The Pool of Siloam

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken January 8, 2006

We do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God because this is something that we can prove historically or archaeologically. Rather, we believe it because the Holy Spirit has taught us to accept what the Bible says about itself, namely, that it is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16), and therefore that it speaks to us with divine authority. Nevertheless, even though our faith does not depend on archaeology, the facts of history confirm the truth of Scripture, encouraging our faith and helping to show how reasonable it is to believe in the God of the Bible.

An exciting discovery is giving people a fresh glimpse of a place that is mentioned in the Bible but has remained hidden from view since nearly the time of Christ. The discovery was made in June 2004 by an archaeologist who was watching municipal workers replace a sewer pipe in the City of David, south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (these days it is typical for the Israeli Antiquities Authority to ensure that archaeologists are present whenever work is done anywhere under the ancient city of Jerusalem). On this particular occasion, construction equipment exposed the stones of two ancient steps. The work was halted, and another leading archaeologist immediately identified the steps as belonging to the Pool of Siloam.

Siloam is mentioned already in the prophet Isaiah, who chided the Israelites for craving the rushing rivers of Assyria rather than resting content with the quiet waters of Jerusalem (Isa. 8:6-8). It was around the same time that King Hezekiah built his famous tunnel to protect Jerusalem's water supply from Assyrian attack—a tunnel that runs from Jerusalem's ancient springs to the Pool of Siloam. Nehemiah tells us that many years later, when Jerusalem was rebuilt after the exile, a godly worker named Shallum built a wall for the pool near the king's garden (Neh. 3:15).

Siloam was a landmark for Israel from ancient times. However, the pool is perhaps most famous for a miracle that was performed there by the Son of God. The apostle John tells us that Jesus met a man who was blind from birth. In order to show the works of God, Jesus “spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ ” (John 9:6-7). That is exactly what the man did: “he went and washed and came back seeing” (John 9:7).

Pilgrims have been visiting the site of this miraculous cure since the fifth century. However, they have been going to the wrong pool—one located nearby, at the end of Hezekiah's tunnel. But that was a later pool, much smaller than the Siloam that Jesus knew. Recent excavations show that the older Pool of Siloam was in the shape of a trapezoid, with sides as long as 225 feet—more than half the length of a football field. This huge pool had three sets of five steps running all the way around the perimeter and allowing easy access to the water at a variety of depths. It must have looked magnificent, especially to the man in the gospels who saw it when Jesus opened his eyes for the first time in his entire life.

How do archaeologists know that the newly discovered pool is the one that Jesus knew, not a later one, and not the one that was built in the time of Hezekiah, or Nehemiah? They know because they also discovered Jewish and Roman coins embedded in the plaster that cemented the pool together—coins which prove that the pool was in use in the first century before and the first century after Christ. It is exciting to know that this is the pool where the man who was born blind received his sight—the very pool that Jesus certainly knew and probably visited.

It is also encouraging to be able to confirm—even if only in a small way—a fact from the Gospel of John, which has often been accused of being historically unreliable. John is markedly different from the other three gospels, including in matters of apparent chronology, and these differences have led some scholars to conclude that John was not trying to write a factual account of the life of Christ, but to write a supposedly more spiritual gospel that cannot be used as the basis for knowing the facts about Jesus. But the discovery of the Pool of Siloam is a reminder that John, too, was writing about real miracles that the real Jesus performed in the real city of Jerusalem, in places that John saw with his own eyes.

What Jesus did—and what John said about what Jesus did—are as real as the stone steps that modern-day pilgrims can now see in the City of David, near the Temple Mount, at the Pool of Siloam. Everything else in John's gospel is just as real, including the cross where John said that Jesus was crucified (John 19:18), and the empty tomb where John saw the folded grave clothes and believed that Jesus was risen (John 20:8).

We cannot see these things for ourselves, but the recent discovery of the Pool of Siloam reminds us that John did see them, and by the faith that comes from the Holy Spirit, we can take him at his word. “That which was from the beginning,” John wrote in his first epistle, “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (1 John 1:1-3).

[Information for this Window on the World comes from Hershel Shanks, “Where Jesus Cured the Blind Man,” Biblical Archaeology Review (September/October, 2005), pp. 16-23]

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