The Bible purports to be an historical document. The Old Testament chronicles the encounters and relationships of the people who descend from a man named Abraham who came from the region of Ur, which is currently southwest Iraq. Many people dismiss the Old Testament, and the Bible as a whole, as religious myth, but historical and geographical references suggest there is more to the Bible than myth.
The focus of the Old Testament is on the purported relationship of these people to their God, and most of the detail involves the relational aspect of these people to God, themselves and other people. In the course of this chronicle, many historical details are given.
If the Bible were myth, the historical details would not add up. Indeed, many (if not most) modern people, including eminent archaeologists and historians, discount the historical and archaeological value of the Bible. Many of the historical details, however, have been borne out by historical and archaeological evidence. One example is King Hezekiah’s tunnel.
First, a little background is helpful. After the reign of King Solomon ended in 930 BC, these descendants of Abraham, split into two nations: ten of the “tribes” formed Israel, the northern kingdom with its capital City, Samaria, and three tribes (Judah, Levi and Benjamin) formed the southern kingdom of Judah, with Jerusalem its capital.
The northern kingdom turned completely away from God and the commandments and rituals they had been instructed to follow. They turned to the worship of the gods of the indigenous people that they allowed to remain in the land God told them to clear. The reign of the kings of Israel ended after Samaria was overrun and fell to the Assyrians in 722.
Before Sennacherib attacked Israel, Judah made peace by offering to pay whatever tribute Sennacherib demanded, and Judah obliged though the demand was large. Hezekiah followed the 16-year reign of his father who did not follow God’s commands and closed the temple to worship in Jerusalem. Before he took over the throne, most of Judah had become subservient to Assyria that had conquered Israel. Though Judah remained sovereign, Judah paid tribute to the Assyrian horde. King Hezekiah reigned 29 years from 716-687, starting after the northern kingdom was overrun, and his rule was shadowed by the threat of Assyria right on the border of Judah.
Hezekiah instituted sweeping reforms, restoring the temple worship and ordering the removal of the pagan idols throughout Judah. Hezekiah turned the nation of Judah back to their God. During his years of power, Hezekiah wrote Psalms 120-134, and Proverbs 25–29. For 14 years, Judah paid tribute to Assyria while Hezekiah was busy reforming the kingdom, restoring the temple worship and ridding Jerusalem of idols.
Then, Hezekiah stood up to the King of Assyria and stopped paying the tribute. Assyrian King Sennacherib responded by attacking the fortified border cities and conquered them easily. Anticipating an eventual siege, Hezekiah plugged the wells and springs in the countryside and blocked the irrigation system for the fields that sprawled out from the city which sat on a fortified rock plateau. He also dug a long tunnel in the rock under the city, effectively diverting the spring that irrigated the fields under the city to a pool within the city walls.
The city withstood the siege that followed until Sennacherib was called away to attend to an attack on Assyria launched by Egypt. The Assyrian army that remained around Jerusalem was struck by a plague, and 185,000 Assyrian soldiers died. Sennacherib was assassinated while he was away, and Judah gained its complete independence.
At this point, a twist happens. Hezekiah became ill to the point of death. The prophet, Isaiah came to him and told him to “set your house in order” in preparation for death. Hezekiah wept before God, and God told Isaiah that He heard the King’s cry and would give him 15 more years to live. (2 Kings 20)
Being skeptical, the King asked for a sign that the prediction (promise) was true. Isaiah asked him what he wanted for a sign. When Hezekiah asked for the shadow on the wall to retreat from where it came, Isaiah “cried to the Lord”, and the shadow retreated back ten steps up the stairs by which it had gone down. The summary of Hezekiah’s life in 2 Kings is concluded with these words:
Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah and all his might, and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? (2 Kings 20:20)
I will get to the “pool and conduit” of water shortly, as that is the focus of this blog article. First, however, I note that the focus of Hezekiah’s story in the Old Testament is on his relationship to God.
He was a godly man for most of his career, but that changed, ironically, after God healed him of the fatal illness. After he was healed, rather than live out his life in thanksgiving and obedience to God, Hezekiah became proud. (2 Chron. 32:25)
When diplomats came from Babylon with a message of congratulations for standing up to Sennacherib, the King passed up the opportunity to glorify God for delivering Judah. Instead, Hezekiah showed the emissaries his armory and treasury. The prophet, Isaiah, reprimanded Hezekiah for his lack of faith and predicted the Babylonian captivity that would come to pass 100 years later.
The character of the king and his responses and relation to God are the key points of the biblical account. The historical, archaeological geological and geographical references are just part of the story. They aren’t the main focus, however, they lend some credence to the more spiritual focus of the story. Of particular interest is the following statement:
This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David. (2 Chron. 32:20)
The project resulted in what is now known as Hezekiah’s tunnel and can be visited and explored today. Hezekiah’s Tunnel is an historical fact and is just one example of the historical context of the biblical accounts There are many other archaeological examples of biblical accounts as well.
In fact, though many scholars deny it, modern archaeological discoveries continue to affirm biblical accounts. Sometimes the proof even comes from outside the region of the biblical accounts (Assyrian historical records match exactly the time frame recorded in the Biblical record). The archaeological proof of Hezekiah’s tunnel is just one of them.