Discovered—monumental inscriptions of King Hezekiah!
Newly deciphered royal inscriptions from Jerusalem powerfully confirm the Bible’s testimony about Hezekiah, king of Judah.1,2 Hezekiah was a godly descendant of David who ruled in Jerusalem at the end of the 8th century BC. The Bible describes him as a reformer who “trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5).
Prior to these recent discoveries, abundant archaeological evidence already supported many details in the biblical narratives about Hezekiah.3 But the new inscriptions specifically discuss a number of Hezekiah’s deeds—including military actions, religious reforms, and construction projects—that closely parallel biblical statements and confirm their accuracy.
A fragmentary monument
While other kings of the ancient Near East erected stone monuments to record their greatest achievements, until now, little had been found to indicate the kings of Israel and Judah did the same. But, in 2007, a broken, hand-sized piece of a large limestone monument was excavated in the Gihon Spring area by archaeologists Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich. It was found amongst a cache of pottery dating to the 8th century BC, and contained just a couple of broken words, written in Old Hebrew script.4 In 2009, several scholars proposed that the two words ought to be reconstructed as ‘Hezekiah’ and ‘pool’.5,6 This was significant since the Bible says one of Hezekiah’s great deeds was to reroute the water from the Gihon Spring on the east side of Jerusalem to the west side, through a conduit and into a pool (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:2–4, 30). The Siloam Tunnel, dug from the Gihon Spring underneath Jerusalem through 533 m (1720 ft) of bedrock to the western Pool of Siloam, perfectly matches the biblical description of Hezekiah’s ‘conduit’.
Still, the proposal that the monument’s inscription referred to Hezekiah remained somewhat tentative and obscure. But in 2022, Shukron and epigrapher Gershon Galil came to the same conclusion by analyzing the text again with the aid of high-tech photographic techniques.1 They further recognized that a similar fragment found in 1978 by Yigal Shiloh belonged to the same monument. The inscription on Shiloh’s segment includes the word “seventeenth”, which was confirmed by additional inscriptions (discussed next) to be the year of Hezekiah’s reign in which he built the tunnel and the pool. Thus, this monument supports the existence of King Hezekiah in the 8th century and his construction of a noteworthy pool in his seventeenth year. Counting from the start of his co-regency, this would likely be around 709 BC.
‘Empty’ tunnel plaques
Even more exciting, though, are the five royal inscriptions newly discovered by Shukron and Galil on the tunnel walls themselves.2 In an older part of the tunnel system near the Gihon Spring, where a Canaanite pool was once located, a rectangular area of the wall (48 cm × 38 cm) (19 × 15 inches) was intentionally levelled flat. It is positioned right next to the entrance of a passageway that leads to Hezekiah’s Tunnel proper. This ‘frame’ was discovered by Louis-Hugues Vincent in 1909 and was recognized as a surface intended to contain an inscription. However, no such inscription was observed there.
The western end of the tunnel contained the famous ‘Siloam Inscription’, which was discovered in 1880, and describes how the tunnel was originally carved. So, scholars supposed that this eastern frame was meant to be its counterpart, yet was left unfinished. This remained the consensus for over 100 years.
Taking a closer look, however, Shukron and Galil were able to detect a highly eroded but still mostly legible ancient Hebrew text, 64 words long. It was a ‘summary inscription’ detailing several of Hezekiah’s achievements. But Shukron and Galil didn’t stop there. After further search, they found numerous other tunnel plaques with additional royal inscriptions. They also re-analyzed the area where the original Siloam Inscription had been found. They examined both the segment that was cut out, now displayed at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, and the area surrounding it, still in the tunnel itself. In both places, they discovered additional lines of text. This more than doubled the recognized size of the Siloam Inscription, from 200 letters to 428. Also, unlike the previously seen text, the newly deciphered lines clearly contained the name Hezekiah. They also refer specifically to more of his activities. It is astonishing to think that tourists have been walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel for over a century, unaware of these royal messages hidden in plain sight.
The ‘summary inscription’ by the Canaanite pool
Detailed publications about these inscriptions are still forthcoming, but an English translation of the Canaanite pool plaque has been released. It dovetails beautifully with the Bible’s claims about Hezekiah. Compare these quotations from the plaque with the Bible verses that follow.
“Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, made the pool and the conduit. In the seventeenth year, … the king brought the water into the city by a tunnel, the king led the water into the pool.”
“… he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city …” (2 Kings 20:20).
“He smote the Philistines from Ekron to Gaza …”
“He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city” (2 Kings 18:8).
“He broke the images and broke in [pieces] the Nehu[sh]tan and he removed the high [places and] cut down the Asherah.”
“He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).” (2 Kings 18:4)
“Hezek[ia]h, the king, accumulated in all his treasure houses and in the house of Yahweh a lot of silver and gold, perfumes and good ointment.”
“And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses.” (2 Kings 20:13).
A reliable record
These new discoveries are a remarkable confirmation of the Bible’s history. Previously, some scholars disputed that the Siloam Tunnel was in fact the work of Hezekiah. The biblical record supports Hezekiah’s involvement, but no contemporary archaeological inscriptions had demonstrated a link between Hezekiah and the tunnel.7 But all such alternate views are now refuted, and the Bible stands vindicated. The biblical text does not mislead us about history. Time and again, archaeology shows Scripture to be in agreement with the facts.
Another new discovery—Hezekiah’s sluice gate
One of the longstanding mysteries of Hezekiah’s tunnel is how its engineers could have prevented all the water of the Gihon Spring from flowing immediately down to the Pool of Siloam, leaving those near the source without access. Scientists speculated that Hezekiah must have had some means of controlling the water levels. Last year, researchers found compelling evidence that Hezekiah indeed built a sluice gate for this purpose. They published their findings in the journal Archaeological Discovery.1
Toward the end of the tunnel, Hezekiah’s diggers expanded the height of the ceiling and attached a wooden frame for a sliding barrier to the walls. Remnants of wood from the frame and four 8-cm-long iron bolts that affixed it to the bedrock were discovered. Researchers also found calcified wool fibers in the ceiling, evidence that a rope once ran from the sliding gate along the ceiling and up to the surface through a nearby shaft. This allowed the gate to be raised and lowered from above. The walls and floor leading up to the sluice gate were coated with a waterproof plaster, remnants of which are still visible. There is also a silty residue ‘waterline’ predominantly at a height of 1.5 m, indicating the water was often dammed up to this regulated level. The sluice gate was clearly engineered when the tunnel was constructed, so this discovery causes us to marvel even more at the ingenuity of Hezekiah and his team that conceived of and executed this plan.
- Shimron, A.E., Gutkin, V., and Uvarov, V., A Sluice Gate in Hezekiah’s (Iron Age II) Aqueduct in Jerusalem: Archaeology, Architecture and the Petrochemical Setting of Its Micro and Macro Structures, Archaeological Discovery 10(2):69–113, April 2022.
References and notes
- Eames, C., ‘[He]zekiah’: first-of-its-kind ‘monumental’ inscription of a king of Judah revealed, armstronginstitute.org, 26 Oct 2022. Return to text.
- Siegel-Itzkovich, J., Was proof of biblical kings of Israel, Judah deciphered on Jerusalem rock inscriptions? Jerusalem Post, 16 Dec 2022. Return to text.
- Halley, K., When God rescued King Hezekiah, parts 1, 2, and 3, creation.com/hezekiah-1, 10 Dec 2019. Return to text.
- Falde, N., Inscription finally confirms biblical record of Hezekiah’s tunnel, ancient-origins.net, 20 Dec 2022. Return to text.
- Gert van der Veen, P.G.M., König Hiskia in einer neuen Inschrift aus Jerusalem? [King Hezekiah in a new inscription from Jerusalem?] Studium Integrale Journal 16:51–52, 2009. Return to text.
- Shanks, H., A tiny piece of the puzzle: Six-letter inscription suggests monumental building of Hezekiah, Biblical Archaeology Review 35(2):53–55, 2009. Return to text.
- Shanks, H., Will King Hezekiah be dislodged from his tunnel? Biblical Archaeology Review 39(5):52–61, 2013. Return to text.