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Archaeology 2: Hezekiah’s Tunnel

February 20, 2011

Discovery of the tunnel built by King Hezekiah to provide water to Jerusalem in time of siege (2 Kings 22:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30), was confirmed by an accompanying inscription which dates to the reign of Hezekiah.[1]

Minimalist scholars[2] John Rogerson and Philip Davies claimed that the inscription does not date to the reign of Hezekiah, but to the Hasmonean era (less than two centuries before the birth of Christ), a claim used to cast doubt on the date of the tunnel itself, and to argue that it was not built by Hezekiah.

Although acknowledging that their view is contradicted by the unanimous consent of palaeographers, [3] Rogerson and Davies claim that palaeography is insufficiently precise to differentiate between 8th century and 2nd century texts.[4] [5]

Ronald Hendel (a professional epigrapher specializing in Semitic languages), has responded strongly to the following claims made by Rogerson and Davies, demonstrating that they are in error. [6] [7] [8] [9]

Frank Cross, (Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages at Harvard University), observed that Rogerson and Davies were unqualified to make judgments on the text.[10] Professional epigraphist P. Kyle McCarter Jr made a similar statement.[11]

André Lemaire (specializing in First Temple period Old Hebrew inscriptions), objected that Rogerson and Davies appeal to outdated scholarship. [12] Esther Eshel (renowned epigraphist), rejected the claim that palaeography was too imprecise to date the inscription reliably. [13]

Professor of Biblical Hebrew and Northwest Semitic epigraphy at Harvard University Jo Hackett made the same argument. [14] Avi Hurvitz (professor of Bible and Hebrew linguistics), observed that the claims of Rogerson and Davies had been rejected by the leading epigraphists,[15] and disproved their linguistic arguments.[16] [17] [18]

Leading palaeographer Ada Yardeni dismissed the claim that the inscription shows evidence of a Hasmonean dating.[19]


[1] ‘Discovered by some boys at play in 1880, the Siloam Inscription commemorates the dramatic meeting of two teams of tunnelers, digging from opposite directions, during the construction of the tunnel in the reign of Hezekiah. The text, written in paleo-Hebrew, offers an unusual contrast to the Biblical account (2 Kings 22:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30). Like most ancient commemorative texts, the Biblical account gives the royal perspective, whereas the Siloam Inscription features the style and content of a man who witnessed and participated’, Parker, ‘Jerusalem’s Underground Water Systems Siloam Inscription Memorializes Engineering Achievement’, Biblical Archaeology Review (20.04.), 2004.

[2] The ‘minimalist’ view is that archaeology provides little or no support for the Biblical history, the ‘maximalist’ view is that archaeology overwhelmingly supports the Biblical history, and the moderate view is that archaeology substantially supports the Biblical history but that not all of it can be supported directly from archaeology.

[3]They acknowledge that specialists in palaeography unanimously date the inscription to the last quarter of the eighth century BCE, but they maintain that the palaeographers are mistaken, apparently deluded by circular reasoning and professional hubris. This is a remarkable claim and deserves some consideration.’, Hendel, ‘The Date of the Siloam Inscription: A Rejoinder to Rogerson and Davies’, The Biblical Archaeologist (59.4.233), December 1996).

[4]Rogerson and Davies’ chief contention is that palaeographic analysis of ancient Hebrew inscriptions is extremely imprecise. In the case of the Siloam Inscription, they write: “the fact is this: it is frequently not possible to prove on paleographical evidence alone whether a text in paleo-Hebrew dates from, say, the eighth-seventh centuries or is Hasmonean or later”  (1996:146, italics in original).’, ibid., p. 233.

[5] ‘The inconclusiveness of the paleography is crucial to their larger argument that the Siloam Tunnel dates to the Hasmonean era.’, ibid., p. 233.

[6] ‘A review of the relevant evidence, however, shows that Rogerson and Davies’ paleographic arguments are deeply flawed. It is in fact quite easy to tell that the script of the Siloam Inscription belongs to the eighth-seventh century sequence and not to the paleo-Hebrew sequence of the Hasmonean era and later.’, ibid., p. 233.

[7] He rejects the clam that some of the letters in the text have no parallels in Iron Age inscriptions, casting doubt on the idea that they were written during the Iron Age; ‘The problem with this statement is that there are plenty of parallels to these four letters in Hebrew inscriptions from the late Iron Age, a number of which are datable by their archaeological context’, ibid., pp. 233-235.

