The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Siloam Inscription

Hashiloach

The “Siloam Inscription” or “Shiloah Inscription” (כתובת השילוח) is a passage of inscribed text found in the Siloam tunnel, located in the City of David in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Shiloah. The tunnel was constructed to bring water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam.

The background history of this important tunnel, is that the ancient city of Jerusalem, located on a mountain, was defensible from almost all sides but its major source of fresh water was on the outside of the cliff wall. The Bible records that King Hezekiah, concerned that the Assyrians would lay siege to the city, blocked and hid the spring’s water outside the city and diverted it through a channel into the Pool of Siloam.

“…. he made the conduit and the pool, and he brought the water into the city …” 2 Kings 20, 20:

The inscription records the construction of the tunnel, which has been dated to the 8th century BCE. It is the only discovered ancient inscription from the region which commemorates a public construction work. Inscriptions to commemorate construction projects were commonplace in Egyptian and Mesopotamian archaeology.

The tunnel was discovered in 1838, however the inscription was not discovered at this time, due to the accumulated mineral deposits making it barely noticeable. In 1880, a youth moving up the tunnel from the Siloam Pool end discovered the inscription. It is among the oldest extant records of its kind written in Hebrew using the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet which was a regional variant of the Phoenician alphabet.

Siloam11Copy of the inscription, placed near the original position inside Hezekiah’s Tunnel.

According to the text the tunnel work began at both ends simultaneously and proceeded until the stonecutters met in the middle. The engineers depended on acoustic sounding to guide the tunnel-diggers and this is supported by the Siloam Inscription:

“… the voice of a man … called to his counterpart, … and on the day of the
tunnel (being finished) the stonecutters struck each man towards his counterpart, axe against axe … “

In 1891, the inscription was surreptitiously cut from the wall of the tunnel and broken into fragments which were later recovered by the British Consul of the time and placed in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                         Siloam Inscription
  • Year:                         c. 700 BCE
  • Material:                  Stone
  • Writing:                   Paleo-Hebrew
  • Discovered:             1880
  • Find Site:                 East Jerusalem
  • Museum:                 Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Istanbul, Turkey

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” Love and hate always exaggerate.” Hebrew Proverb

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Photo Credits: 1) deror_avi [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Tamar Hayardeni תמר הירדני (My own work יצרתי בעצמי) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons