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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

The Spring (Fountain) of Siloah
עין שילוח En Shiloach

Is also called גיחון Gichon, in 1 Kings 1:33, which is given by the Chaldean paraphrase of Jonathan with Shiloach. This spring is found near the village of Selivan in a deep rocky cavern, on the foot of a rocky mount, on which formerly the Ophel stood. It first runs under ground in a southwestern direction, then issues forth near the lower pool (which see), waters the gardens of the village Selivan, and is gradually lost in its farther course. This spring also existed in David's time, in its present position in the valley of Kedron, as we read in 1 Kings 1:33, "And carry him down to Gichon," and v. 35, "Then ye shall come up after him." But we find also mentioned an upper Gichon spring, in 2 Chron. 32:30, which was situated undoubtedly near the upper pool (which see); the water of this upper spring, Shiloach or Gichon, ran southwardly through the Wady Djurad, where the modern pools are, and turning to Zion, passed through the Wady Rephaim, which, as I have already stated, was the Pass to the Fuller's Field, down into the Kidron valley, where it united with the Lower Siloah near En-Rogel. From the above it will appear that there were two springs of Siloah, the upper one of which, however, does not exist any more at the present day.

We find in Holy Writ that Hezekiah caused the Upper Gichon to be stopped up (2 Chron. 32:2,3,30), and had the water brought into the city* (2 Kings 20:20). I gave myself a great deal of trouble to find out if possible the position of this subterranean water-course. I investigated many cisterns, and I discovered at length that the water of the cistern, which is situated between thetemple mount and Kallai, in the direction where formerly was situated the Tyropœon of Josephus, was exactly like the water of the Lower Siloah spring in taste, weight, and purgative quality. The owners of this cistern also assured me that even in a continuous long absence of rain the water is scarcely ever entirely dried up in it. Whence I would clearly conclude that it must stand in some connexion with the subterraneous channel of the Upper Gichon. About 25 paces from my present dwelling, is the bath called Chamam al Shaafé, on the western declivity of the temple mount. There is found a very deep cistern, the water of which is just like that of the spring of Siloah; and I think it therefore certain that the former aqueduct of Hezekiah is now below the surface of the ground in this direction; although it formerly ran uncovered through the city, as we read in Yerushalmi Chagigah, 1., that the Shiloach ran through the middle of the city (Jerusalem). The learned Azulai mentiones in his שמות הגדולים "The names of the Great," fol. 30b, that as late as the time of the great Cabbalist Rabbi Chayim Vital, who lived in 5340 (1580), one could hear near the Kallai or David's Tower, a strong subterraneous rushing of running water, which was represented as the ancient aqueduct of King Hezekiah.

* The passage of 2 Chron. 32:3, seems to contain a contradiction; it is said there that it was Hezekiah who stopped up the waters of the Upper Gichon spring, and led them westward down to the city of David. If now, he stopped up all the wells, springs, and water-courses (ibid. 3,4), that the kings of Assyria should not find any water, why should he then conduct the water of the Upper Gichon to the west, in the direction of the city of David, unquestionably without the town, that they might nevertheless find water? It is said farther, in another passage, that Hezekiah conducted the water into the city, which no doubt refers to the water of the Upper Gichon, which he covered up so that it should not run without, and only diverted its course into the city; and still it is related as above, that he led the water down to the city of David, not into the city itself? It is at the same time to be remarked that the water of the spring took this course already before the time of Hezekiah, since it could run in no other direction, than into the valley of Kidron; what need was there then of conducting it again?

I therefore boldly maintain that the passage has another meaning, and that וישרים למטה "he led them downward," does not refer to Hezekiah at all, but to the spring of Gichon itself, which is of the masculine gender in Hebrew; and I would therefore translate it "And he, Hezekiah, stopped up the source of the waters of the Upper Gichon, which (spring) conducted them westward as far as the city of David;" which would therefore be merely a description of the nature of the spring, which poured its water into the Kidron valley; [whence Hezekiah may have led it into the city itself.

