Temple Update Article
Expanded Internet Edition - Updated January 13, 2005 

Running Water
at the Temple of Zion

By George Wesley Buchanan
Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.

Reprinted with permission from
The Expository Times
Vol. 115 No. 9 (June 2004): 289-292

Read the accompanying Newsletter for January 2005

In a recent issue of Expository Times (“The Tower of Siloam,” Expository Times 115.1 (2003): 37–45), I reported the exciting experience I enjoyed when I went to Jerusalem to see the ruins of the Tower of Siloam. When I thought of Ezekiel’s account of the way the water would flow out from under the threshold of the temple and on down to the Dead Sea where it sweetened the water of the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47:1), I immediately realized that the Jerusalem temple had to be located on the ridge above the spring of Siloam and not on the dry mound where the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque are now located. Ezekiel was a good geographer. He had lived in Jerusalem, and he knew the topography and geography of the land. Ezekiel was one of the First Testament authors to identify the boundaries of the Promised Land. He was not just imagining the way things had once been. 1 Since that article was published, I have found even more evidence to support that claim, which I will present here to supplement the earlier article. 2

Two centuries before the time of Herod, Aristeas saw the spring water flowing through the temple, flushing out the blood from sacrifices. When Yadin was editing the Qumran Temple Scroll, he quoted the text that gives directions for establishing a place where priests could change their garments, bathe and change into priestly garments before participating in the temple services. This place for bathing required flowing water with a canal to direct the bath water away into a drain that escaped into the ground (1QT 32.11–15). The mixture of blood and water was forbidden to be touched before it vanished into the drain, because it would have been defiled with blood (1 QT 31.14–15). Rabbis said it would flow into the brook Kidron (mMid 3.2). The canal which drained the bath water away may also have been the same canal that washed away the blood from the sacrifices.

Yigael Yadin noticed that there was a great deal of agreement among the sources regarding the necessity of flowing water for sacrifices, but he seemed not to wonder what the source of all this water was if the temple was up north on the platform of the Al Aqsa Mosque, where there is no water flowing. 3 Like Shanks, Yadin defined one situation without noticing how that insight effected other details. Warren knew that the temple required lots of water for sacrifices. He assumed that the area that contains the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque was also the temple area. He did not know where all that water came from, but he thought there must be a spring somewhere north of the northern wall of the Al Aqsa area, although he was not able to find one. 4

It is clear from the literary testimony that there had to be water flowing through the temple area. It is also obvious that there was no such water available in the area of the Dome of the Rock, but there was also no spring up on the top of the ridge in the City of David, either. There was the huge Spring of Siloam down in the Kidron Valley, but the temple was many metres away, up on top of the ridge where the City of David was located, far above the Spring of Siloam. How did the water get up to the temple area? There is an answer to that question.

There is a shaft that still exists that goes almost straight up from the level of the spring to a platform area where it joins a tunnel that goes several metres horizontally to the west before it comes out of the ground. At the end of the war between the Jews and the Romans (AD 70), Simon, one of the messianic rebels that led that war, surrendered to the Romans by appearing out of the ground at the place where the temple had stood before it was destroyed. He appeared dressed in royal garments of white and purple to show that he claimed royalty, and he demanded to see the top general. As a pretending king, he claimed royal respect. He had obviously been hiding in that tunnel under the temple, which had also been a fortress — the last defence of Jerusalem (War 7.28–30).

This shows the direct route from the spring to the temple area. The temple was also a fortress, and fortresses always have to be built where water can be made accessible for a large number of troops. Fortresses, such as Megiddo, Gezer and Hazor all have good water systems. It was no accident that the temple-fortress at Zion was built in relationship to the Spring of Siloam. The last of the war between Rome and Israel had been fought at the temple, 5 and Simon had evidently been in that fortress as the temple had begun burning. He took the normal route for refuge through the nearby tunnel. The temple had been built over that channel where, if it was dry, might provide an escape route for the fortress. It was more important, however, that it provide the necessary water both for the fortress and for the temple sacrifices. Faust argued that this huge shaft, sometimes called Warren’s shaft, was used to dip water in buckets for the city. 6 After they had been pulled up to the tunnel level, they would still have to be carried through the tunnel to become accessible to the city. The city needed more water than could be provided in small buckets, dipped and pulled up long distances with ropes. Think of the number of ropes this would wear out as they rubbed along those rocky walls!