[8] He rejects the claim that the script of the Siloam Inscription is closest to 4QpaleoExodm, one of the Dead Sea Scroll texts, dating to the first century; ‘In addition to the differences in zwaw, yod, kap, and qop, there are noticeable differences in dalet, lamed, mem, ‘ayin, and pe. Several other letters have more subtle differences in length, proportion, or stance. The reason for these differences in script is easy to ascertain: the letters in 4QpaleoExodm belong to a different (and later) stage in the historical development of Hebrew script than the letters in the Siloam Inscription. The paleo-Hebrew scripts of the Hasmonean era and later have undergone noticeable development in comparison to the scripts of the eighth-seventh century BCE.’, ibid., pp. 235-236, ‘I have gathered five instances of this sequence from inscriptions from the eighth-seventh century 3CE and one instance from 4QpaleoExodm (see chart on facing page). It is quite easy to see that the 4Q script is the odd one out and clearly differs from the eighth-seventh century BCE scripts. In contrast, the Siloam Inscription clearly belongs in the company of the other eighth-seventh century BCE inscriptions.’, ibid., p. 236.

[9] He rejects the claim that some linguistic features of the text are incongruous with an Iron Age date; ‘It is worth noting that Rogerson and Davies’ linguistic comments on Siloam inscriptions are also unwarranted. They state that “some of the linguistic features of the Siloam Inscription become problematic if it is early” (1996:146). These features are the apparent internal matres in lilwd and int’s.’ and the pronominal suffix of til, (where one would expect a final he). These forms are easily comprehended by the following observations. 1) lblwd and niiw’s may be consonantal spellings with the dipthong Iwl (so Cross and Freedman 1952:50-51), or they may be early examples of internal matres in the Siloam inscription, as found sporadically in other eighth century BCE inscriptions (Royal Steward, some Ihlk seals, etc.; see Sarfatti 1982:58-63).’, ibid., p. 236.

[10] ‘The list of significant features differentiating Old Hebrew from paleo-Hebrew can be extended to most, if not all, letters of the alphabet. To identify them requires an eye and memory for form, gifts that make the paleographer. Without such gifts, a scholar is in the same straits as the tone-deaf musician who wishes to conduct an orchestra.’, Cross, ‘Because They Can’t See a Difference, They Assert No One Can’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[11]No epigraphist trained in the scripts of these periods would confuse second-century B.C.E. paleo-Hebrew with sixth-century B.C.E. Hebrew, much less with eighth-century B.C.E. Hebrew.’, McCarter Jr, ‘No Trained Epigraphist Would Confuse the Two’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[12] ‘Because all Hebrew epigraphers now date the Siloam Inscription to the eighth century B.C.E., Rogerson and Davies are obliged to go back nearly a century for authority.† Of course, this earlier generation of scholars could not have been aware of the numerous Hebrew inscriptions from the First Temple period discovered since then.’, Lemaire, ‘Are We Prepared to Raze the Edifice?’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[13] ‘These examples, as well as many others, show that paleography stands on a strong and stable foundation. Today paleography can date documents to within half a century. It is true that paleography alone can only tell us that the Siloam Inscription may have been written at the end of the eighth century or in the seventh century B.C.E.,† but paleography can tell us with certainty that the inscription was not written in the second century B.C.E., as Rogerson and Davies “strongly suggest.”.’, Eshel, ‘Some Paleographic Success Stories’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[14] ‘Rogerson and Davies’s argument assumes that paleographers (neither Rogerson nor Davies is known as a paleographer) cannot tell the difference between pre-Exilic Old Hebrew and post-Exilic archaizing paleo-Hebrew. But they are wrong—very wrong. The science of paleography—the dating of scripts by the shape, form, stance, stroke order, and direction, as well as by other telltale diagnostic indications—can now date these scripts within a century and sometimes even closer. Contrary to Rogerson and Davies, paleographers can distinguish between pre-Exilic Old Hebrew and post-Exilic paleo-Hebrew. Rogerson and Davies admit, in fact, that the Siloam Inscription’s waw, yod, kap and qop do not fit well into a second-century B.C.E. script chart, and this should have been enough to tip them off to the problem with their argument.’, Hackett, ‘Spelling Differences and Letter Shapes Are Telltale Signs’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[15] ‘I am not surprised that some of the leading paleographical authorities in our field have so severely criticized the effort of Rogerson and Davies to place the Siloam Inscription in the Hasmonean period.’, Hurvitz, ‘Philology Recapitulates Paleography’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

[16]The Hebrew of the Siloam Inscription is worlds apart from the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Hebrew of the apocryphal book known as Ben Sira (also known as Ecclesiasticus or “The Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sira”). To anyone versed in Hebrew linguistics, the Siloam Inscription clearly does fall under the heading of classical Hebrew, as manifested in classical Biblical literature.† It is true that the linguistic tools at our disposal cannot tell us whether the Siloam Inscription specifically reflects the time of Hezekiah’s rule (727–698 B.C.E.). On the basis of both the Biblical and post-Biblical evidence, however, we can conclude that—linguistically—the inscription must be dated to the classical phase of ancient Hebrew, that is, to the pre-Exilic period (before 586 B.C.E.).’, ibid.

[17] ‘Secondly, they argue that “the Chronicler’s Hebrew can mean that Hezekiah closed off the pool formed by the spring” (italics added). This is, indeed, a surprising suggestion. It cannot be admitted in a serious philological discussion. It is simply not what the Hebrew text says. To use Rogerson and Davies’s own wording, this suggestion is at best a “paraphrastic translation.” Worse, their suggestion violates a basic methodological ground-rule of any philological analysis: that the outcome of that analysis should not be inferred from—let alone dictated by—considerations lying outside the domain of philology.’, ibid.

[18] ‘In sum, it is the Biblical and inscriptional evidence adduced by Rogerson and Davies in support of their claim that undermines it. I would strongly suggest, therefore, that if they insist on their theory regarding the late dating of the Siloam tunnel, they should drop the linguistic argumentation from their discussion—which for them is unfamiliar territory.’, ibid.

[19] ‘If the Siloam Inscription were inscribed in the Hasmonean period, its script would reveal a late stage of evolution (like the paleo-Hebrew scrolls) or artificial archaized characteristics (like the Hasmonean coins). It displays neither.’, Yardeni, ‘They Would Change the Dates of Clearly Stratified Inscriptions—Impossible!’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

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3 comments

  1. Most give the dates for Hezekiah as 716 to 687 BCE. Edwin Thiele has concluded that his reign was between c. 715 and 686 BCE.

    During this time the two Nubian Pharaoh’s named Shabaka and Shebitku reigned over Egypt and are the ones who faced the Assyrian kings. Now there is a huge controversy about the exact dates of reign attributed to these Pharaoh’s. It’s pretty certain that Shabaka reigned 15 years his reign was initially dated from 716 BC to 702 BC, but the date of his last year is now highly controversial. Some now move it to 706 BCE, however even this hinges on a single translation of the name in the “Tang-i Var” inscription. Based on that same text the dates for Shebitku are given as 706/707 to 690 BCE.

    Both Shabaka and Shebitku together reigned 29 years as did Hezekiah.

    2 Chronicles 29:1
    Hezekiah began to reign when he was five and twenty years old, and he reigned nine and twenty years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah.

    Hezekiah represented both Shabaka and Shebitku who reigned 29 years and were essentially the kings of Judah in that time. At best a separate “Hezekiah” could only have been a governor. Once again I think the Bible holds the keys to what was really going on.

    In his 14th year Hezekiah was on his death bed. This is also the time Shabaka died. This is also when the sundial went back 10 degrees and Hezekiah was blessed with 15 more years. Historically this is the transition between Shabaka and Shebitku, and Shebitku regined for 15 years after the death of Shabaka. In other words there is Hezekiah I and Hezekiah II (Shabaka and Shebitku).

    Consider this verse.

    2 Kings 18:13
    Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.

    This is recorded in the “Taylor Prism” which is an Assyrian chronicle and it gives the date of 689 BCE. This actually happened in the 28th year Hezekiah. However if there were two Hezekiah’s then this would have happened in the 14th year of Hezekiah II. So two Hezekiah’s links the Biblical record to the historical record very well.

    Still we need more than just that.

    According to the Bible something happened in Hezekiah’s 14th year that moved the sundial and gave him another 15 years. Shabaka (Hezekiah I) ruled from Nubia. The event that moved the sundial 10 degrees was the total Solar eclipse directly over the capital of Nubia on March 5, 702 BCE. There were no other solar eclipses close to Israel or Egypt during those years. Hezekiah was African.