This investigation also proves that though both springs are somewhat far apart, one being in the valley of Kidron, the other on the height of Gichon, they must still have but one source, since the water of both is exactly of the same nature and quality.

The Spring Etam עין עיטם, or Nephtoach נפתוח.

(Joshua 15:9.)

In the Scriptures we nowhere find any mention of a spring Etam, but of a city of that name in 2 Chron. 11:6: "He built Beth-Lechem, Etam, and Tekoa." This town, therefore, must have been situated not far from Beth-Lechem and Tekoa. Josephus places it at 60 stadia, 7½ English miles from Jerusalem, and says that in that vicinity there are many springs and an aqueduct, which goes to Jerusalem. It must therefore have stood without question near the old Castle of al Burak, where is a large spring, the water of which is carried hither (Jerusalem), through means of canals. Josephus, Bell. Jud., book 2., chap 14., makes the direction and course of this aqueduct to be 300 stadia, or 37½ English miles, and in his Antiq., book 18., chap. 4., 200 stadia, or 25 English miles; but both data are evidently wrong, and must be errors of transcribing; for the direct distance is but 60 stadia, and if we even allow much for the curves of the aqueduct, which are naturally deviations from the direct line, it could hardly have been longer than 100 stadia. This aqueduct extends now from the spring Etam near Al Burak, towards Beth-Lechem, then in a northerly direction to the vicinity of Jerusalem, turns then somewhat southwesterly from Zion, passes the Wady Djurd and turns towards Mount Zion, encompasses the same on the south, then on the east; turns next to the north, and entered the city near the small southern gate Bab al Megarbi, runs to the temple mount, near the great mosque Al Sachra, where is issues forth through a tubular box, near the Mahomedan court-room Al Machkamé, in an outer hall. As the Mahomedans were engaged this year, 5605 (1845), in clearing a space near the West Wall כותל המערבי, they came accidentally to a large subterranean cave, and a spacious and ancient structure, in which is a large reservoir of this Etam aqueduct, when the water passes into the tubular box. Sultan Soliman conducted this Etam water also to the buildings on the west side of the temple mount, and to several other places; and there are still seen in all directions on several of these ancient tubes Arabic inscriptions.

Seliman Abn Alim Sena 943 Al Chadjra,

That is, Seliman, son of Alim, in the year 943 of the Chadjra (Hegira), or the Mahomedan era, which is 5297, A.M. (1537). Such a tube, constructed our of large, strong stones, and covered with ornaments, and supplied with the above inscription, is near my residence, which is situated on the western part of the temple mount.

These tubes are without water already these forty years; and only in the Machkamé the water flowed at the time I came hither, in the year 5593 (1833); but a year later, when the Bedouins and Arabs rebelled against Abraim Pasha, these barbarians went in their fury so far as to cut off and thereby destroy this beautiful and beneficent most ancient aqueduct. It remained useless till the year 5604 (1844), when the pasha of our city had the above fountain again restored; and even the one near my house was also repaired in the year 5607, and I was rejoiced to be able to obtain the water from it.

It appears that this aqueduct existed already in the time of Joshua. It is probable that an opening was made in it to the west of Mount Zion, so that passers by might draw water from it. The same is the case at the present day in many places, and I have seen a large one to the west of Mount Zion. I therefore believe myself authorized to assume that this aqueduct was called, on the spot in question, Mé Nephtoach מי נפתוח, "the opened water" (see Joshua 15:9), AS Rashi also explains in this passage, "this means the spring Etam." It is also probably referred to in 2 Sam. 5:8, "Whoever smiteth the Jebusites and toucheth the aqueduct;" which means who shall be able to cut off and destroy the supply of water, which furnished this necessary of life to the Jebusites, who will then be compelled to yield through the want of water.

It is also the same which was led into the outer court of the holy temple, and supplied it with the water necessary for the then sacrificial service, as said in Pesachim, 64a. The Sea of Solomon ים שלמה of 1 Kings 7:44, also received its water from this aqueduct, for which see Yoma, 37a.

