I have two books on my desk right now, and both make the same annoying point. One is Finkelstein’s The Bible Unearthed, and the other is Dever’s Did God Have a Wife. A major premise of the latter and a point made in the former is that according to archaeology, worship of Yahweh only developed in the late period – time of Hezekiah or Josiah. Here’s Finkelstein:
“Yet archaeology suggests quite a different situation—one in which the golden age of tribal and Davidic fidelity to YHWH was a late religious ideal, not a historical reality. Instead of a restoration, the evidence suggests that a centralized monarchy and national religion focused in Jerusalem took centuries to develop and was new in Hezekiah’s day. The idolatry of the people of Judah was not a departure from their earlier monotheism. It was, instead, the way the people of Judah had worshiped for hundreds of years” (Finkelstein and Silberman 2001: 234).
One can hold to this view, but please don’t pretend that it is based on archaeological grounds. These authors seem to miss the most obvious point: worship of Yahweh as commanded in the Bible didn’t leave archaeological evidence. The exception would be the temple, and nothing of that exists thanks to the Babylonians, Zerubbabel, Herod, the Romans, and the Muslims. These authors argue that because they have found Asherah figurines, bull statuettes, high places, and inscriptions related to non-Yahwistic worship, and because they haven’t found the same for “Biblical religion,” then therefore the latter didn’t exist. They date it to the late kings because that’s when they date the text.
Still no archaeological evidence, mind you.
Another common error in these works is reflected in Finkelstein’s comment immediately before:
“The biblical picture of Judah’s history is therefore unambiguous in its belief that the kingdom had once been exceptionally holy but had sometimes abandoned the faith” (ibid.).
Why do some liberals insist on this mischaracterization? It is patently false. The biblical record is that the Israelites consistently failed to follow the Lord. The exceptions were those who did. That doesn’t make biblical faith less true, real, or required. It does tell us that archaeology should expect to find significant remains of non-biblical religion. When it does, archaeologists act surprised and say, “Aha, I told you the Bible wasn’t telling you the truth.” In fact it is, but like the ancients, moderns refuse to listen.
I’ve only skimmed Dever’s work at this point, but Finkelstein’s is full of similar errors, inconsistencies, and gaps of logic. It’s also one of the best-selling books on “biblical archaeology” in the last decade.
It’s been an interesting week for me to see the Pool of Siloam story play out. Because I made a page about it last month, it was listed in the search engines when the LA Times published their story. But it was the DrudgeReport that posted a teaser about it, without a link to the LA Times article, that got the most attention (I’m guessing). So many went looking for more information and googled “Pool of Siloam” and found BiblePlaces.com. I think there were about 5000 hits on that page in the first 24 hours. One of the visitors was a CNN producer who emailed about using some of the photos. They aired an interview with the excavator yesterday, using some of the BiblePlaces photos during the interview and crediting the photographer on the air. Thus, my two seconds of “fame.”
I don’t know that many picked up on this, but the press conference was called by Biblical Archaeology Society, in part to highlight their upcoming article on the pool. The managing editor of BAR emailed me that the article is now posted on their website in pdf format. That’s a great thing for them to do – to give the article away for free. I recommend you both read the article and subscribe to the magazine, if you don’t already.
The BAR article is not long, but it is written by Hershel Shanks and it is good. (That’s no surprise, since he wrote the best popular book on Jerusalem.) A good bit of the info was covered in the LA Times article, but Shanks’ treatment is devoid of the mistakes and goofy quotes that the newspaper had. I’ll make a few comments nonetheless.
One question that Shanks raises, but doesn’t answer, is the connection of Hezekiah’s Tunnel to the Second Temple period pool. I don’t think the archaeologists have an answer for this, but it’s an important point, because there is a distance of 50 meters (?) between the end of the tunnel and the northern end of the pool. Possibilities that I can think of: there was a channel that carried the water, or there was another pool where the Byzantine pool sits today. My money goes with the latter.
