The Pool of Siloam. Sacred Christian site.
The Pool of Siloam, also called Siloam, is a pond in Jerusalem, in which the water of the city on the eastern foot of Mount Zion the Gihon Spring was passed and which ensured the water supply of Jerusalem. The Gihon Spring is the only year-round source in Jerusalem. For Jews, the water of the Gihon Spring has a special significance because of their Solomon said to have been anointed king over all Israel.
The Hezekiah’s Pool.
THE only spring of Jerusalem is the Fountain of the “Virgin,” which rises in a deep cave at the foot of Ophel, valley of the Kedron, under the Temple walls. The Moslems call it the “Mother of Steps,” on account of the two flights of steps that lead down to it. The masonry lining the sides of the cave is very ancient.
This spring is the En Rogel of the Old Testament; but Major Conder believes it to be the Pool of Bethesda, mentioned by St. John as the scene of the healing of the Cripple, for the water has an intermittent flow. This peculiarity gave rise to the legend that a dragon lies at the bottom of the fountain. When he is awake he stops the water; when he sleeps, it flows.
St. John tells us “that an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons and troubled the water”; whoever then stepped in first was healed of any infirmity. It had five porches, in which the sick and suffering lay to await the rising of the waters.
From the back of the cave or rock chamber of the Virgin’s Fountain a very narrow passage runs south,under the Ophel hill, for about the third of a mile, to the Pool of Siloam. It is a channel for the fountain, but owing to the intermittent flow of the water it is at times clear; at others, however, when the water rises, it rushes down the channel and fills it, in some places, up to the roof. As the flow takes place at uncertain intervals, and cannot be reckoned on, the exploration of the tunnel is very dangerous;nevertheless, it has been explored by Dr. Robinson, Sir Charles Wilson, Sir Charles Warren, Major Conder, and others.
Dr. Robinson was in some peril in it, and has given us an interesting account of his adventure. He and his fellow traveller, Dr. Eli Smith, put on aquatic costumes, took candles and matches, and entered the channel. At first they could walk erect, but in a short time the passage became lower, and they had to crawl on their hands and knees. At last even kneeling became impossible, and they could only proceed by lying at full length and dragging themselves along by their elbows. Whilst they were thus circumstanced they heard suddenly the murmur of approaching water.
It must have been a moment of intense anxiety, but happily, as the water came on, it did not reach the roof of the rock by a few inches; they had, however, the greatest difficulty in finding breathing room, and had little hope of escaping death by drowning or suffocation, when they perceived the water gradually sinking. At last it fell entirely, and they continued their laborious progress. Very thankfully, we may be sure, they saw the light at the end of the winding passage, and issued from the tunnel through an arched opening on the pool of Siloam.
At this very spot, in1880, a Jewish boy found an inscription on the rock, and aware of the anxiety of the Palestine explorers to find inscriptions, he at once informed them of it. Several copies of it were made, but the first accurate one published in Europe was sent home by Major Conder.
The inscription has no date, but the form of the “beautifully-chiselled letters” made it plain to the explorers that it must have been written in the reign of Hezekiah, a little less than 700 years before Christ.
It recorded the making of the tunnel, which was begun at both ends. “The workmen,” Major Conder tells us, “heard the sound of the picks of the other party in the bowels of the hill, and called to their fellows. Thus guided, they advanced and broke through,the two tunnels proving to be only a few feet out of line.” To see if they could discover any more inscriptions, and to find, if possible, the spot where the workmen met, Major Conder and his companions, Lieutenant Mantell and Mr. G. Armstrong, explored the tunnel, dragging with them a chain, and taking compass angles, “which were entered in a wet note-book by the light of a candle, often put out by the water.”
They suffered “from bites of leeches and want of air,” and risked the danger of the rise of the water, from which this time they escaped The dangerous exploration was achieved a second time, but at considerable risk. We advise our readers to look at the account of it given by Major Conder, in his book entitled “Palestine.”
As ordinary people cannot penetrate this singular passage, it is usual to walk from the Virgin’s Fountain to the Pool of Siloam. The road is down the Kedron Valley to cornfields dotted with trees, where the Tyropæan Valley joins the Kedron.
These fields are the site of the King’sGardens, of which Nehemiah speaks. Across the Tyropæan, on an old embankment, stands (or stood) an ancient mulberry tree, fast falling to decay,a few years ago. It is said to mark the spot where the prophet Isaiah was sawn asunder by order of Manasseh, and was called Isaiah’s Tree. Turning to the right and passing a cliff, the traveller ascends the bank and stands by the Pool of Siloam. It is a large reservoir built in with rough but not very ancient stones. At the back of the picture of it is the arch which is at the entrance of the tunnel already described.
It was here that the blind man, obeying “our Lord’s command, washed his eyes, and came seeing.” The words, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam,” have immortalised its waters. Of the identity of its site there is no doubt, Josephus has so accurately described it, and Jerome speaks of the intermittent flow of its waters.
Directly facing the Pool of Siloam is Aceldama— the field of blood— purchased by the priests with the price of blood, that the traitor Judas had cast at their feet. Here is a great square building, half excavated from the rock, half built of massive stones. It is twenty feet deep, and is a vast charnel house, the floor of which is covered with mouldering bones. This has been identified as the site of the Aceldama ever since the fourth century, and the clay of the soil confirms the belief that it was indeed the potters’ field “used to bur strangers in.”
- Palestine Past and Present. Pictorial and Descriptive. Compiled and edited by L. Valentin. Published by Frederick Warne & Co. London 1893
- Oriental and Sacred Scences, from notes of travel in Greece, Turkey and Palestine by Howe Fisher. Published 1854.