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Siloam; Siloah; Shelah; Shiloah

SILOAM; SILOAH; SHELAH; SHILOAH

si-lo'-am, si-lo'-am, si-lo'-a, she'-la, shi-lo'-a:

(1) me ha-shiloach (shiloach or shilloach is a passive form and means "sent" or "conducted") "the waters of (the) Shiloah" (Isaiah 8:6).

(2) berekhath ha-shelach, "the pool of (the) Shelah" (the King James Version "Siloah") (Nehemiah 3:15).

(3) ten kolumbethran tou (or ton) Siloam, "the pool of Siloam" (John 9:7).

(4) ho purgos en to Siloam, "the tower in Siloam" (Luke 13:4).

1. The Modern Silwan:

Although the name is chiefly used in the Old Testament and Josephus as the name of certain "waters," the surviving name today, Silwan, is that of a fairly prosperous village which extends along the steep east side of the Kidron valley from a little North of the "Virgin's Fountain" as far as Bir Eyyub. The greater part of the village, the older and better built section, belongs to Moslem fellahin who cultivate the well-watered gardens in the valley and on the hill slopes opposite, but a southern part has recently been built in an extremely primitive manner by Yemen Jews, immigrants from South Arabia, and still farther South, in the commencement of the Wady en Nar, is the wretched settlement of the lepers. How long the site of Silwan has been occupied it is impossible to say. The village is mentioned in the 10th century by the Arab writer Muqaddasi. The numerous rock cuttings, steps, houses, caves, etc., some of which have at times served as chapels, show that the site has been much inhabited in the past, and at one period at least by hermits. The mention of "those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them" (Luke 13:4) certainly suggests that there was a settlement there in New Testament times, although some writers consider that this may have reference to some tower on the city walls near the Pool of Siloam.

2. The Siloam Aqueduct:

Opposite to the main part of Silwan is the "Virgin's Fount," ancient GIHON (which see), whose waters are practically monopolized by the villagers. It is the waters of this spring which are referred to in Isaiah 8:5,6:

"Forasmuch as this people have refused the waters of Shiloah that go softly, .... now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the River."

The contrast between the little stream flowing from the Gihon and the great Euphrates is used as a figure of the vast difference between the apparent strength of the little kingdom of Judah and the House of David on the one hand, and the might of "Rezin and Remaliah's son" and "all his glory." Although it is quite probable that in those days there was an open streamlet in the valley, yet the meaning of Shiloah, "sent" or "conducted," rather implies some kind of artificial channel, and there is also archaeological evidence that some at least of the waters of Gihon were even at that time conducted by a rock-cut aqueduct along the side of the Kidron valley (see JERUSALEM, VII, 5). It was not, however, till the days of Hezekiah that the great tunnel aqueduct, Siloam's most famous work, was made (2 Kings 20:20):

"Hezekiah also stopped the upper spring of the waters of Gihon, and brought them, straight down on the west side of the City of David" (2 Chronicles 32:30); "They stopped all the fountains, and the brook (nachal) that flowed through the midst of the land, saying, Why should the kings of Assyria come, and find much water?" (2 Chronicles 32:4; Ecclesiasticus 48:17). Probably the exit of the water at Gihon was entirely covered up and the water flowed through the 1,700 ft. of tunnel and merged in the pool made for it (now known as the Birket Silwan) near the mouth of the Tyropceon valley. This extraordinary winding aqueduct along which the waters of the "Virgin's Fount" still flow is described in JERUSALEM, VII, 4 (which see). The lower end of this tunnel which now emerges under a modern arch has long been known as `Ain Silwan, the "Fountain of Siloam," and indeed, until the rediscovery of the tunnel connecting this with the Virgin's Fount (a fact known to some in the 13th century, but by no means generally known until the last century), it was thought this was simply a spring. So many springs all over Palestine issue from artificial tunnels--it is indeed the rule in Judea--that the mistake is natural. Josephus gives no hint that he knew of so great a work as this of Hezekiah's, and in the 5th century a church was erected, probably by the empress Eudoxia, at this spot, with the high altar over the sacred "spring." The only pilgrim who mentions this church is Antonius Martyr (circa 570), and after its destruction, probably by the Persians in 614, it was entirely lost sight of until excavated by Messrs. Bliss and Dickie. It is a church of extraordinary architectural features; the floor of the center aisle is still visible.