The diagram on page 18 is misleading in showing the size of the new pool. In fact it is about four times longer than the Byzantine pool, which would also make the two closer together. One thing that is not mentioned on the article but drawn on the diagram and certainly worthy of further study (and future articles) is the “Siloam Channel.” The last word has not been said on that watersystem.
Perhaps this is just a matter of poor wording and not necessarily the intended point, but the article makes it sound like the pool of Hezekiah’s time is different than the pool of Nehemiah’s time (p. 18), but I think the point in Neh 3:15 is that this is the repair of a previously existing pool.
I don’t think if you live in Israel during June, you think of the winter rains as “fast approaching.” In fact, you think the summer will never end :-). This August has been quite pleasant, and it even sprinkled a few days ago.
This is an interesting sentence: “The landings served as a kind of esplanade for people to stand on when the steps were submerged in water.” There are actually two landings revealed (so far), which suggests, if Shanks is right, that the various landings would have been in use at different times depending on the present water level. OR the water level of the pool did not come up all the way to the top. I wouldn’t rule the latter possibility out. You only need steps for about 6 feet under water.
“How far into the valley the pool extended, the archaeologists are not sure. Ronny’s best guess is that it is about the same as the width of the pool on the side they have uncovered.” This is less of a guess than you might think. The orchard really is a good guide for where the pool was. The modern roads/paths around it are simply successors to roads/paths that have been there for millennia. Those define the area of the pool. The orchard is a very fertile one because of the runoff deposited in the pool over the years.
If you’re interested in a clearer explanation and more detail for how the pool was dated, Shanks has it. He confirms some points I made concerning beginning and end dates that were not accurate in the LA Times article.
“The archaeologists found it under nearly 10 feet of mud in places.” My guess is that there is even more fill, and this doesn’t take into account the fact that bottom (probably) has not been reached.
When Byzantine Christians returned to the area in the fourth century, they assumed the Pool of Siloam referred to in the New Testament was at the end of Hezekiah’s Tunnel, so they built their pool and a commemorative church where the tunnel comes out of the rock.
I’m not yet convinced this is the full story.
Shanks makes a good point about one problem with the pool being a mikveh – it has to be done in the nude. This reminds me of a crazy theory that Kenyon had when trying to rationalize her (now thoroughly discredited) minimalist view of Iron Age Jerusalem. She said that Hezekiah’s Tunnel emptied into a cave, such that it was protected from Assyrian attack. This she had to invent because of the problem with diverting the water from outside the city on the east to outside the city on the west. Since there were no walls beyond the Eastern Hill, she invented the cave. I suppose the cave idea would keep the boys modest! Shanks adds,
Perhaps there was some means of providing privacy.
Could be, but for those of you who haven’t been there, the pool is surrounded by hills on all sides, so it seems to me that there would have to be a covering over (part of) the pool. No evidence of that yet, that I know of.
This struck me as strange:
However, Ronny and Eli do not want to dig into the verdant orchard that now fills the unexcavated portion of the New Testament-era Pool of Siloam.
I’ve never heard of archaeologists not wanting to expose more of what they’re excavating, especially when the excavation is relatively young and major questions remain. This sounds to me like a “be nice” approach. And that’s confirmed (to me) by the next two sentences:
Besides, it belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, which, like Ronny and Eli, would not want the orchard destroyed. But they would like to make a very small cut through the trees to see how deep the pool is and to learn whether there are Iron Age remains beneath.
Of all the places to remove an orchard, I’d say this is a good one. Usually the problem archaeologists have is that there is some building in the way, like a house. Those are harder to dig through.
The Book and the Spade has just posted an interview with Ronny Reich about the pool. I haven’t had time yet to listen to it, but may make some comments when I do.
Time to head home. Our daughter Bethany is 3 today, and I’m planning to assemble the new IBEX grill. Shabbat shalom.
