Kedron valley







This is yet another in my series of special original articles written to keep my many friends up to speed on all things Holy Land related. A recent feature in Biblical Archeology Review brought this to mind.


In 1967 when I took my first of now 125 journeys to the Holy Land, I had done a lot of reading in advance and had made a list of experiences that I wanted to have when there. One of them was to go through the famous Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This unique structure was built by King Hezekiah, King of Judah around 700 years before Jesus. Even today it is a marvel.


It was April 1967 about 6 weeks before the 6 day war broke out and the Old City of Jerusalem was still in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  I was on the hillside of the then largely unexcavated dirt mound called the City of David, or better, the original city of Jerusalem.   Since my visit in 1967 the Israeli archeologists have been hard at work there and finding remarkable things.


As I recall It was a warm and sunny day and I was prepared to get wet. Just how wet I did not know what to expect but I at least knew, from my knees down.


Excited, I was about to enter a specific structure mentioned in the Bible as having been dug by workers commissioned to do so by King Hezekiah about 700 BC. I must admit that this was kind of a kick.


The historical setting for this tunnel is this: Israel had then for 250 years been divided into 2 separate nations: The 10 tribes in the North were now called Israel and the 2 tribes in the south were now called Judah. Since the death of Solomon in the 900s BC, when a civil war divided the once unified nation, they had remained separate and often at war with each other.


Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives


The capital of Judah was Jerusalem. Hezekiah was its king around 700 BC.


Judah was then under threat of invasion by the conquering armies of Assyria under its  king Sennacherib. (The story is found in 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32.)  (An interesting aside: The modern descendants of the ancient Semitic Assyrians  are now called Chaldeans or Aramaeans and they are primarily Eastern Orthodox Christians.)


One of the necessities that often dictates the location of proposed cities is ready  access to water. Without water you cannot withstand a siege. Such sieges could go on for months if not years.


Those who have traveled with me to Megiddo will remember how its residents solved their need for a safe source of water by use of a tunnel and camouflage.


The source of water for the city of David was and is a freshwater spring called the Gihon. It still provides water for the Arab  villages that cluster deep in the Kidron Valley south of the Old City of Jerusalem.


In previous articles I have mentioned the Arab village of Silwan where my old friend Ali the taxi driver still lives which is really the location of the City of David and it still relies on the Gihon for irrigation now some 2800 years later.. The Psalms mention this water source without actually naming it when they celebrate the crops and vineyards in Jerusalem  of the time, and speak of walking beside the still water. All of which were dependent upon this one bubbling dependable spring.


Hezekiah faced a formidable challenge. He knew that the invasion by the vastly superior Assyrian forces was inevitable. He knew the importance of water for his people as well as for the Assyrian army. That army was  presently attacking and laying siege to Lachish and that successful siege would be memorialized in a famous stella later discovered and now on display.


It is estimated that the construction of this secret water tunnel would have taken about 4 years working 6 teams of workers around the clock, 3 from each end, and some  Biblical scholars have argued as to whether there was enough time for Hezekiah to complete this task or if someone else deserved credit such as his son Manasseh.


I began my wet walk by purchasing a candle. No lights or electricity and, though spooky, there is just no way you can get lost as there is no other way out except straight ahead and ahead is up to 1750’ ahead and so you just plough on and the new now becomes somewhat  boring and seemingly all the same . It is, of course, interesting to contemplate the significance of the marks of the picks as this tunnel was laboriously carved out 2800 years ago.


At the midpoint, the shape of the marks of the picks left behind  change abruptly as you are now in the section completed by the other team heading towards you.


The mystery of the place can be quickly lost on you it seems as you concentrate on not stumbling on the submerged floor of the tunnel as you make your way in the dark with flickering candle in hand.


What particularly struck me was the fact that the completed tunnel does not go in a straight line and I wondered about that. In fact its course has now been plotted on paper using modern technology and it is rather serpentine in its meanderings.


