JERUSALEM (VINnews) — In the wake of Israeli President Yitzchak Herzog’s historic visit to Turkey and the warming of relations between the countries, Turkey has agree to return to Israel an ancient inscription from Jerusalem, currently housed in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.
The inscription, from the Shiloach tunnel, is considered one of the most important ancient Hebrew inscriptions in existence. The tunnel itself was discovered in 1838 by Edward Robinson and extensively researched by many archaeologists. However they did not succeed in locating the inscription, which was found in 1880 by a 16-year-old London pupil who was touring the tunnel. The Ottoman empire claimed ownership of all archaeological artefacts found in Palestine and the inscription, which was removed in 1890, was transferred to Istanbul.
The inscription records the construction of the tunnel, which has been dated to the 8th century BCE on the basis of the writing style. It is the only known ancient inscription from ancient Israel and Judah which commemorates a public construction work, despite such inscriptions being commonplace in Egyptian and Mesopotamian archaeology. The inscription provides concrete historical support for the biblical account of the construction of a tunnel which brought water from the Pool of Siloam to the City of David, below the southern edge of the Temple Mount, during the reign of King Hezekiah.
An official with President Herzog’s entourage said that Israel has offered in return to send Turkey a valuable historical and religiously significant item currently housed in an Israeli museum, most likely an ancient candelabra from the days of Ottoman rule.
The six-line inscription in ancient Hebrew script found etched into the wall of the tunnel describes the excavators, working from opposite ends, calling to one another near the completion of the project. The construction of the tunnel is recounted in the biblical books of Melachim and Divrei Hayamim.
The inscription reads: “… this is the story of the tunnel, while [the hewers lifted] their axes toward their counterparts, and while three cubits more were to (be hewn?), was heard the voice of a man calling to his counterpart, (for) there was [a crack?] in the rock, on the right and on the left. And on the day of [the final barrier’s] piercing, the stonecutters struck each man towards his counterpart, ax against ax and water flowed from the source to the pool for 1,200 cubits and 100 cubits was the height of the rock, over the head of the stonecutters …”
On previous occasions Israel has tried to obtain the inscription from Turkey without success. Former President Shimon Peres had requested that it be loaned to Israel for its 70th anniversary but the request did not materialize as relations between the countries deteriorated over Israel’s blockade of the Gaza strip.
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said he offered in 1998 to trade Turkish antiquities in Israeli museums for the inscription but was turned down.