The term Pool of Siloam (Arabic: بِرْكَة سِلْوَان Birka Silwān, Hebrew: בְּרֵכַת הַשִּׁילוֹחַ, Bərēḵat haŠīlōaḥ) refers to a number of rock-cut pools on the southern slope of the Wadi Hilweh, located outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem to the southeast. The pools were fed by the waters of the Gihon Spring, carried there by the Siloam Tunnel.
The Lower Pool or "Old Pool" was historically known as Birket el Hamra, literally "the red pool".
During the Second Temple period, the Pool of Siloam was centrally located in the Jerusalem suburb of Acra (Hebrew: חקרא), also known as the Lower City. Today, the Pool of Siloam is the lowest place in altitude within the historical city of Jerusalem, with an elevation of about 625 metres (2,051 ft) above sea level. The ascent from it unto the Temple Mount meant a gradient of 115 metres (377 ft) in altitude at a linear distance of about 634 metres (2,080 ft), with a mean elevation in the Temple Mount of 740 metres (2,430 ft) above sea level. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Hagigah), the Pool of Siloam was the starting point for pilgrims who made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and where they ascended by foot to the inner court of the Temple Mount to bring an offertory to the Temple Court. The Pool of Siloam (perhaps referring to the Lower Pool) was used by pilgrims for ritual purification before visiting the Temple enclosure.
The Pool of Siloam was built during the reign of Hezekiah (715–687/6 BCE), to leave besieging armies without access to the spring's waters. The pool was fed by the newly constructed Siloam tunnel. An older Canaanite tunnel had been vulnerable to attackers, so, under threat from the Assyrian king Sennacherib, Hezekiah sealed the old outlet of the Gihon Spring and built the new underground Siloam tunnel in place of the older tunnel (Books of Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 32:2–4).
During this period the Pool of Siloam was sometimes known as the Lower Pool (Book of Isaiah, Isaiah 22:9), as opposed to a more ancient Upper Pool (Books of Kings, 2 Kings 18:17, Isaiah 7:3) formerly fed by the older Canannite tunnel.
Second Temple period
The pool was reconstructed no earlier than the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BCE), although it is not clear whether this pool was in the same location as the earlier pool built by Hezekiah – if so, all traces of the earlier construction have been destroyed. The pool remained in use during the time of Jesus. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus sent "a man blind from birth" to the pool in order to complete his healing. As a freshwater reservoir, the pool would have been a major gathering place for ancient Jews making religious pilgrimages to the city. Some scholars, influenced by Jesus commanding the blind man to wash in the pool, suggest that it was probably used as a mikvah (ritual bath). However, mikvahs are usually much smaller in size, and if the pool were a mikvah, it would be the largest ever found by a substantial margin. Yoel Elitzur has proposed that the pool was used for swimming rather than ritual immersion.
The pool was destroyed and covered after the First Jewish–Roman War in 70 CE. Dating was indicated by a number of coins discovered on the stones of the patio near the pool to the north, all from the days of the Great Revolt. The latest coin is dated with "4 years to the day of the Great Revolt", meaning the year 69 CE. In the years following the destruction, winter rains washed alluvium from the hills to the valley and down the slopes of Mount Zion to the west of the pool; the pool was filled with silt layers (up to 4 m in some places) until it was covered completely.
Late Roman and Byzantine periods
Roman sources mention a Shrine of the Four Nymphs (Tetranymphon), a nymphaeum built by Hadrian during the construction of Aelia Capitolina in AD 135 and mentioned in Byzantine works such as the 7th-century Chronicon Paschale; other nymphaea built by Hadrian, such as that at Sagalassos, are very similar. It is unlikely that this shrine was built on the site of the Second Temple Pool of Siloam, but it may have been a precursor to the Byzantine reconstruction.
In the 5th century, a pool was constructed at the end of the Siloam Tunnel, at the behest of the Empress of the Byzantine Empire, Aelia Eudocia. This pool survives to the present day, surrounded on all sides by a high stone wall with an arched entrance to Hezekiah's Tunnel. The pool is around 70 yards (64 m) from the Second Temple (or Lower) Pool of Siloam, and is significantly smaller. Until the discovery of the Second Temple pool, this pool was wrongly thought to be the one described in the New Testament and Second Temple sources.