3. The "Pool of Siloam":

The water from the Siloam aqueduct, emerging at `Ain Silwan, flows today into a narrow shallow pool, approached by a steep flight of modern steps; from the southern extremity of this pool the water crosses under the modern road by means of an aqueduct, and after traversing a deeply cut rock channel below the scarped cliffs on the north side of el-Wad, it crosses under the main road up the Kidron and enters a number of channels of irrigation distributed among the gardens of the people of Silwan. The water here, as at its origin, is brackish and impregnated with sewage.

The modern Birket es-Silwan is but a poor survivor of the fine pool which once was here. Bliss showed by his excavations at the site that once there was a great rock-cut pool, 71 ft. North and South, by 75 ft. East and West, which may, in part at least, have been the work of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:20), approached by a splendid flight of steps along its west side. The pool was surrounded by an arcade 12 ft. wide and 22 1/2 ft. high, and was divided by a central arcade, to make in all probability a pool for men and another for women. These buildings were probably Herodian, if not earlier, and therefore this, we may reasonably picture, was the condition of the pool at the time of the incident in John 9:7, when Jesus sent the blind man to "wash in the pool of Siloam."

This pool is also probably the Pool of Shelah described in Nehemiah 3:15 as lying between the Fountain Gate and the King's Garden. It may also be the "king's pool" of Nehemiah 2:14. If we were in any doubt regarding the position of the pool of Siloam, the explicit statement of Josephus (BJ, V, iv, 1) that the fountain of Siloam, which he says was a plentiful spring of sweet water, was at the mouth of the Tyropoeon would make us sure.

4. The Birket el Chamra:

A little below this pool, at the very mouth of el-Wad, is a dry pool, now a vegetable garden, known as Birket el Chamra ("the red pool"). For many years the sewage of Jerusalem found its way to this spot, but when in 1904 an ancient city sewer was rediscovered (see PEFS, 1904, 392-94), the sewage was diverted and the site was sold to the Greek convent which surrounded it with a wall. Although this is no longer a pool, there is no doubt but that hereabouts there existed a pool because the great and massive dam which Bliss excavated here (see JERUSALEM, VI, 5) had clearly been made originally to support a large body of water. It is commonly supposed that the original pool here was older than the Birket Silwan, having been fed by an aqueduct which was constructed from Gihon along the side of the Kidron valley before Hezekiah's great tunnel. If this is correct (and excavations are needed here to confirm this theory), then this may be the "lower pool" referred to in Isaiah 22:9, the waters of which Hezekiah "stopped," and perhaps, too, that described in the same passage as the "old pool."

5. The Siloam Aqueduct:

The earliest known Hebrew inscription of any length was accidentally discovered near the lower end of the Siloam aqueduct in 1880, and reported by Dr. Schick. It was inscribed upon a rock-smoothed surface about 27 in. square, some 15 ft. from the mouth of the aqueduct; it was about 3 ft. above the bottom of the channel on the east side. The inscription consisted of six lines in archaic Hebrew, and has been translated by Professor Sayce as follows:

(1) Behold the excavation. Now this (is) the history of the tunnel:

while the excavators were still lifting up

(2) The pick toward each other, and while there were yet three cubits (to be broken through) .... the voice of the one called

(3) To his neighbor, for there was an (?) excess in the rock on the right. They rose up .... they struck on the west of the

(4) Excavation; the excavators struck, each to meet the other, pick to pick. And there flowed

(5) The waters from their outlet to the pool for a thousand, two hundred cubits; and (?)

(6) Of a cubit, was the height of the rock over the head of the excavators ....

It is only a roughly scratched inscription of the nature of a graffito; the flowing nature of the writing is fully explained by Dr. Reissner's recent discovery of ostraca at Samaria written with pen and ink. It is not an official inscription, and consequently there is no kingly name and no date, but the prevalent view that it was made by the work people who carried out Hezekiah's great work (2 Kings 20:20) is now further confirmed by the character of the Hebrew in the ostraca which Reissner dates as of the time of Ahab.

Unfortunately this priceless monument of antiquity was violently removed from its place by some miscreants. The fragments have been collected and are now pieced together in the Constantinople museum. Fortunately several excellent "squeezes" as well as transcriptions were made before the inscription was broken up, so that the damage done is to be regretted rather on sentimental than on literary grounds.

E. W. G. Masterman


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'SILOAM; SILOAH; SHELAH; SHILOAH'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.