The LA Times has a story from the press conference by the Biblical Archaeology Society announcing the discovery of the Pool of Siloam. Paleojudaica notes that it’s been more than a year since the pool was initially discovered (as you can see too from my report on the progress here), but the press conference apparently makes it “new” again. Indeed, much has been found since the initial report a year ago and then the Christmas reports. I won’t go through the whole story, but want to comment on portions.
the biblical Pool of Siloam, a freshwater reservoir that was a major gathering place for ancient Jews making religious pilgrimages to the city
I’m curious what the basis for this designation as a “major gathering place” is. My guess is that archaeologists assume this because of the monumental steps leading into the pool. But I’m curious if there are any literary sources which would attest to that. I don’t see it in the Gospel of John explicitly.
If true, then one thing we can say we have learned from the excavations is that Jesus sent the man to the pool where many people were used to going. Not all pools were so used; many were simply storage pools.
three tiers of stone stairs allowing easy access to the water
Each tier has 5 steps. I also note that there is an additional “tier” of 5 steps on the northwest side.
Perhaps this was not part of the pool proper, but it seems that additional excavations will be needed to confirm that.
“Scholars have said that there wasn’t a Pool of Siloam and that John was using a religious conceit” to illustrate a point, said New Testament scholar James H. Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary. “Now we have found the Pool of Siloam … exactly where John said it was.” A gospel that was thought to be “pure theology is now shown to be grounded in history,” he said.
This is a great quote, from a journalist’s perspective. I admit that I’m not up on liberal scholarship of the gospel of John, but I would be surprised if the majority position denied that this pool existed. I’m sure that there are some scholars somewhere in print denying its existence, but I’m not sure that we should make the main point of this story: liberals proved wrong (again). In fact, I’m sure we shouldn’t. In addition, I’m struck by Charlesworth’s statement that the pool was found “exactly where John said it was.” I don’t see anything in the Gospel of John that indicates a location. Look for yourself: chapter 9. So is this a misquote or a “caught up in the heat of the moment” misstatement? Or maybe he simply means that it was found in Jerusalem.
Religious law required ancient Jews to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least once a year, said archeologist Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa.
Actually Deuteronomy 16:16 says three times a year, though it doesn’t seem that most (including Jesus?) actually went three times each year.
“Jesus was just another pilgrim coming to Jerusalem,” [Reich] said. “It would be natural to find him there.”
True enough, though it should be noted that there’s nothing in the Bible that says that Jesus ever went to the pool of Siloam. The miracle has the blind man going, not Jesus.
The newly discovered pool is less than 200 yards from another Pool of Siloam, this one a reconstruction built between AD 400 and 460 by the Empress Eudocia of Byzantium, who oversaw the rebuilding of several biblical sites.
Actually, from the edge of one pool to the edge of the other is much less than 200 meters; I would guess that it’s not more than 50 meters. New information here is the notion that the small pool at the outlet of Hezekiah’s Tunnel was a “reconstruction” built by Eudocia. I wonder if that means there was no pool here before that time. If so, then there must have been another connection from the end of Hezekiah’s Tunnel (which clearly ended where it does presently) to the newly discovered pool. Or there was another pool under the Byzantine pool. In other words, I’m saying that we are very limited in what we can say about the “Byzantine” pool and the new pool.
The site of yet another Pool of Siloam, which predated the version reputedly visited by Jesus, is still unknown. That first pool was constructed in the 8th century BC by Judean King Hezekiah, who foresaw the likelihood that the Assyrians would lay siege to Jerusalem and knew a safe water supply would be required to survive the attack.
Just to make this all more challenging, there is indeed at least one other pool in this area mentioned in the Bible. The excavator told me last month that they had found initial evidence of this pool beneath the newly discovered 1st century pool, but I don’t see any mention of that in this article. Perhaps they’re saving that for the next press conference.
The pool was discovered by a repair team excavating a damaged sewer line last fall under the supervision of Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Minor point, but it was actually found in the summer, as you can see from the fourth photo on this page. BTW, Shukron is doing a fabulous job.
