2,000-Year-Old Escape Tunnel
By Netanel Doron, Israel Today, November 04, 2007

The surprise discovery of an ancient drainage tunnel in Jerusalem provides archeologists with insight into life in the Jewish capital during the Second Temple period.

Israeli archaeologists stumbled upon an important historical find outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, on the steep road leading down to the Pool of Siloam where Jesus healed the blind man (John 9:1-11). They had been digging in the area for three months, searching for what was the main road in Jerusalem during biblical times.

The sudden collapse of a stone wall revealed a hole, and when archeologists Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich climbed in the spectacle before them took their breath away. They found themselves in a well-preserved tunnel made of hewn stones, about seven meters (yards) below today’s streets. It is about 70 meters long, 2 to 2.5 meters high and 1 meter wide.

“The discovery of the tunnel was a total surprise,” Shukron told Israel Today during a tour of the site. “As we were entering, we also discovered the street we were searching for, above us. The street was used by Jewish pilgrims to ascend to the Temple on the three great pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot [the Feast of Weeks] and Sukkot [the Feast of Tabernacles].”

Small tributaries leading into the tunnel at regular intervals brought them to the conclusion that the tunnel was a drainage canal for the city’s rain water. This canal was mentioned by the renowned Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his book The Jewish War. He wrote that during the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, Jews used the tunnel to escape from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and the fortress of Masada, where they went into hiding.

Some important artifacts were found in the tunnel, including coins, oil lamps and pottery shards dating to the first century AD.

“The tunnel provides insight into Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple,” said Reich. “I have been an archaeologist for 40 years, and every now and then we experience surprises like this one.”