The Pool of Siloam in First Century Jerusalem
The only permanent water source of the city in this period, the monumental Pool of Siloam, is clearly distinguishable in the model. It was fed by waters of the Gihon Spring diverted through Hezekiah's Tunnel, built in the 8th century BC.
SILOAM, POOL OF (si'lo-am). The expression "pool of Siloam (which is translated, Sent)" (John 9:7) is found three times in Scripture-Neh. 3:15, "Pool of Shelah"; Isa 8:6, "waters of Shiloah"; John 9:7, "pool of Siloam." If we compare Neh 3:15 with 12:37, we find that the Pool of Shelah, the stairs that go down from the city of David (southern portion of the Temple mount), and the king's garden were in close proximity. Josephus frequently mentions Siloam, placing it at the termination of the Valley of the Cheesemongers or the Tyropoeon Valley (Wars 5.4.1)-but outside the city wall (Wars 5.9.4)-where the old wall bent eastward (Wars 5.6.1), and facing the hill upon which was the rock Peristereon, to the E (Wars 5.12.2). From these descriptions it is quite evident that Josephus speaks of the same place as the present Birket Silwan, on the other side of the Kidron.
Further, the evangelist's account (John 9:7) of the blind man sent by Jesus to wash at the pool of Siloam seems to indicate that it was near the Temple. It was from Siloam that water was brought in a golden vessel to the Temple during the feast of Tabernacles; our Lord probably pointed to it when He stood in the Temple and cried, "If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink" (7:37).
The pool of Siloam is fed by a conduit that is cut for a distance of 1,780 feet through solid rock, and which starts at the so-called Virgin's Spring (see En-rogel). The reason for which it was cut is unmistakable. The Virgin's Spring is the only spring of fresh water in the immediate neighborhood of Jerusalem, and in time of siege it was important that, while the enemy should be deprived of access to it, its waters should be made available for those who were within the city. But the spring rose outside the walls, on the sloping cliff that overlooks the valley of Kidron. Accordingly, a long passage was excavated in the rock, by means of which the overflow of the spring was brought into Jerusalem; the spring itself was covered with masonry, so that it could be "sealed" in case of war. That it was so sealed we know from 2 Chron 32:3-4. The following account of the channel and its inscription is from Major C. R. Conder (Palestine, pp. 27 ff.). "The course of the channel is serpentine, and the farther end near the pool of Siloam enlarges into a passage of considerable height. Down this channel the waters of the spring rush to the pool whenever the sudden flow takes place. In autumn there is an interval of several days; in winter the sudden flow takes place sometimes twice a day. A natural siphon from an underground basin accounts for this flow, as also for that of the 'Sabbatic river' in North Syria. When it occurs the narrow parts of the passage are filled to the roof with water.
"This passage was explored by Dr. Robinson, Sir Charles Wilson, Sir Charles Warren, and others; but the inscription on the rock close to the mouth of the tunnel was not seen, being then under water. When it was found in 1880 by a boy who entered from the Siloam end of the passage, it was almost obliterated by the deposit of lime crystals on the letters. Professor Sayce, then in Palestine, made a copy, and was able to find out the general meaning of the letters. In 1881 Dr. Guthe cleaned the text with a weak acid solution, and I was then able, with the aid of Lieutenant Mentell, R.E., to take a proper 'squeeze.' It was a work of labor and requiring patience, for on two occasions we sat for three or four hours cramped up in the water in order to obtain a perfect copy of every letter, and afterward to verify the copies by examining each letter with the candle so placed as to throw the light from right, left, top, bottom. We were rewarded by sending home the first accurate copy published in Europe, and were able to settle many disputed points raised by the imperfect copy of the text before it was cleaned."
The inscription records only the making of the tunnel; that it began at both ends; that the workmen heard the sound of the picks of the other party and were thus guided as they advanced, and that when they broke through they were only a few feet apart. The character of the letters seems to indicate that the scribes of Judah had been accustomed for a long time to write upon papyrus or parchment.
The pool itself is an oblong tank, partly hewn out of the rock and partly built with masonry, about fifty-three feet long, eighteen feet wide, and nineteen feet deep. The water has a peculiar taste-somewhat brackish-but not disagreeable, though becoming more so with the advance of the hot season.