An Old Testament KnoWhy
relating to the reading assignment for
Gospel Doctrine Lesson 30:
“Come to the House of the Lord”
(2 Chronicles 29-30; 32; 34) (JBOTL30A)
Question: Hezekiah is known as being, after David, the greatest king in Israelite times. Are there any archaeological remains of his reign in Jerusalem?
Summary: Recent discoveries at the Ophel and Gihon Spring sites relating to Hezekiah are providing new insights into the history of ancient Jerusalem and its temple.
In contrast to his predecessors and successors, 2 Chronicles 31:20 asserts that King Hezekiah “wrought that which was good and right and truth before the Lord his God.” In 2 Kings 18:3-6, we are told further:
3 And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did.
4 ¶ He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.
5 He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.
6 For he clave to the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses.
This article provides a brief photo essay highlighting new archaeological discoveries relating to Hezekiah at the Ophel and Gihon Spring sites in Jerusalem. At the first site (excavated by Benjamin Mazar and Eilat Mazar), a seal of King Hezekiah has been found adjacent to what is possibly a seal of the prophet Isaiah. Their names are, of course, frequently mentioned together in scripture. At the second site (excavated by Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron), questions have been raised about the traditional history of “Hezekiah’s” tunnel and newly found chambers near the Gihon spring may give insight into early worship practices. For more detail, readers are referred to the full articles detailing these finds in the References section.
New Discoveries Relating to Hezekiah at the Ophel Archaeological Site
New Discoveries Relating to Hezekiah at the Gihon Spring Site
Further to the south of the Ophel site is an area that has come to be known as the “City of David,” the place where Jerusalem began. Because it is located within the mostly Arab neighborhood of Silwan, part of the West Bank, control of the City of David is a delicate issue between Israelis and Palestinians.
For nearly two decades, Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron have been at work to uncover clues to the history of the site. Their most well-known discoveries have to do with their work at the Gihon Spring, where they have uncovered impressive fortifications (“The Spring Citadel”) meant to protect the spring that originally date to Canaanite times, nearly two thousand years ago. An elaborate system of towers, tunnels, channels, and pools built over many centuries assured that the city’s only fresh water supply could not be interrupted by their enemies.
The famous “Hezekiah Tunnel” (also known as the Siloam Tunnel) was carved out of solid rock to carry water from the Gihon Spring to the pool of Siloam over a distance of 1750 feet. Since 1880, the tunnel was thought to have been built by Hezekiah between 705 and 701 BCE as his people prepared for an anticipated siege led by the Assyrian king Sennacherib.
Several attempts have been made in previous decades to prove that the Siloam tunnel was built, not by Hezekiah, but by one of his predecessors or successors. While these previous attempts have been strongly refuted, the conclusions of Reich and Shukron that the tunnel was constructed no later than early part of the 8th century BCE, long before Hezekiah, have now been generally accepted. That does not mean that Hezekiah was not involved in other improvements to the water system, only that this particular tunnel cannot be attributed to his efforts.
Of equal, or perhaps greater, importance is the surprising discovery of a sacred site adjacent to the Gihon Spring. There is evidence that the area was used anciently for animal sacrifice and other forms of ritual and worship.
The drawing above shows the layout of the various rooms in the structure. Platforms for animal sacrifice and what seems to be an animal holding pen were discovered at the site. Many animal bones were discovered in areas below. An olive press and a grain press were also discovered. The olive press was small in scale, perhaps made for use as part of anointings for individuals and of the pillar (see below).
A natural stone pillar, similar to the one erected by Jacob, was set in a base of twelve smaller stones.
Mysterious markings in one of the rooms have been the subject of much speculation, and even a request to the public for help in identifying the markings. Are they symbols, Hebrew letters, or purely of a functional nature? Although the response was overwhelming, nothing conclusive has been deduced.
Despite centuries of previous excavations in Jerusalem, careful efforts of dedicated archaeologists and other scholars are continuing to yield discoveries that help us better understand the Old Testament — and, in particular, the life and accomplishments of Hezekiah, who became a great king and preserver of his people through following the counsel of the prophet Isaiah.
Borschel-Dan, Amanda. 2017. Carbon dating undermines biblical narrative for ancient Jerusalem tower (June 19, 2017). In The Times of Israel. https://www.timesofisrael.com/carbon-dating-undermines-biblical-narrative-for-ancient-jerusalem-tower/. (accessed August 15, 2018).
Mazar, Eilat. "Is this the prophet Isaiah’s signature?" Biblical Archaeology Review, March/APril/May/June 2018, 64-73, 92.
Reich, Ronny, and Eli Shukron. "The date of the Siloam Tunnel reconsidered." Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 38, no. 2 (2011): 14-157 https://doi.org/10.1179/033443511×13099584885268. (accessed August 15, 2018).
Shanks, Hershel. "Will King Hezekiah be dislodged from his tunnel?" Biblical Archaeology Review 39, no. 5 (September/October 2013). https://members.bib-arch.org/biblical-archaeology-review/39/5/4. (accessed August 15, 2018).
What are these strange markings found near Jerusalem’s Gihon Spring (16 March 2012). In Biblical Archaeology Society. http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/what-are-these-strange-markings-found-near-jerusalemʼs-gihon-spring/. (accessed February 15, 2018).