Faust recognized some problems with his conjecture. He knew that pulling water up by the bucketfuls was not easy, and he suggested that it would have been used only in emergencies. He also noted that in order for water to be reached by buckets on ropes, the water would have to have been dammed up at the bottom of the shaft, so that water could have been forced several metres up the shaft to bring the water level closer to the reach of the platform on which the people stood when they drew the water. 7 He neglected only to consider the possibility that the dam could have worked to allow the water to be forced all the way up the shaft, through the tunnel, and out on to the top of the ridge in the temple area.

It is more likely that the shaft was constructed originally to bring water up to the city by force. This shaft was known as the water channel (tsee-nohr, צנור) (Second Samuel 5:8) at the time that David took the city. A water channel is normally designed and used to allow water to flow from one place to another. There was no water up on the ridge to flow down to the spring, so the water must have flowed upward from the spring to the top of the ridge, where it poured out the way Aristeas and the temple scroll testified. It evidently had to be possible, because Josephus said that was the precise spot where the temple had been before it was destroyed, and Aristeas claimed to have seen the water flowing up on the temple level.

The next question is, “Where did the water get all of the power required to force the water up the channel?” There seems to be only one answer. The huge Spring of Siloam (Gihon) was blocked somewhere near the spring and diverted the water up the chimney-like channel where it could join the horizontal tunnel, taking the water to the temple area where Simon appeared. If this was actually functioning in David’s time, as the evidence seems to show, it would mean that the Jebusites had a superb running water system operating in that little town, perched on a ridge, three thousand years ago!

If this was really so, then the Jebusites were justly confident that their little city was secure. It was well defended and supplied with all the water it needed. That is why the Jebusites thought David could never conquer this town. They had steep walls on two sides of their triangular ridge. According to Strabo, there was a wall and moat that was 60 feet deep on the north side of the city at the time of the Hasmoneans. It may not have been 60 feet deep at the time of David, but some such defence was required to provide the Jebusites with the military confidence they expressed. 8 The water channel was not an entrance into the city. It was filled with rapidly running water. How could anyone lead troops into this city?

The text says that David conquered the town by approaching through the water channel (wuh yee-gáh buh tsee-nóhr, ויגע בצנור). If the water was running at full speed, that would have seemed impossible. The walls would have been slippery, and the force of the water would have prevented any human movement through that large canal. David’s team probably had to break into the channel and turn away the water first. If they diverted the water, they could have climbed up the shaft — still with difficulty — but they also would have cut off the water supply for the city at the same time, forcing the Jebusites to surrender.

The spring is large and strong. It also swells every day, just the way `Old Faithful’ emerges in the state of Wyoming. That makes the water level in Hezekiah’s tunnel rise regularly. If Hezekiah’s tunnel were non-existent or dammed up, that water would be forced to rise up and fill that shaft and run through the tunnel to appear in the temple area. This is evidently the way it happened, and Josephus’ testimony tells exactly where the temple was. This channel was a huge tube through which water could be channelled from the spring to the temple, just as Aristeas and the temple scroll testify. If there had been a rope ladder at the east end of the tunnel, and the water had been turned off, Simon could probably have escaped through the spring. The fact that he confronted the Romans from the west end of the tunnel means that he had no other exit. 9

The topography and geography of Ezekiel’s vision fit perfectly, once it is recognized that the temple was closely associated with the Spring of Siloam that provided all of that water. He was learned in this geography. He would not have pictured a temple high on the dry hill north of the spring where there would have been no water to flow down to the Dead Sea. Enoch also claimed to have seen the holy mountain with a stream that flowed underneath that mountain toward the south (1 Enoch 26:2–3). There is no such stream flowing underneath the platform of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. All Warren could find was a sewage drain down the Tyropoeon Valley, but no water running into the Dome of the Rock area.

Hezekiah’s tunnel does not flow north, but it had been constructed before Ezekiel’s time. The holy mountain was obviously Mount Ophel, located just above the Spring of Siloam. This is the location which Josephus pinpointed — 600 feet south of the Roman city of Antonia and right at the western end of the water tunnel (War 6.144). It is also the location of which Ezekiel spoke, where the stream that flowed underneath the mountain also flowed underneath the temple near Siloam. That was a reference to Hezekiah’s tunnel. 10

Before Hezekiah’s tunnel, there would have been more water pouring through that canal than either the town or the temple required. Where did the water go? There are several possibilities.

