Water Supply of Ancient Jerusalem

Water Supply of Ancient Jerusalem

Recent investigations have shown that Jerusalem was a point of great strategic importance at an early date. The origin and meaning of the name have not been positively established. The city has suffered, probably, more severe vicissitudes than any other city of the ancient or modern world. It has been the object of many sieges. An interesting fact stands out in the history of its sieges, namely, that, although the inhabitants suffered much from lack of food, they had an abundance of water, while the besiegers, as a rule, had the reverse conditions. The region around Jerusalem is very sparsely watered, and at an early date in the Jewish occupation of the city, means were taken to secure water supply within the walls and also to divert any supplies from without. Information concerning the water supply of ancient Jerusalem is obtained partly from the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, but largely from the results of excavations, especially those carried out under the auspices of the Palestine Exploration Fund, the quarterly reports of which contain a large amount of interesting data. A large number of comprehensive works are also available. Maps, topographic, geologic, and of other types have been issued. Jerusalem lies upon what may be called a coast range, about 2,400 feet above sea level and about 30 miles east of the Mediterranean shore. Seldom do we find as good an example of the relation between physical geography and the history of a people as in Palestine. The territory first occupied by the Israelites is about 200 miles long and, at its widest part, about 70 miles. Though located in large part on the Mediterranean side of the coast range., the Jewish nation, even in the reigns of David and Solomon, when Jerusalem showed all the grandeur of oriental absolutism, never acquider a status as a commercial power. The reason is that the territory had no harbors. An interesting point is that the Dead Sea, which lies but a few miles to the east, is the lowest inhabited point on the earth’s surface, being about 1,300 feet below the Mediterranean datum. It is obvious that no large supply of potable surface water could be secured from such a region. Reliance must be placed on sub-soil or rain water. Ancient engineers knew almost nothing about the manner in which water produces disease and had no methods of purification except storage or by use of interrupting chambers that would permit some subsidence. Interesting examples of the latter are seen in the Roman aqueducts, and are figured in my paper on the “Water Supply of Rome,” published in a former number of the proceedings of this club, (Vol. XIII. No. 2). It is believed by the authorities that the earliest efforts at impounding natural waters for supplying Jerusalem were in Solomon’s time (1,000 B. C.). A reservoir was built in the Kedron valley—east and southeast of Jerusalem—for supplying water to the royal gardens. This reservoir, called by Josephus (War Bk. 5, chapter 2) Solomon’s Pool, has not been identified. Later an open channel was cut in the rock of the west slope of the Kedron valley, by which water was led to a point at which it was available to the inhabitants of the city. It has been suggested that the text in Isaiah viii. 6, “The waters of Shiloh that go swiftly,” is an allusion to the flow in this conduit, which has a slight grade. The original channel was identified in 1866. A more interesting and imposing work was carried out, some three hundred years after Solomon, by King Hezekiah (720 B. C.), who, prior to the Assyrian invasion, impounded the water of a spring east of the city and brought it down to a convenient point. This work is mentioned in both accounts of Hezekiah’s reign. Thus, in II Kings xx. 20, we read: “Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah and all his might, and how he made the pool and conduit, and brought water to the city, are they not written in the book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?” Turning to II Chronicles xxxii. 30, we read that Hezekiah “stopped the upper spring of the waters of Gihon and brought them straight down to the west side of the city of David.” Palestine archeologists regard Gihon as identical with a spring now just outside the city wall and termed the Fountain of the Virgin. The operation of Hezekiah involved the cutting of a tunnel through rock for about one thousand feet in a tortuous course by which water was led into two reservoirs near the southeast corner of the city. About thirty years ago this tunnel was explored and an inscription was found on the wall near the lower opening. The language is old Hebrew. Some imperfections exist and portions of the translation have to be supplied by inference, but the main tenor of the statement is clear. One word has been the subject of dispute among the authorities, and I venture to make a suggestion of my own concerning its meaning. The reading is as follows: “End of the Boring. Here is an account of the boring. While the borers worked their picks in opposite directions and there were three cubits to break through, they heard each other’s voices, for there was an overlap found in the rock on the right and left, and on the day of completion the borers faced each other face to face. The waters ran from the pool spring twelve hundred cubits. The height of the rock above the borers’ heads was one cubit.” My suggestion relates to the word “overlap.” The word in the original is uncertain and several meanings have been proposed. It seems to me that the translation I give meets the conditions. From the illustration it will be seen that the tunnel pursues a remarkably tortuous course. The only explanation that has been offered for this course is that it was necessary to avoid rock tombs that had already been established. The spring was intermittent and has even been supposed to have symbolic periodicity. Excavations along the southern wall of Jerusalem have brought to light an aqueduct passing along the northern slope of the Hinnom valley, penetrating the wall and passing to the southwest corner of the city. This aqueduct is well built, being hewn out of a rock-side with rather steep incline, the upper and lower sides being extended by walls so that flat stone covers might be used. The cross section of the channel is rectangular, with a depression in the center line of the floor. The dimensions are about three feet high and two and one-fourth feet wide. Rock-hewn manholes are provided. At one point there is a chamber five and one-fourth fe.et wide, four feet long, nine feet high. F. J. Bliss, whose excellent work on the excavations at Jerusalem gives much information, thinks that this dates from Solomon’s time, but further investigation is required to decide this point. In addition to these aqueducts, Bliss gives the lines of one beginning on the west of the city, passing around by the south in the Hinnom valley, and entering the city towards the east. This he terms the “Lower-water” aqueduct, but gives no special information about it. We know from the historian Josephus that Pontius Pilate constructed or repaired an aqueduct at Jerusalem. Ancient cities had many objectionable features, but it is evident that even in romantic antiquity the question water supply was regarded as most important.

*Abstract of paper reprinted from Proceedings of the Engineers’ Club, of Philadelphia.

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