Tuesday, August 09, 2005
By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times
Workers repairing a sewage pipe in the old city of Jerusalem have discovered the biblical Pool of Siloam, a freshwater reservoir that was a major gathering place for ancient Jews making religious pilgrimages to the city and the reputed site where Jesus cured a man blind from birth, according to the Gospel of John.
The pool was fed by the now-famous Hezekiah's Tunnel and is "a much grander affair" than archaeologists previously believed, with three tiers of stone stairs allowing easy access to the water, according to Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archeology Review, which reported the find yesterday.
"Scholars have said that there wasn't a Pool of Siloam and that John was using a religious conceit" to illustrate a point, said New Testament scholar James H. Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary. "Now, we have found the Pool of Siloam ... exactly where John said it was." A Gospel that was thought to be "pure theology is now shown to be grounded in history," he said.
The discovery puts a new spotlight on what is called the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a trip that religious law required ancient Jews to make at least once a year, said archaeologist Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, who excavated the pool.
"Jesus was just another pilgrim coming to Jerusalem," he said. "It would be natural to find him there."
The newly discovered pool is less than 200 yards from another Pool of Siloam, this one a reconstruction built between A.D. 400 and 460 by the empress Eudocia of Byzantium, who oversaw the rebuilding of several biblical sites.
The site of yet another Pool of Siloam, which pre-dated the version visited by Jesus, is still unknown.
That first pool was constructed in the eighth century B.C. by the Judean King Hezekiah, who foresaw the likelihood that the Assyrians would lay siege to Jerusalem and knew that a safe water supply would be required to survive it.
He ordered workers to build a 1,750-foot-long tunnel under the ridge where the City of David was located. The tunnel connected Gihon Spring in the adjacent Kidron Valley to the side of Jerusalem less vulnerable to an attack.
The first Pool of Siloam was the reservoir holding the water brought into the city. It presumably was destroyed in 586 B.C., when Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar razed the city.
The pool of Jesus' time was built early in the first century B.C. and was destroyed by the future Roman emperor Titus about A.D. 70. The pool was discovered last fall by a repair team, supervised by Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiques Authority, that was excavating a damaged sewer line.
As soon as Shukron saw two steps uncovered, he stopped the work and called in Reich, who was excavating at the Gihon spring. When they saw the steps, Shukron said, "We were 100 percent sure it was the Siloam Pool."
With winter approaching rapidly, the two men had to hurry their excavation, so the sewer could be repaired before the rainy season.
As they began digging, they uncovered three groups of five stairs each, separated by narrow landings. The pool was about 225 feet long, and they unearthed steps on three sides.
They do not yet know how wide and how deep the pool was because they have not finished the excavation. The fourth side lies under a lush garden -- filled with figs, pomegranates, cabbages and other fruits -- behind a Greek Orthodox Church, and the team has not yet received permission to cut a trench through the garden.
"We need to know how big it is," Charlesworth said. "This may be the most significant and largest 'mikvah' [ritual bath] ever found."
The Pool of Siloam
Pastor Andy Cook walks among the fresh discoveries of the ancient Pool of Siloam, where Jesus once sent a blind man to be healed.
Pool of Siloam is a landmark located at the lower part of the southern slope of Ophel, the original site of Jerusalem, but now just to the south east (and outside) the walls the Old City. The pool is a receptacle for the waters of the Gihon Spring, which were carried there by two aquaducts - the Middle Bronze Age Channel (a 20ft deep direct cutting that was covered with rock slabs, and dates from the Middle Bronze Age 1800BC), and Hezekiah's Tunnel (a curving tunnel within the bedrock, dating from the reign of King Hezekiah - 700BC)
The pool is mentioned or alluded to several times in the Bible. Isaiah 8:6 mentions the pool's waters, while Isaiah 22:9 ff. references the construction of Hezekiah's tunnel. For Christians, the most notable mention of the pool is as the location in which the Gospel of John places the act of Jesus healing a man who had been blind from birth (John 9). According to Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, Jesus' presence at the pool could simply have been a result of the requirement to wash before attending the Temple; religious law of the period required Jews to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least once a year.
Pool of Siloam Jerusalem
The Pool of Siloam Jerusalem after recent excavations. � www.HolyLandPhotos.org.
Biblical Pool of Siloam uncovered in Jerusalem
"The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash.
So I went and washed, and then I could see." -- John 9:11
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