King David’s Tsinor Into the Jebusite City

Credit:, Jerusalem, City of David

In Deuteronomy 17, Moses continued to give Israel new laws. One grouping of laws related to the establishment of a kingship. “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you “a king the Lord your God chooses.” In Deuteronomy 18, instructions are given for Levites, including a Levite who “moves from one of your towns anywhere in Israel where he is living, and comes in all earnestness to the place the Lord will choose.” Deuteronomy 20 mentions how the Israelites are to treat the nations they are expected to conquer. “However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them, the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded you.

These laws come together in 2 Samuel 5. The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, which is the City of David. On that day David had said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the ‘tsinor’ to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.”

This is the lone use of the word ‘tsinor’ in the Bible, and so its exact meaning is not fully known. The term is generally believed to translate as tunnel or pipe, which is the current accepted meaning of the term.

The area known as the City of David lies to the south of today’s Jerusalem’s Old City walls, and it is believed to have been the site of the original city. The location was chosen because of the presence of a natural spring which emerged along the eastern side of the hill. That spring is known as the Gihon Spring.

The area below the eastern side of the hill is the Kidron Valley. In the Iron Age IIA, the Kidron Valley was deeper and steeper than it is today. Among the debates about the archaeological record is how the city would have defended itself at the time, if the valley was steep enough to provide a natural defense or if it had a defensive wall.

A key consideration for the city’s residents would have been to ensure access to the Gihon Spring during a siege or attack by an enemy. A defensive wall along the eastern edge, with a north and south wall running down to a tower that enclosed the Gihon Spring was discovered. Its date is disputed, with some placing it in the Middle Bronze Age II, and others positing a date in the Iron II, at least 600+ years later.

In the 19th century, the British archaeologist Sir Charles Warren unearthed what is known as Warren’s Shaft. Warren’s Shaft is a vertical shaft that leads directly down the Gihon Spring, From this shaft, city residents would have been able to draw water safely from within the city. As with the water tower along the eastern hill, its dating is a matter of dispute.

While the timing of these water access points is disputed, it offers two possible explanations for the ‘tsinor’ from which King David’s men were said to enter, and ultimately conquer “the place the Lord will choose,” Jerusalem. David’s men could have entered via the tunnel passageway to the spring or via a vertical shaft leading to the spring.

In recognition of the ways King David’s men might have entered the Jebusite city, a song: