Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron excavated what I consider to be one of the most interesting discoveries of recent years related to the New Testament. Their work at the southern end of the City of David began when construction work on a sewer line accidentally revealed several beautiful stone steps.
After several years of work, the entire northeastern side of the first-century Pool of Siloam was revealed. Our IBEX students worked with the excavators on this project a few days at a time over the course of several years, and so the published results are of particular interest to me.
As with other chapters in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed, the archaeologists wrote the report. They begin by sketching out the history of excavation in the area, with the surprising note that five steps from the southern side of the pool were already revealed by Biss and Dickie in their excavations in 1898. But they didn’t realize what they had found.
The pool itself measures 50 meters on the exposed side, and an estimated 60 meters on the perpendicular sides. They uncovered the entire length on the northeastern side, including both corners. Why didn’t they go further? The article only hints at the reason: The pool “is the property of the Greek Orthodox Church.” A less professional report would have added, “and it is ironic that it is Christians who obstinately refused to allow excavation of an important site mentioned in the New Testament.”
The pool was built in two phases, and this is more important than you might think. The first phase was made of plastered stairs, but these could not withstand the large numbers of people who used the pool. But here’s the interesting part: the construction style of this phase indicates that the pool was built by workmen who specialized in constructing ritual baths.
It is, of course, tempting to dismiss the identification of the Pool of Siloam as one large ritual bath on the grounds that the lead excavator (Reich) did his doctoral dissertation on ritual baths, and we know how you end up seeing your own specialty everywhere you look. But Reich supports this theory with two additional points: (1) holes to support modesty partitions have been found in the stone steps; (2) the design of the staircase, with five steps between landings, is ideal for people trying to reach the water level at varying levels.
The date of the pool is not controversial. The first phase was built in the mid-first century BC and the pool went out of use in the First Jewish Revolt (AD 66-70).
On the northern end of the excavation area, the archaeologists uncovered a paved esplanade that was made of stones similar to those in the Herodian street below Robinson’s Arch. They identified the location of a row of columns and found a number of column drums in various places in their excavations. One of those drums had a mason’s mark with two Hebrew letters (het, tsadi) and three vertical lines. A street led from this esplanade to the north, underneath which they found a large drainage channel. This has been publicized in the past because it was apparently used as a hiding place for refugees in the Jewish Revolt.
This is a brief summary of the whole. The article is 11 pages long and includes 12 photos and 2 diagrams, many of them large and excellent.