At the very end of our first week in Israel, we went to the City of David and walked through Hezekiah’s tunnel. This was an important site to visit because this is where archaeologists have theorized they have found the remains of David’s City. It would have been established when King David conquered the Jebusites, bringing the Ark of the Covenant to the base of the mountain where Solomon and his son would build the first Temple. Today, the City of David is just outside the southern wall of the Old City. It is a popular tourist destination, and is described as “the birthplace of the city of Jerusalem.” King David is the ancestor of the House of David which is important to Christians as Jesus is understood to have been part of that lineage. King David is also important to Jews as the founder and builder of the Kingdom of Israel, fulfilling the promise that God made to Abraham.

As Robert Draper describes in “Kings of Controversy”: “He has persisted for three millennia—an omnipresence in art, folklore, churches, and census rolls. To Muslims, he is Daoud, the venerated emperor and servant of Allah. To Christians, he is the natural and spiritual ancestor of Jesus, who thereby inherits David’s messianic mantle. To the Jews, he is the father of Israel—the shepherd king anointed by God—and they in turn are his descendants and God’s Chosen People. That he might be something lesser, or a myth altogether, is to many unthinkable. “

It is a high-stakes claim, then, to state that a particular archaeological site is the City of David, as it not insignificantly, contributes to the historical claim over the region in which Israel has made.

This means that, of course, there is a great deal of debate and contention about what can definitively be said about the site know as the City of David. Something I learned on this trip is that the Biblical Archaeology Review makes for some very good reading. It seems that the BAR provides the space for archaeologists and scholars to propose their theories and provide their evidence and then also for rebuttals and counter-rebuttals from other scholars and archaeologists.

The National Geographic Article by Robert Draper “Kings of Controversy” is an excellent introduction to the debates around the City of David site. Eliat Mazar argues that she found King Davids palace. Other archaeologists suggest that the dating of the building is much later – even after the death of King Solomon, David’s son. Beyond the specific contentions and debates that it outlines, Draper provides a good introduction to the discourse in Biblical Archaeology and Ancient Archaeology in the Middle East about the relationship that should exist between the Bible and archaeological practises.

When we visited the site, we had an interesting discussion about this issue as well. To Danny, our guide, who is an archaeologist as well, the Bible is necessary to understand the sites that are being uncovered. “Take the Bible away from here and it’s just pottery shards and walls,” he said . And that seemed to be the general consensus in our group. There is a danger in digging to match what the Bible tells us, especially taking into consideration some of the Historical Critical Method and Theory around the study of the Hebrew Bible and its authors and potential aims. However, the Bible is a product of this region and it is an explanation of a people’s history, and we should be able to know something from the traditions and stories it holds, even if it is not an exact and precise history.

Having read and discussed the literature and some of the questions surrounding the site, we walked through the City of David site to Hezekiah’s Tunnel. It was a strange experience, the atmosphere felt more like an amusement park than an archaeological sit, and the main event seemed to be more the walk through Hezekiah’s Tunne, than to see the sites, such as the contested Palace of King David.

Hezekiah’s Tunnel was dug in preparation for the Assyrian king Senaccharib’s attack on Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E. in order to ensure that the people in Jerusalem would have access to the only fresh water source down in the Kidron Valley. The tunnel brought the water closer to the city to avoid the danger of going outside the city while it was under seige. Birthright groups, tourists, and school groups often make this visit – ourselves included.

So we walked past the contentious archaeological sites to a much later, still contested site. There is some debate (well summarized in Hershel Shanks BAR article “Will King Hezekiah Be Dislodged from His Tunnel?”) about whether the tunnel that is currently referred to as Hezekiah’s Tunnel was in fact dug at the time of Hezekiah or if it has been misidentified. We didn’t discuss that so much, being more concerned with how high the water level would get, whether we had the right footwear, and ensuring that we were all feeling comfortable to go through the tunnel.

It was so fun! I was exhilarated by the incredible oddity of the experience. How did it happen that I was able to walk through a tunnel presumed to have been dug in the 7th century BCE at some points nearly up to my thighs in water, sometimes doubling over and ducking low, and other times looking far above me at the top of the tunnel?

The two most incredible things that we saw were the point at which the digging teams coming from each side of the tunnel met each other – which can be determined because the chisel marks change direction – and the other was the replica of the Siloam Inscription placed by one of the digging teams describing the moment when the two could hear each other and finally were able to break through at the same level and same spot in the earth.

I got shivers thinking about that moment, thinking about the great human feat that digging this tunnel was, the ingenuity required for two teams digging from opposite ends of a slab of rock to meet up in the middle (not that they were perfect – there was some zigging and some zagging to try and find each other towards the middle). How incredible humans can be, I thought.