  1. It might have filled the defence moat at the north edge of the town that Strabo described (Strabo, Geography 7.16, 2, 40), and after it was full, the run-off might have run either
  2. down the Tyropoeon Valley, where Warren found a huge sewage drain, or
  3. it might have run into the Kidron Valley, as the rabbis held.

Either way would have made an abundance of water available for those outside of the city, including foreign armies. Hezekiah’s tunnel was probably designed partly so that the amount of water that ran outside of the city could be controlled. The Chronicler said Hezekiah built that tunnel as part of his defence system against the Assyrians. He stopped up the water of the spring that was outside of the city (2 Chronicles 32:3). He must have built the tunnel to prevent the run-off from existing. This would have involved a system whereby part of the spring could still fill the water channel and provide all the needed water in the city, but the rest would have been channelled through the tunnel to the Pool of Siloam. Kathleen Kenyon thought the Pool of Siloam would have had a roof over it so that no one outside of the city would have known that it existed. 11

This meant that Hezekiah planned to have the spring controlled, without huge amounts of water pouring down the banks of the Kidron Valley to provide water for an attacking enemy. This would not have kept him from having a special pond near the spring to provide water for the Assyrians when they gathered — a special pond that could be poisoned from inside the city. The scripture does not say that the Jews poisoned the water the Assyrians drank, but it reports that Isaiah knew the day before that it was going to happen, and the military intelligence of the nation risked the lives of all the people in the city on the basis of their plan. True to their plan, there were 185,000 Assyrians dead in the Valley the next day.


None of us was there to see all of this happening, and there may be some flaws in this conjectured reconstruction of events, but there are several points that all come together to indicate the location of the temple behind the spring, in addition to all of the biblical testimony reported in the first article. Some of them are these:

  1. The testimony of Ezekiel, indicating the water flowing out from the temple to the Dead Sea.
  2. The testimony of Aristeas and the temple scroll of the huge amount of water that flowed through the temple area to wash away the bath water and the blood from the sacrifices.
  3. The testimony of Tacitus (Hist 11.12) and Enoch (1 Enoch 26:2–3) of the relationship of the flowing water to the temple.
  4. The anointing of Solomon at the spring of Gihon, because that was where the anointing oil was kept in the Tent of Meeting near the altar.
  5. Josephus told of a hand-to-hand battle that took place between Antonia and the temple and said the space was narrow for that purpose. It was only 600 feet wide (a stab-dái-ahn, σταδαιαν) (War 6.144). When he told that Simon appeared out of the ground at the very place where the temple had been (War 7.28–30), he provided still more specific information about the location of the temple.
  6. When attention is called to the water channel into which Simon was hiding, it suggests the way all of the water was brought up to the temple from the spring.

These facts and conjectures provide possible answers to questions that have puzzled historians and archaeologists for many years.

1   Buchanan, "From River to River," The Consequences of the Covenant (Leiden: Brill, 1970), 911-1103; "Withering Fig Trees and Progression in Midrash," The Gospels and the Scriptures of Israel, eds. C.A. Evans and W.R. Stegner (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, c. 11994), 252-69.

2   Hershel Shanks first aroused my interest in the City of David in his article, "Everything You Ever Know about Jerusalem is Wrong," Biblical Archeology Review 25.6 (1199), 20-25.

3   Y. Yadin (ed.), The Temple Scroll (Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, 11983), I, 222.

4   C. Warren, Underground Jerusalem (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1876), 352.

5   Remnants of the war continued, however, for two more years until Machaerus and Masada were taken.

6   A. Faust. "Yes, It Really Was Used to Draw Water," Biblical Archaeology Review 2-9.5 (2003), 70-76.

7   Faust, "Used to Draw Water," 73-74.

8   M. Steiner, Excavations by Kathleen Kenyon in Jerusalem 1961-1967, Vol. III (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 21, may have found that wall and moat.

9   For a different opinion see, H. Shanks, "I Climbed Warren's Shaft (But Joab Never Did)," Biblical Archaeology Review, 24.6 (1999), 31-35.

10  See E. Martin, The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot (Portland: ASK Publications, c. 2000), 277-80.

11  Kenyon, Jerusalem, 70-77.

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