Israelis Excited over Hezekiah Inscriptions – Old and New
By: Annaliese Johnson, ICEJ Staff Writer
An Israeli professor recently caused waves among archaeologists by claiming he had discovered new ancient Hebrew inscriptions in Hezekiah’s tunnel in Jerusalem that mirror passages in the Old Testament. The debate over these inscriptions comes as Israel is celebrating 75 years of independence amid rising hopes that the original “Siloam Inscription”— found in the same man-made water channel and carted off by the Ottomans more than a century ago—may be returned by Turkey during this special anniversary year.
Prof. Gershon Galil recently announced that he has identified and deciphered these new Hebraic inscriptions carved in the walls of King Hezekiah’s tunnel in the ancient City of David, located in the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem. He explained the inscriptions were there in plain sight all along but needed a trained eye to distinguish the ancient lettering from ordinary chisel marks.
Galil claimed the carved letters not only repeat the Siloam Inscription, which describes the digging of the underground water tunnel connecting the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, but they also give a more complete account of the reign of King Hezekiah. They date the tunnel’s completion to the second of Tammuz during his seventeenth year as king (709 BC) and reference other notable events under his rule, including reforms and “the wars against Philistia.” Several lines apparently repeat certain verses found in 2 Kings 18 and 20 almost verbatim.
If accurate, the finds would further verify the biblical account of Hezekiah’s kingship, strengthening the view that the biblical books on Israel’s kings are based on actual chronicles and royal inscriptions from that era.
However, critics insist Galil has failed to provide photos and other evidence for a proper peer review, a complaint common to several of his other recent far-reaching claims. Prof. Galil has responded that all his proofs will soon be published in an upcoming book.
If his claims are true, one expert said this would be “one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Israel of all time.” Most notably, it would replace the Ketef Hinnom silver amulets as the oldest Hebrew writings used to authenticate the Bible.
The Ketef Hinnom silver amulets, which date to 600 BC, contain roughly 100 Hebrew words in 12 lines that match the Aaronic blessing found in Numbers 6:24–26. In contrast, this latest discovery consists of 11 lines of inscriptions denoting Hezekiah as king of Judah and listing his main accomplishments.
The Siloam Inscription
Of course, King Hezekiah’s most enduring feat is the 533-meter tunnel cut in bedrock that bears his name. Visited by millions of people over recent decades, it is referenced in the famous “Siloam Inscription,” which dates back 2,700 years. Discovered in 1880, the Siloam Inscription is a stone slab with ancient Hebraic lettering that marks the spot where work ended on the extensive tunnel King Hezekiah had dug to protect the walled city of Jerusalem’s water supply during times of siege. The historic stone was taken to Istanbul during the waning days of Ottoman rule in the land several decades before the nation of Israel was reborn.
While previous discussions between Jerusalem and Ankara have failed to secure the return of the highly prized artifact, Israeli President Isaac Herzog broached the subject in his official state visit to Turkey last fall. Given Jerusalem’s relations with Turkey are on the mend, it has raised hopes that the Hezekiah stone may finally come home in time for Israel’s 75th anniversary in May.
Whether or not this national treasure is returned soon, we should all be grateful that Israel has been free to uncover its rich biblical heritage ever since Jewish sovereignty was restored in the land in 1948, leading to one incredible find after another in the exciting field of biblical archaeology. With any other sovereign in the land of Israel, these biblical gems likely would have remained buried or been sold on the black market and lost to history.
This was amply demonstrated by the saga of the Dead Sea Scrolls, first discovered near Qumran in the Judean wilderness in 1947—just before Israel’s rebirth. It was Israeli academics who first alerted the world to the enormity of their discovery and began collecting and preserving the Dead Sea Scrolls for proper examination.