Last week Eilat Mazar announced that she had discovered a water channel connected to the building she has identified as the palace of King David. Based on the tunnel’s date, location, and characteristics, she believes that she has identified “with high probability” the shaft used by David’s men to conquer Jerusalem. You may recall the story:
The Hebrew word tsinnor is usually translated “water shaft.” For many years, this shaft was identified with a 40 foot (13 m) vertical shaft near the Gihon Spring. More recent excavations have suggested that this shaft was not accessible during the time of David.
The story gets the press-release-rehash in the Jerusalem Post and Arutz-7. The Trumpet, because of its close relationship with Mazar, has two photos. Haaretz apparently wrote their story before the press release and has some strange information about the water system:
But Mazar believes the water system served to purify David’s warriors, first among them his chief of staff, Joab, after the city had already been conquered.
She says that purification was necessary because the Bible states they had to fight against the “blind and the lame,” and in so doing would have become impure. She notes the use in the relevant verse of the Hebrew root naga (touch) in relation to the “gutter,” a word usually involving matters of purity.
Here are just a few thoughts (based on the articles, not the minimal information above):
It seems that this channel was discovered at the end of the last season of excavation, and much more work is required.
Both ends of the tunnel are currently blocked, so it is not clear where the tunnel begins or ends.
The tunnel runs north-south, that is, roughly from the area of “David’s palace” towards the Temple Mount, all within the city fortifications. This does not seem to fit the type of passageway that would be needed to conquer the city.
Oil lamps from the end of the First Temple period (c. 600 B.C.) were found, but it’s not clear how Mazar knows the tunnel was in use in the time of David. It’s usually easier to date the end of use of a water system than the beginning.
The attempt to also connect the tunnel with refugees fleeing from Jerusalem in the days of King Zedekiah seems stretched.
Both identifications of the tunnel to the Bible (David and Zedekiah) strike me as the sort of “biblical archaeology” that Bible believers like myself wish would go away. By that I mean, you find a tunnel and without knowing where it begins or where it ends, you assume that it must be the very one that is mentioned in a famous story in the Scriptures. How is it that such archaeologists, working in a very restricted area, always happen to find exactly what they are looking for?
The solution is not to refuse to make connections to the Bible, nor to deny that the Biblical record is historically accurate, but instead to carefully study all of the evidence, avoiding unwarranted and premature sensationalistic headlines. It goes both ways; more often it is scholars on the other side who use a scrap of evidence as complete and compelling proof that the biblical story is false. Abuses on one side do not justify abuses on the other.