Discovery in the 21st century
The pool was rediscovered during an excavation work for a sewer in the autumn of 2004, by Ir David Foundation workers, following a request and directions given by archaeologists Eli Shukron accompanied by Ori Orbach from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Archaeologists Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich (working with the Israel Antiquities Authority) uncovered stone steps, and it became obvious that these steps were likely to have been part of the Second Temple period pool. Excavations commenced and confirmed the initial supposition; the find was formally announced on August 9, 2005, and received substantial international media attention.
The excavations also revealed that the pool was 225 ft (69 m) wide, and that steps existed on at least three sides of the pool. Close to two decades after the initial discovery a portion of this pool remained unexcavated, as the land above was owned by a nearby Greek Orthodox church and was occupied by an orchard known as the King's Garden (compare Nehemiah 3:15). During 2023 the unexcavated portion was revealed through excavations directed by Nahshon Szanton of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The pool is not perfectly rectangular, but a soft trapezoid. There are three sets of five steps, two leading to a platform, before the bottom is reached, and it has been suggested that the steps were designed to accommodate various water levels. The pool is stone-lined, but underneath, there is evidence of an earlier version that was merely plastered (to help it retain water). Coins from the reign of Alexander Jannaeus were found embedded in the plaster lining of the pool, and therefore provide a secure earliest date for the pool's (re-)construction.
Archaeologists excavating the site around the Pool of Siloam in the 1880s have noted that there was a stairway of 34 rock-hewn steps to the west of the Pool of Siloam leading up from a court in front of the Pool of Siloam. The breadth of the steps varies from 27 ft (8.2 m) at the top to 22 ft (6.7 m) at the bottom.
The remnants of an ancient wall dating to the Bronze Age were unearthed near the older Pool of Siloam, known also as the "Lower Pool," and locally as Birket al-Ḥamrah, during the excavations conducted by F. J. Bliss and A. C. Dickie (1894–1897). At the "Lower Pool" of Siloam there was a weir (levee), used to raise the level of water upstream or to regulate its flow. Conrad Schick's research in connection with a partially rock-hewn aqueduct related to the water system of Siloam has led researchers to conclude that the Lower Pool, Birket al-Ḥamrah, received water directly from the "Fountain of the Virgin" (Gihon Spring) at some period and which Schick places prior to the completion of the Siloam Tunnel.
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- for example, see this view Archived 2018-11-03 at the Wayback Machine
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They have also discovered thousands of fish bones that, together with the bullae were found in an area that Reich and Shukran believe to be the Shiloah Pool, used as a ritual bath for the Temple Mount, and a tiled road which ends at the pool and has its origins near the Temple Mount. Ostensibly, this is the road that worshippers used to go back and forth between the Shiloah Pool and the Temple Mount.
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- cf. Dalman, Gustaf (2020). Nadia Abdulhadi-Sukhtian (ed.). Work and Customs in Palestine, volume II. Vol. 2 (Agriculture). Translated by Robert Schick. Ramallah: Dar Al Nasher. p. 280. ISBN 978-9950-385-84-9., who writes that the King's Garden was irrigated originally through a canal with side openings, which led the water of the Gihon spring at the edge of the valley to the south, until Hezekiah's Tunnel created a more southern exit for the water, from which the garden could then be irrigated.
- Wening, Jens M. (2021). Siloah – Quelle des Lebens. Eine Kulturgeschichte der Jerusalemer Stadtquelle. Ägypten und Altes Testament. Vol. 101. Münster: Zaphon. ISBN 978-3-96327-096-3.
- Rabbi Yitzchak Levy (2015) "The place" in the world. The Shiloach Pool . The Zomet Institute
- Elitzur, Yoel (2008). "The Siloam Pool – 'Solomon's Pool' – was a Swimming Pool". Palestine Exploration Quarterly. 140 (1): 17–25. doi:10.1179/003103208x269114. S2CID 161774603.
- Reich, R.; Shukron, E.; Lernau, O. (2007). "Recent Discoveries in the City of David, Jerusalem". Israel Exploration Journal. 57: 153–168.
- Image and text of the Siloam inscription
- Shanks, Hershel (September–October 2005). "The Siloam Pool Where Jesus Cured the Blind Man". Biblical Archaeology Review. 31 (5): 16–23.. Click here for an abridged article in html or the full article in pdf format.
- Pictures of the recently rediscovered Pool of Siloam from holylandphotos.org
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- Fuad Abu-Taa', Aliza Van Zaiden and Tsagai Asamain, Conservation of the Shiloah Pool and preparing it for the public, Israel Antiquities Authority Site – Conservation Department