In 1880 a Hebrew inscription was discovered that describes the cutting of a water tunnel through the eastern hill of Jerusalem. The inscription was carved in the wall of the tunnel itself, some 6 ms from its southern end (cf. Sayce, 1881, pp. 141–142; Conder, 1882). A decade after its discovery, the entire inscription was removed from the wall and eventually taken to Istanbul, where it remains (cf. S. H. Horn, Biblical Archaeology Review 10.5 [1984]: 74).

The first two signs of the text have disappeared, and even more serious damage has occurred at the end of that line and near the ends of lines 2 and 3. Hand copies and photographs of squeezes done before the removal of the inscription from the tunnel show that most of these lacunae had already occurred when these reproductions were made (cf. Puech, 1974: 197). With plausible, if uncertain, restorations of these lacunae, the text may be translated as follows: “[This] is the tunnel and this is how the tunnel was cut. While [the workmen were carving] their way toward each other and yet 3 cubits remained to be cu[t], the voices of the workmen could be heard from either side, for there was a zdh in the rock, [from lef]t to right. On the day when the cutting was completed, the workmen met, pick to pick, and the water flowed from the spring to the pool, a distance of 1,200 cubits. The hill stood a hundred cubits above the workmen's heads (at the highest spot).”

Exploration has shown that the tunnel was indeed cut by two crews who worked from opposite ends and met in the middle. Some still unexplained detours resulted in an overall S-shaped path and a total length of more than 500 m. The term zdh in the inscription, meant to explain how it was that the workmen could hear each other through a meter and a half of rock, is still, despite many attempts, not fully understood.

The tunnel ran from the Gihon Spring, on the eastern side of the ancient City of David, to a pool constructed at the southern end of the hill and within the city walls. It was only the latest of a series of projects making the water from the abundant spring more available for usage and enabling the inhabitants to have access to the waters of the spring when under attack. The text itself mentions no historical circumstances, but these are commonly identified with the allusions in 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30 to such a project in Hezekiah's time (generally placed at the time of Sennacherib's invasion in 701 BCE).

[See also Jerusalem; Water Tunnels.]


  • Conder, Claude R. “The Siloam Tunnel.” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (1882): 122–131.
    An early account of personal explorations of the tunnel by the author, comparing these observations with the statements in the inscription
  • Guthe, Hermann. “Die Siloahinschrift.” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländische Gesellschaft 36 (1882): 725–750.
    Perhaps the best of the very early studies of the text
  • Puech, Émile. “L'inscription du tunnel de Siloé.” Revue Biblique 81 (1974): 196–214.
    New epigraphic and philological study, with an extensive bibliography but some dubious restitutions
  • Sasson, Victor. “The Siloam Tunnel Inscription.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 114 (1982): 111–117.
    Literary considerations
  • Sayce, A. H. “The Inscription of the Pool of Siloam.” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (1881): 69–73.
    Presents a text very different from the body of readings generally agreed upon just a year later (i.e., Guthe, 1882)
  • Sayce, A. H. “The Ancient Hebrew Inscription Discovered at the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem.” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (1881): 141–154.
    Early account of discovery of the inscription and a not-so-successful attempt at interpretation
  • Shiloh, Yigal, and Mendel Kaplan. “Digging in the City of David.” Biblical Archaeology Review 5.4 (1979): 36–49.
    This and the following entry constitute popular accounts of the excavations that have elucidated the relationships among the various water systems centering on the Gihon Spring
  • Shiloh, Yigal. “The Rediscovery of Warren's Shaft.” Biblical Archaeology Review 7.4 (1981): 24–39.

Dennis Pardee