    ~Rose


  2. Rose, your claim makes no sense whatever. Quite apart from the fact that you’re making up your own ideas about the text without any evidence, you’re completely ignoring both the Biblical and extra-Biblical evidence which demonstrates that Hezekiah was a Hebrew, not African. How would a solar eclipse cause a sundial to retreat by any number of degrees?


  3. Fortigurn> Rose, your claim makes no sense whatever. Quite apart from the fact that you’re making up your own ideas about the text without any evidence,

    Rose> Isaiah 36
    1 Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them.

    This happened according to the cuneiforms about 690/689 BCE. That would be the 28th year of a single Hezekiah, but it’s the 14th year after Hezekiah’s near death experience. Hence the 14th year of Hezekiah II.

    Fortigurn> you’re completely ignoring both the Biblical and extra-Biblical evidence which demonstrates that Hezekiah was a Hebrew, not African.

    Rose> Who were the Hebrews? As far as I can tell there were no historical Hebrews until after the Hyksos left Egypt. Aren’t Egyptians African?

    I would have to ask for specific points in history either Biblical or non-Biblical that I’m ignoring. Historically it was Shabaka and Shebitku who literally ruled over Canaan in the time of Hezekiah. There was no separate country of Israel or Judah in that time historically. Any ruler in Canaan was a governor under the control of Egypt at best. That alone is pretty solid evidence.

    Then ask who was Hezekiah? What does that name mean? How is that name translated into hieroglyphics and/or cuneiforms? Same with the name, ‘Jerusalem’. Where was Jerusalem before Ezra built the foundation for the temple in modern Jerusalem? Seriously show a single jot of evidence that would preclude Hezekiah from being Egyptian/African?

    How about black? Solomon’s girlfriend was black, the Nazarites had pure white souls and black faces (visage = face), and Job was also a black man. We just never hear those passages in our lily white churches.

    Song of Solomon 1
    5 I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
    6 Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.

    Lamentations 4
    7 Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:
    8 Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.

    Job 30
    29 I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls.
    30 My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat.

    BTW “Song of Solomon” in Hebrew is the same phonically as ‘Jeru-Salem’

    Let’s try and not make this a racial thing. According to the Bible Solomon had raven black hair and blue eyes, but his girlfriend was as black as the tents of Kedar. The Nazarites had black faces, and Job was black. Egypt and Canaan were ruled by Nubian Pharaohs during the time of Hezekiah and the Nubian Pharaoh Shebitku was in Canaan according to the historical records working to keep the Assyrians out of Egypt.

    So this sets the stage.

    Fortigurn> How would a solar eclipse cause a sundial to retreat by any number of degrees?

    Rose> If you’re asking me to choose between a belief that the Earth stopped rotating and began to spin backwards or there was a total solar eclipse, then it should be obvious which path I’ll follow.

    Naturally this ‘earth spinning backwards baloney is how the Greeks translated the Septuagint, it doesn’t say anything like that in the Hebrew text. If we read Isaiah 38:8 in Hebrew it says something different. There is no ‘sundial’ or ‘degrees’ in the Hebrew text. It says the sun during it’s normal course down the steps reversed itself on the 10th step, then continued on down the steps.

    http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/OTpdf/isa38.pdf

    So what happened in Hezekiah’s 14th year (702 BCE)? Hezekiah got deathly sick but recovered. The supreme king of Canaan (Pharaoh Shabaka) died and gave the throne (including Canaan) to Shebitku. Anything to correlate with the sundial thingy? Yep a total Solar Eclipse directly over the Palace that was ruling over Canaan in that time.

    http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEsearch/SEsearchmap.php?Ecl=-07010305

    The red line is directly over Meroe, the eclipse happened about 11:20AM Meroe time on March 5, 702 BCE, and it was a huge eclipse that was total for over 5 minutes.

    There isn’t a single Bible scholar in existence that has ever reconciled Hezekiah’s reign with the historical record. Mostly because Sennacherib didn’t take Canaan in 702 as the Bible would indicate, but in 690/689 as per the historical record.

    Hezekiah I and Hezekiah II solves all the issues both Biblical and non-Biblical. The problem is that we want everything to always be lily white. No matter how we slice it, the supreme kings over Canaan between 716 BCE and 688 BCE were African.

    How does Hezekiah I and Hezekiah II deviate from the Hebrew Scriptures?

    ~Rose



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