As they began digging they uncovered three groups of five stairs each separated by narrow landings. The pool was about 225 feet long, and they unearthed steps on three sides.
This is the first measurement I’ve seen on this; I previously guessed incorrectly on this radio interview (link may be removed now). On the steps on “three sides,” that simply means they found the corners of the steps on the one side, but very little has been cleared of those two (northwest and southeast) sides.
They do not yet know how wide and how deep the pool was because they have not finished the excavation. The fourth side lies under a lush garden — filled with figs, pomegranates, cabbages and other fruits — behind a Greek Orthodox Church, and the team has not yet received permission to cut a trench through the garden.
Yes, indeed. A photo that gives you that perspective is second from the bottom on the previously mentioned photo page at BiblePlaces.com. My hopes are much higher: not just a trench through the garden, but a removal of the garden so that the entire pool can be seen and visited. I think this would bring many tourists to the City of David; currently very few come even though there are impressive finds in Area G, Warren’s Shaft, and Hezekiah’s Tunnel.
“We need to know how big it is,” Charlesworth said. “This may be the most significant and largest miqveh [ritual bath] ever found.”
I’m curious on what basis the pool is being considered a mikveh. All I know of is the large, monumental steps leading into the pool. Perhaps that is enough, though some literary evidence would sure be nice. Regarding the dating of the pool’s construction, there is some new information:
When ancient workmen were plastering the steps before facing them with stones, they either accidentally or deliberately buried four coins in the plaster. All four are coins of Alexander Jannaeus, a Jewish king who ruled Jerusalem from 103 to 76 BC. That provides the earliest date at which the pool could have been constructed.
It should be noted here that these coins are very common and were in use for many years after this time, even in the time of Jesus. Meshorer says they are “the most widespread of all Jewish coins.” So I’m not sure that they are very helpful, except in establishing that the pool was certainly not built before this time. My guess though is that the pool was not made before the time of Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.), because conditions were not good for monumental construction (e.g., political turmoil, economic weakness).
Similarly, in the soil in one corner of the pool, they found about a dozen coins dating from the period of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, which lasted from AD 66 to 70. That indicates the pool had begun to be filled in by that time.
This is valuable information, but not necessarily surprising, given the extensive destruction of the city by the Romans. Clarity would be improved if the sentence was modified to, “That indicates that the pool began to be filled in during or soon after AD 70.”
Because the pool sits at one of the lowest spots in Jerusalem, rains flowing down the valley deposited mud into it each winter. It was no longer being cleaned out, so the pool quickly filled with dirt and disappeared, Shanks said.
Yes, indeed. You can get a sense for the pool’s location at the lowest part of the city from the first photo on the photo page.
The story of Jesus and the blind man, as told in John, is well known. Jesus was fleeing the Temple to escape either the priests or an angry crowd when he encountered the man. His disciples asked Jesus who had sinned, the man or his parents, to cause him to be born blind.
Jesus said that neither had sinned, but that the man had been born blind so that God’s work might be revealed in him. With that, he spat in the dust to make mud, which he rubbed in the man’s eyes before telling him to wash it off in the Pool of Siloam. When the man did so, he was able to see.
These final two paragraphs were clipped out of a reprint at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and likely will be in other publications that carry the LAT story, but it’s nice to see a simple re-telling of the biblical story, complete with the theological challenge. Hopefully some people will scratch their heads and wonder what it means that a man was born blind “so that God’s work might be revealed in him.”
Indeed, God received much glory by the miraculous healing of this man, and even 2000 years later the story is being told. May the world marvel at the only one who can make blind eyes see.
I’ll have more updates as more becomes available. If you haven’t already, take a look at my page of photos telling the story of the pool’s discovery of the last year.
The BiblePlaces Blog provides updates and analysis of the latest in biblical archaeology, history, and geography. Unless otherwise noted, the posts are written by Todd Bolen, PhD, Professor of Biblical Studies at The Master’s University.