vast difference between the apparent strength of the little kingdom of Judah and the House of David on the one hand, and the might of "Rezin and Remaliah’s son" and "all his glory." Although it is quite probable that in those days there was an open streamlet in the valley, yet the meaning of Shiloah, "sent" or "conducted," rather implies some kind of artificial channel, and there is also archaeological evidence that some at least of the waters of Gihon were even at that time conducted by a rock-cut aqueduct along the side of the Kidron valley (see JERUSALEM, VII, 5). It was not, however, till the days of Hezekiah that the great tunnel aqueduct, Siloam’s most famous work, was made (2Ki 20:20): "Hezekiah also stopped the upper spring of the waters of Gihon, and brought them, straight down on the west side of the nodetitle" (2Ch 32:30); "They stopped all the fountains, and the brook (nachal) that flowed through the midst of the land, saying, Why should the kings of Assyria come, and find much water?" (2Ch 32:4; Ecclesiasticus 48:17). Probably the exit of the water at Gihon was entirely covered up and the water flowed through the 1,700 ft. of tunnel and merged in the pool made for it (now known as the Birket Silwan) near the mouth of the Tyropceon valley. This extraordinary winding aqueduct along which the waters of the "Virgin’s Fount" still flow is described in JERUSALEM, VII, 4 (which see). The lower end of this tunnel which now emerges under a modern arch has long been known as `Ain Silwan, the "Fountain of Siloam," and indeed, until the rediscovery of the tunnel connecting this with the Virgin’s Fount (a fact known to some in the 13th century, but by no means generally known until the last century), it was thought this was simply a spring. So many springs all over Palestine issue from artificial tunnels--it is indeed the rule in Judea--that the mistake is natural. Josephus gives no hint that he knew of so great a work as this of Hezekiah’s, and in the 5th century a church was erected, probably by the empress Eudoxia, at this spot, with the high altar over the sacred "spring." The only pilgrim who mentions this church is Antonius Martyr (circa 570), and after its destruction, probably by the Persians in 614, it was entirely lost sight of until excavated by Messrs. Bliss and Dickie. It is a church of extraordinary architectural features; the floor of the center aisle is still visible.

3. The "Pool of Siloam":

The water from the Siloam aqueduct, emerging at `Ain Silwan, flows today into a narrow shallow pool, approached by a steep flight of modern steps; from the southern extremity of this pool the water crosses under the modern road by means of an aqueduct, and after traversing a deeply cut rock channel below the scarped cliffs on the north side of el-Wad, it crosses under the main road up the Kidron and enters a number of channels of irrigation distributed among the gardens of the people of Silwan. The water here, as at its origin, is brackish and impregnated with sewage.

The modern Birket es-Silwan is but a poor survivor of the fine pool which once was here. Bliss showed by his excavations at the site that once there was a great rock-cut pool, 71 ft. North and South, by 75 ft. East and West, which may, in part at least, have been the work of Hezekiah (2Ki 20:20), approached by a splendid flight of steps along its west side. The pool was surrounded by an arcade 12 ft. wide and 22 1/2 ft. high, and was divided by a central arcade, to make in all probability a pool for men and another for women. These buildings were probably Herodian, if not earlier, and therefore this, we may reasonably picture, was the condition of the pool at the time of the incident in Joh 9:7, when Jesus sent the blind man to "wash in the pool of Siloam." This pool is also probably the Pool of Shelah described in Ne 3:15 as lying between the Fountain Gate and the King’s Garden. It may also be the "king’s pool" of Ne 2:14. If we were in any doubt regarding the position of the pool of Siloam, the explicit statement of Josephus (BJ, V, iv, 1) that the fountain of Siloam, which he says was a plentiful spring of sweet water, was at the mouth of the Tyropoeon would make us sure.

4. The Birket el Chamra:

A little below this pool, at the very mouth of el-Wad, is a dry pool, now a vegetable garden, known as Birket el Chamra ("the red pool"). For many years the sewage of Jerusalem found its way to this spot, but when in 1904 an ancient city sewer was rediscovered (see PEFS, 1904, 392-94), the sewage was diverted and the site was sold to the Greek convent which surrounded it with a wall. Although this is no longer a pool, there is no doubt but that hereabouts there existed a pool because the great and massive dam which Bliss excavated here (see JERUSALEM, VI, 5) had clearly been made originally to support a large body of water. It is commonly supposed that the original pool here was older than the Birket Silwan, having been fed by an aqueduct which was constructed from Gihon along the side of the Kidron valley before Hezekiah’s great tunnel. If this is correct (and excavations are needed here to confirm this theory), then this may be the "lower pool" referred to in Isa 22:9, the waters of which Hezekiah "stopped," and perhaps, too, that described in the same passage as the "old pool."

5. The Siloam Aqueduct:

The earliest known Hebrew inscription of any length was accidentally discovered near the lower end of the Siloam aqueduct in 1880, and reported by Dr. Schick. It was inscribed upon a rock-smoothed surface about 27 in. square, some 15 ft. from the mouth of the aqueduct; it was about 3 ft. above the bottom of the channel on the east side. The inscription consisted of six lines in archaic Hebrew, and has been translated by Professor Sayce as follows:

(1) Behold the excavation. Now this (is) the history of the tunnel: while the excavators were still lifting up

(2) The pick toward each other, and while there were yet three cubits (to be broken through) .... the voice of the one called

(3) To his neighbor, for there was an (?) excess in the rock on the right. They rose up .... they struck on the west of the

(4) Excavation; the excavators struck, each to meet the other, pick to pick. And there flowed

(5) The waters from their outlet to the pool for a thousand, two hundred cubits; and (?)

(6) Of a cubit, was the height of the rock over the head of the excavators ....

It is only a roughly scratched inscription of the nature of a graffito; the flowing nature of the writing is fully explained by Dr. Reissner’s recent discovery of ostraca at Samaria written with pen and ink. It is not an official inscription, and consequently there is no kingly name and no date, but the prevalent view that it was made by the work people who carried out Hezekiah’s great work (2Ki 20:20) is now further confirmed by the character of the Hebrew in the ostraca which Reissner dates as of the time of Ahab. Unfortunately this priceless monument of antiquity was violently removed from its place by some miscreants. The fragments have been collected and are now pieced together in the Constantinople museum. Fortunately several excellent "squeezes" as well as transcriptions were made before the inscription was broken up, so that the damage done is to be regretted rather on sentimental than on literary grounds.