The Pool of Siloam is the second of two pools in Jerusalem associated with healing miracles of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John. After approaching a blind man and placing clay over his eyes, Jesus instructed the man to go wash in the Pool of Siloam, and he returned with the ability to see (John 9:1-11). The Pool of Bethesda was located in northeast Jerusalem, just outside the walls during the time of Jesus and immediately north of the Temple Mount. The Pool of Siloam was located on the opposite side of the city, near the southeast corner but within the walls of Jerusalem. Josephus placed the Pool of Siloam in southeast Jerusalem near the turning point of the wall, and was an important reference from antiquity for correctly locating the remains of the pool (Josephus, Wars, 5.140-145). The name Siloam, from the Hebrew verb shalach, means, “sent” (Brown et al., Enhanced BDB Hebrew and English Lexicon, 1018; John 9:7). The name apparently designated an area of ancient Jerusalem, and it is mentioned in the books of Isaiah, Nehemiah, Luke, and John (Isaiah 8:6; Nehemiah 3:15; Luke 13:4; John 9:7). While the English translation of the name may vary by book as Shiloah/Shelah/Siloam, all of the renderings come from the same ancient Hebrew name.
It is clear from ancient sources that the Pool of Siloam was still in use during the time of Jesus and Josephus, but it eventually became covered over after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and “lost” to history for centuries. The area of the Pool of Siloam was at the low corner of southeast Jerusalem, down the slopes from the rest of the city, which rise to the north and the west. Because of this, deposits of debris, mud, and dust from the rains, winds, and destruction of the city would have covered the area relatively quickly. Archaeological excavations in the neighborhood of Siloam demonstrate that an upper pool was originally constructed in the time of King Hezekiah in the 8th century BC, apparently in conjunction with the carving of an approximately 1,750 foot water tunnel. Hezekiah’s Tunnel deposited water into this pool system from the Gihon Spring (2 Kings 20:20; Isaiah 22:9). In 587 BC the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, including the area of Siloam. Just after 444 BC, Nehemiah led the people in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, as well a pool in the neighborhood of Siloam (Nehemiah 3:15).
A few scholars thought the Pool of Siloam mentioned in the Gospel of John was slightly southeast of the “upper pool” due to geographical analysis and descriptions in Josephus, but that it had become covered by the ravages of destruction and time. However, the upper Pool of Hezekiah came to be traditionally considered the Pool of Siloam at least as early as the 5th century AD, when the Byzantine Empress Aelia Eudocia commissioned a church to be built there. The church was destroyed by the Persians in 614 AD, but ruins of the church indicated to archaeologists that the Pool of Siloam in the time of Jesus had been located there, since in most places Byzantine churches correctly marked the locations of significant events in the life of Jesus. Archaeology has revealed remains from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD at this upper pool under the Byzantine ruins, but no material was found from the 1st century, indicating that the site had been incorrectly identified as the 1st century Pool of Siloam. In this case, the confusion was probably a result of the covering of the lower pool after the destruction of Jerusalem. However, in 2004, about 200 feet southeast of the upper pool, the lower Pool of Siloam was rediscovered by accident during repair work on the sewer system. The existence of this pool was hypothesized previously, and a few scholars had suggested it as the 1st century Pool of Siloam, but it had not been exposed since antiquity (Paton, Jerusalem in Bible Times, 170-171). While only partially excavated, it is likely that the entire pool is intact due to the rapid covering after 70 AD that provided protection to the structure.
The Pool of Siloam is approximately 225 feet long, and roughly rectangular in shape like the Pool of Bethesda, although with corners measuring slightly over 90 degrees it is more aptly described as a trapezoid. The stones used in construction are local white limestone, and cut in precise rectangular blocks. Excavations have revealed a design of 3 sets of 5 steps leading down into the pool, with an open area just above the lowest set of steps, which may have been built to accommodate varying water levels. The rest of the pool has yet to be excavated, as most of the land above the pool is covered by an orchard which the Greek Orthodox Church identifies as the King’s Garden and has not yet given permission to excavate (Nehemiah 3:15). In the soil in one corner of the pool, at least 12 coins have been found from both the time of Alexander Jannaeus (ca. 104-76 BC) and the first Judean Revolt against Rome (ca. 66-70 AD), with the latest coin bearing the quote “4 years to the day of the Great Revolt,” indicating 69 AD as the year. The construction workers who built the pool placed four coins minted by Alexander Jannaeus in the original plastered steps, which were later overlaid with stone in the remodeling of the pool, which probably occurred either in the time of Herod the Great or Herod Agrippa. Pottery of the 1st century was also discovered in excavations of the pool. The coins demonstrate that the lower pool was in use from at least the 1st century BC until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, indicating that the pool had begun to be filled in at the time of the Roman destruction or soon after. Earlier remains under the stone steps suggest that it had first been built in the time of the Hasmoneans and then remodeled.
From the upper pool, a channel ran to the lower pool, where the water was held in what seems to have been a ritual washing pool in the 1st century AD. As the Gihon Spring was the source of water for the pool, it would have been an obvious choice for ritual washing due to the “living water” that flowed into the pool. The extensive size of the pool has led many to suggest that it may have been used by pilgrims visiting Jerusalem for the three major annual feasts before they walked up to the Temple. This is supported by the discovery of a massive 1st century street consisting of steps that led up to the Temple Mount, providing easy access from the pool and the southeastern part of the city. Artifact discoveries at the pool, such as a bell that could have been part of the priestly attire and an engraving of a menorah, also indicate ritual use of the pool. This accords with records in the Talmud about a tradition performed during the Feast of Tabernacles in which a priest would take a golden vessel to the Pool of Siloam, fill it with water, bring it back to the Temple, and then pour the water on one of the sides of the altar as a libation offering while another priest poured a wine libation offering on the other side (Sukk 4.9). Apparently there was also a tower of Siloam in this area, although the exact location has not yet been discovered (Luke 13:4). It has also been suggested that the Pool of Siloam may have been turned into the Nymphaeum, or Shrine of the Four Nymphs, by Hadrian during the building of Aelia Capitolina (Chronicon Paschale, 119). While this would be consistent with the pattern of Hadrian building pagan temples and shrines over sites associated with Jesus, the numismatic and ceramic evidence indicates that the pool was not in use from 70 AD until its recent rediscovery. However, remains from the 2nd century AD were discovered at the upper pool. Perhaps the Nymphaeum covered the upper pool section of the Pool of Siloam and that is why the Byzantines later built a church on that location rather than at the “lost” lower pool.