Let us quote here the description of the ambassadors of Ptolemy, king of Egypt, which they gave to their master after their return home from their journey to the holy city Jerusalem:

"The temple has its front to the east, and its back to the west; its whole floor is covered with marble. At the depth of nearly five-eighths of a mile under ground are found a number of aqueducts, which are constructed with an astounding degree of artistical skill. They are lined with lead, carefully closed up, and covered over with earth to a great depth. These artificial channels and aqueducts run under ground, in various directions, to all parts of the temple. In the floor of the sanctuary, and near the pavement, are constructed many secret openings, which can be opened and shut up at pleasure, and which cannot be observed by any one, without it be the priests and the temple servants. If these orifices be now opened, the water rushes in from all sides, and the marble floor of the sanctuary is washed clean of the blood of the sacrifices, if it be ever so much, and thus cleansed of itself, and in the easiest manner. There can be, moreover, never a want of water in these artificially constructed tubes, as it is conducted hither from a large natural spring (Etam), which to a certainty can never dry it.

"I cannot omit also to report to thee, O my king, that the people showed themselves ready with remarkable kindness to conduct me to the chief point of this aqueduct. One day, namely, I was conducted half a mile outside the city of Jerusalem,* when one of those who accompanied me told me to stand still and to listen awhile; and when I heard the fearful rushing of the water beneath my feet, I thought to myself how magnificent must be the work of this aqueduct." (See Me'ore Enaim of Rabbi Meir De Rossi, fol. 15a.)

* The spot here spoken of was probably the opening in the aqueduct, the Mé Nephtoach, which is about half a mile from the city.

We have also to remark that this aqueduct extends somewhat up hill from the valley below, and reaches even to the middle of Mount Zion. This is owing to the fact that the spring, the source of this aqueduct, near Burak, lies somewhat higher. This was already remarked by our wise men in Talmud Yoma, 31a: "Abayé said, This proves that the spring Etam must lie about twenty-three cubits higher than the floor of the temple, since the water in the aqueduct could be conducted this neight above the floor."


There are in the holy city and its environs the following five pools:

I. The Upper Pool of 2 Kings 18:17, Isaiah 7:3, and 36:2. It is called by the Arabs Birkat Mamuli. It is about 500 paces from the Kallai, and is about 100 cubits (200 feet) long and broad, and 15 cubits (30 feet) deep.

II. The Lower Pool of Isaiah 22:9, also called (ibid. 11) the Old Pool, likewise the Siloah Pool in Nehemiah 3:15. It lies in the valley Ben-Hinnom, where the Siloah (Shiloach) issues out of the rocky mount, the ancient Ophel, and then falls into the pool, which is considerably smaller than the first, and then comes out again from the same.

III. The Pool of Hezekiah. This was constructed by Hezekiah, and produced by conducting the water into the city (2 Kings 20:20). The pool, which is within the city, to the northeast of the Kallai, is of the same size with the Upper Pool, and is connected with it by means of a canal, which supplies it with water.

IV. The pool which lies to the east-northeast of the Bab al Sebat, which appears, however, to be a modern structure, as no mention is made of it either in the Scriptures or the Talmud.

V. The pool which is to the north of, and near to the temple mount, and in which, in ancient times, as Josephus reports, the animals destined for sacrifice were washed.

Besides these five, there are yet found two ruined pools to the northwest of Mount Zion, in the valley called Wady Djurad, which is situated between the neights of Gichon and Wady Rafaat. The northern one was constructed in the year 693 of the Chadjra (Hegira), or 5051, A.M. (1291), by Sultan Mahmad ben Kialian, as I have learned from the inscriptions on the walls of this pool; hence its name Birkat Sultan. The southern, however, was built by Sultan Soliman, in the year 493 of the Chadjra, i.e. 5291, A.M. (1537), and bears the name of Birkat Seliman.

Water is found only in the first three which I have mentioned; the other four are entirely empty, and partly ruinous.