Hand hewn by teams of workers, its sides and roof and floor are rough and uneven.


It was not built to be beautiful but to be functional.


But how on earth did they find each other in the middle??


Hezekiah’s strategy was twofold: (1) to not only provide water for Jerusalem but also (2) to deny it to the Assyrians.


In order to accomplish these goals  he had to cover over the natural spring source of the water outside of Jerusalem’s walls so the Assyrians could not locate it and then he had to cause to be dug a subteranean  tunnel to connect the outside-the-walls spring  to what we call the Pool of Siloam. Yes the same pool of Siloam where 700+ years later Jesus told the blind man to go wash off the spit/clay mix he had applied to the blind man’s eyes and he was healed miraculously. Imagine that and this is where I emerged into the sunshine after my adventure in the tunnel. You can do the same if you wish.


The two teams of ancient diggers, armed with iron picks, somehow navigated their way underground, blind as to where the other team actually was and somehow after years of digging they miraculously met in the middle.


I remember seeing where that joyous event had occurred and could share their joy.


That under ground meeting of these two teams was memorialized by an inscription in the wall of the tunnel describing the event.


Money got in the way as it often does and around 1880 some Arabs chiseled this inscription off the wall and sold the inscription on the black market and it ended up in Istanbul where it is currently on display. It is called the Siloam Inscription.


Well, as often happens,  the dating of this famous tunnel has come under challenge of late with some scholars questioning its accepted dating to the time of Hezekiah and offering other possible creators,  some predating Hezekiah and some as late as the Hasmonean period in the 200s BC.


Such challenges are not infrequent in the Middle East. Trying to come up with alternative explanations for famous places and items is common and part of the game.


Want to get noticed?


Challenge an established theory about a famous place or event or item and make your case! That is how the game is played.


With recognition and notoriety comes fame and often fortune.


So bottom line, is this something visitors to Israel should put on their to do list?


By all means if you have the time.


Just take a taxi from your hotel to the pool of Siloam and the City of David south of the Old City walls and you will even find locals there who will guide you through the tunnel for a few dollars. Be sure to wear rubber soled shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. Shorts are probably a good idea as well. The depth of the water will vary according to the season.


On our forthcoming February 2014 journey to Turkey, Jordan and Israel we have planned an entire day at leisure to allow our traveling friends the opportunity do something on their own and this is certainly a candidate for that experience. Taxis will take you there and are usually readily available to take you back to your hotel.




This is yet another special article written for you by Dr. Robert Grant the Holy Land Guru.


We invite you to consider traveling with Dr.  Grant and wife Judy.

We also encourage you to PLEASE LIKE     where you will find all of the previous articles Dr. Bob  has written.




For more information you should Google Siloam Inscription and  Hezekiah’s Tunnel and also check out the Biblical Archeology Review.

August 31, 2013


So picture this:
You are a guide in Israel and you stop with your group to catch your breath and you lean on a piece of a column jutting out of the ground and suddenly …..What is this thing? And again, suddenly it becomes a really big deal with archeological and political ramifications.
And that is what happened recently in the tiny Arab village of Silwan.
So Silwan aka as the city of David,, is again a center of attention with the recent discovery of an impressive ancient column jutting out of the ground.
It is thought that, when the dirt is cleared, it will lead down to the foundations of, and perhaps even more of, a structure of some importance. As often is the case, political sensitivities play an important role.
This would be  an Israeli led archeological dig. The discovery is on privately owned Palestinian land.
So when or if this new find is excavated remains to be seen and the Israeli’s are shushing up the matter hoping to keep a lid on it as they try to negotiate its uncovering with the Arab land owners. .Also a case of follow the money i would assume.
The location of this find is quite significant.

Kedron valley excavations

Much excavation is taking place in Israel


Silwan is an nondescript Arab village that clings to the sides of the Kedron Valley to the south of the present Old City walls of Jerusalem, extending from the Dung Gate where people now enter to visit the wailing or Western wall of Temple Mount, south, into the Kedron valley and the excavations of the ancient city of David.

