Last week, excavators announced the completion of 110 years of excavation at the Spring Fortress of biblical Jerusalem. The fortress is today located inside the subterranean portion of the City of David national park, in the renovated section just past Warren’s Shaft.
It was originally built by the Jebusites who founded Jerusalem, approximately 3800 years ago. According to archaeologists, the fortress sat above the Gihon spring, protecting the city’s main water source from enemies and permitting access to citizens.
When King David conquered the city in about 1000 B.C.E., the fortress played a major role in his campaign. Shmuel II, chapter 5, as well as parallel chapters in Chronicles, relate that King David challenged his soldiers to reach the “Tzinor” in the battle for Jerusalem. Sure enough, David’s nephew Yoav Ben Tzruya was brave enough to capture the mysterious “Tzinor” and enter the city – but Tanach doesn’t offer any sure clues as to how he did it or what the Tzinor was.
Enter The famed British explorer Charles Warren. In 1867, Warren explored the temple mount seeking out Solomon’s catacombs. When the Muslim Waqf put the kibosh on his excavations, Warren continued in the South of the city, by the spring of Um el Daraje (today known to be the biblical Gihon). Warren discovered a 13 meter vertical shaft extending from the surface of the water up into a subterranean passageway, accessible by rock cut stairs from inside the city wall. He reasoned that the shaft served as a well for citizens, who would access it securely from within the walls via the passageway. It was this entire system, and the shaft in particular, which Warren Christened the “Tzinor” of old. Tzinor in modern Hebrew (indeed, as far back as the Mishnah) translates as “pipe” or “gutter.”
Warren’s identification of the Tzinor as the water system was compelling, an historical/archaeological tour-de-force. But was it true? In the last decade, Ronnie Reich and Eli Shukron excavated the area of Warren’s Shaft. They demonstrated that the shaft itself was not dug by human hands but dissolved by dripping water. Worse still, the lower portion of the passageway, including the shaft, were not dug out until centuries after King David – Yoav could perforce not have used the shaft to access the city – the identity of the Tzinor once again remained a mystery.
Ahh but where does a Jew go when matters of biblical definition are unclear? To the commentators of course. Knowing that the word Tzinor has no clear biblical definition in either of the only two places it appears in Tanach, Rashi, Radak, Metzudos Dovid and more translated the word Tzinor for us as “tower”. Perhaps it was such an important tower as the one guarding the strategically crucial spring. David captured the city in one decisive maneuver, by sending his general Yoav to capture the singular water source. Once done, there was no need for further action – or further biblical note. Indeed, medieval Jewish Rabbis knew the lay of the land in Biblical Jerusalem better than 19th century archaeologists.