Friday, 8 June 2018

Going underground

In the late 8th and early 7th centuries B.C., Jerusalem was threatened by invasion from Assyria. So to prepare for the expected siege, King Hezekiah had a tunnel made to take water from the Gihon Spring into the city. Which sounds simple enough, except that meant his men had to chisel their way through 500 metres of rock with nothing in the way of powered equipment. Two teams followed a winding route towards each other and met in the middle, adding the extra puzzle of how they managed to keep tunneling in the right direction without so much as a compass. It's also impressive that the difference in height from one end to the other is only 30cm - another sign of precision work.

However the Jews of old did it, the tunnel is still there, and the waters of the spring still flow through it. For the small cost of an entry ticket, tourists and pilgrims can follow this underground stream to the Pool of Siloam. It is somewhat surprising that visitors are left to do this unsupervised. The tunnel gets quite narrow at some points, and it could be quite problematic if someone had a panic attack or some other accident somewhere in the middle, 250m from any help. Perhaps they rely on the fact that there are always people passing through.

Hezekiah's Tunnel
Anyway, I'm not complaining - it was good fun to wade the length of Hezekiah's Tunnel, in the company of Br. Pawel Teperski (who took this photo of me). It took us about half an hour - surprisingly long, but wading slowed us down, as did a group of Israeli schoolchildren whom we caught up with. There wasn't anything much more Indiana-Jonesey than that, I'm afraid: no blades suddenly protruding from the walls, no rolling boulders, no crocodiles, not even any snakes. But I recommend it as an interesting diversion from the normal round of holy places and ancient ruins that a Jerusalem pilgrimage involves. Just so long as you're not prone to claustrophobia.

Pool of Siloam
(rather smaller than in Biblical times)

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