One could make the case that Silwan is part of the remains of David’s ancient capital beginning about 1000 BC.
It was to this place David first brought the Ark of the Covenant. And this is where it was stored until his son Solomon built the 1st temple to the north on the plateau of Mount Moriah. So for Old Testament scholars this is sacred ground

In the area of Silwan is the Pool of Siloam where Jesus brought sight to the blind man by spitting in the dirt and putting the mud on the man’s eyes. He told him to “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam” Also see my blog about Hezekiah’s marvelous tunnel. Fascinating story.
This is also where David, 3100 years ago, first captured the then Jebusite city which became his capital . The nearby Gihon Spring is probably where David planted his gardens and it still yields fruit. Remember when you read about water and Jerusalem in the Old Testament it is probably refering to this same spring that continues to pump out water today
Also this is where King David, the first King of Israel, was finally buried.

So this discovery could be of major importance, but we will just have to wait as politics plays out its role and we probably get, to follow the money, as they say.

But now, a more personal story about Silwan that might interest you.
Ali has been my taxi driver for more than 40 years. He is a rotund little arab man who, when I first met him, was not a very good Muslim.
He favored Araq, a popular local liquor too much, and we used to tease him when he appeared to be in his cups, with ”Ali drinks too much Arak”. To which he would remonstrate “No, No, Ali not guilty”
In more recent years, Ali has gotten serious about life and Allah. He has now gone to Mecca and so is now called Haj and now refuses to drink Araq …….unless, that is, he has back slidden since I last saw him.

Ali lived and still lives in Silwan in a humble little mud walled home with his plump little wife and, probably now, grandchildren.
About 40 years ago, Judy and I were accorded the honor of being invited to have dinner in their home and we went, not quite knowing what to expect.
As I recall there were 2 small rooms sparsely furnished. In the one there was a small kitchen table with oil skin on top and with a sheet of clean butcher’s paper and on that paper was the full carcass of a roasted lamb. Three kitchen chairs were available. . Knives and forks were not provided or expected. Around the corner just out of sight in the other room sat his little wife cross legged on the dirt floor as we ate.
She did not join us nor was she expected to do so.
The meal began with Ali bringing a cleaver to the table and beginning to chop up the carcass with the fat flying in all directions, Judy reminded me.
It was a meal to be remembered. Culture shock. .
But it was an act of friendship and respect that we sincerely appreciated. Difficult for Judy as she does not like to think of where meat comes from and prefers to think of it as falling off a tree rather from a living creature. There was no escaping the fact that we were then consuming an animal that some hours ago had walked around.

Flash forward 40 years. By contrast I had dinner February in the lovely home of Bethlehem’s George Nissan who owns a large restaurant where we take our groups to eat and a large shop. It too was a meal to be remembered but for a different reason.
The Arabs are beautiful and hospitable people who treasure friendships whether they are affluent or struggling.

Herod built things to last

The huge stones at the base of the western wall of the temple mount were placed there by Herod the Great at the time of Jesus

We appreciated Ali’s hospitality as it was important for him to offer this gesture. But, as I stated,  it was a struggle for Judy to eat the lamb as it looked too much like an animal, and besides, that was all that was on the table. No salad or vegies or anything else. Just the lamb.
Well, we got it down. What else we could do?

We thanked our sweet hosts profusely and stored this tale up so that I could share it with you here and now.
Travel to other cultures sure does broaden our understanding of the world. Everybody does not live like we do in America. For some first time travelers to the Holy Land this comes as a bit of a shock.

Dr. Robert Grant has been traveling to the Holy land for more than 46 years and has gone there on more than 125 occasions as he hosts groups of friends on holy land tours. As a result he has also been dubbed  “The Holy land Guru”

written  6/24/13