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Apologetics Press :: Reason & Revelation
August 1994 - 14[8]:63-64

He Climbed Up the Waterspout
by Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.

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As David stood before the city of Jerusalem, the Jebusites, confident of their city’s natural and manufactured fortifications, taunted him: “You shall not come in here; but the blind and the lame will repel you...” (2 Samuel 5:6). In response, David persuaded his army: “Whoever climbs up by way of the water shaft and defeats the Jebusites...he shall be chief and captain” (2 Samuel 5:8). The parallel account in first Chronicles indicates that Joab accepted and accomplished David’s challenge (11:6).

For years, scholars have debated the exact means by which Joab penetrated the city’s fortification, questioning the translation of 2 Samuel 5:8, its historicity, or both. Yigal Shiloh, who re-examined the waterworks in the City of David (ancient Jerusalem), argued that such shafts as that mentioned by David appear on the historical scene after the time he conquered Jerusalem (1981, 7[4]:39). Hence, supposedly there was no water shaft at Jerusalem through which Joab could have entered the ancient city.

Translation considerations do not resolve this tension. The Hebrew word translated “water shaft” (2 Samuel 5:6) is tsinnor. This word appears only one other time in the Hebrew text, where it is translated “waterfalls” (Psalm 42:7), which is consistent with the aquatic imagery of this psalm. Further, the related word tsanterot appears in Zechariah 4:12, and means “pipes” or “tubes” (cf. Harris, 1980, 2:771; Kleven, 1994, 20[4]:34). Biblical usage, therefore, links tsinnor with a conduit of water, which is consistent with the traditionally accepted translation appearing in English versions. Additionally, Ugaritic texts corroborate the translation in 2 Samuel 5:8 as a type of water shaft (Kleven, 1994, 20[4]:35).

Cut-away view of the waterworks beneath the City of David (after Gill, 1994, 20[4]:24). Geologist Dan Gill has shown that ancient inhabitants merely modified a natural system of shafts and conduits formed by water eroding and dissolving limestone and dolomite rock. Joab’s assault force could have entered through the Gihon Spring and Warren’s Shaft, or through a conduit exiting on the eastern slope. At some unknown date, the spring’s drainage was diverted from the Kidron Valley, transforming Warren’s Shaft into a well, which was accessible via tunnels from behind the walls of the city. In 701 B.C., Hezekiah enlarged the conduit from the spring, bringing water 1748 feet into the Siloam pool.

Therefore, if Shiloh is correct, there is a serious problem with the Bible’s integrity. How could David speak of a water shaft that was non-existent? Recently, Dan Gill, the geologist on Shiloh’s staff, suggested that there were at least two points outside the city’s wall through which Joab could have entered Jerusalem by stealth: (1) from the Gihon Spring and up Warren’s Shaft; and (2) through a tunnel that exists on the eastern slope (1994, 20[4]:30). Warren’s Shaft, discovered in 1867 by Captain Charles Warren (and named after him), provided the ancient city with guarded access to the Gihon Spring, which lay outside the city’s protective wall. The irregular dimensions of the channel suggest that Warren’s Shaft was not humanly contrived initially; rather, in all likelihood it was a naturally occurring sinkhole (erosion shaft) caused by water percolating through dolomite (see Shanks, 1985, 11[6]:38). Thus, before artificial water systems became architectural norms in royal centers, the Jebusites had access to a much-coveted water supply. It is reasonable to believe that the Jebusites’ city was well known for this unusual accommodation. Fortunately for David, that convenience was the city’s Achilles heel.

Warren’s Shaft most likely was the aperture through which Joab ascended—a valiant feat that led to the demise of David’s unsuspecting enemy, and won him a place of honor in his king’s army. We can be certain of one thing: the physical evidence suggests that there was a water shaft at the ancient Jebusite city as mentioned by David. Thus, archaeological and geological data are consistent with the biblical record, and corroborate its historical reliability.


Gill, Dan (1994), “How They Met,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 20[4]:21-33,64, July/August.

Harris, Laird, Gleason Archer, and Bruce Waltke, eds. (1980), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody), 2:771.

Kleven, Terence (1994), “Up the Waterspout,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 20[4]:34-35, July/August.

Shanks, Hershel (1985), “The City of David After Five Years of Digging,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 11[6]:22-38, November/December.

Shiloh, Yigal (1981), “Jerusalem’s Water Supply During Siege: The Rediscovery of Warren’s Shaft,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 7[4]:24-39, July/August.

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