The 2,700-year-old inscription commemorating the construction – attested by the Bible – of an underground tunnel undertaken during the reign of King Hezekiah will soon be returned to the Israeli state by Turkey.
Rarely has a stone inscription caused so much ink to flow since its discovery in June 1880. It was on this date that a young man ventured into the first meters of the underground channel that brings water to the pool of Siloam, discovering a six-line inscription in ancient Hebrew characters which tells the story of the end of the drilling of the work undertaken by King Hezekiah and mentioned in the Book of Kings.
A private individual in search of a good deal, he decided to extract the inscription from the rock face, breaking it into several fragments, with the hope of selling it to a European museum.
The Turkish government – the Holy Land was then under the control of the Ottoman Empire – intervened and seized the fragments which were collected and exhibit them in the Istanbul Antiquities Museum.
But not for much longer, because on March 11, 2022, taking advantage of the visit of the head of the Jewish state to his soil, the neo-guardian of the Sublime Porte decided to return the ancient inscription to its owner: a gesture of good will in order to relaunch diplomatic relations which have deteriorated in recent years.
Because the Siloam Inscription is a symbol of resistance and independence for Israel. After the fall of Lachish, a city in Judah located on the road to Egypt which fell into the hands of the Assyrian invader around 701 B.C., King Hezekiah anticipated the siege of Jerusalem through a series of titanic works.
Among these, a 533-meter-long tunnel, dug into the rock to provide the Holy City with access to the waters of the Gihon spring, at the time located outside the ramparts.
At the end of the drilling, a commemorative inscription was carved into one of the walls: “this is the story of the tunnel, while [the hewers lifted] their axes toward their counterparts, and while three cubits more were to (be hewn), was heard the voice of a man calling to his counterpart, (for) there was [a crack] in the rock, on the right and on the left. And on the day of [the final barrier’s] piercing, the stonecutters struck each man towards his counterpart, ax against ax and water flowed from the source to the pool for 1,200 cubits and 100 cubits was the height of the rock, over the head of the stonecutters.”
All of the works undertaken by the King of Judah enabled the capital to withstand the siege of enemy troops. But Hezekiah would still have to pay a heavy price to Sennacherib in order to ward off the Assyrian threat (2 Kings 18:13-16).
Chapter 20 of the second Book of Kings confirms the construction of the tunnel: “the rest of the history of Hezekiah, all his exploits, and how he built the pool and the canal to bring water into the city, is this not written in the book of the Annals of the kings of Judah?” (2 Kings 20:20).
The Pool of Siloam, built by Hezekiah to retain the water thus collected, is the one to which Christ would send the man born blind to restore his sight (Jn. 9:7).
In exchange for the return of the Siloam Inscription, Israel has offered Turkey the return of artefacts from the Ottoman era.