The Tsinnor (2 Samuel 5)

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The word translated as “water shaft” in 2 Samuel 5:8 is the Hebrew word tsinnor. Used in only one other Biblical passage (Psalm 42:7), the term’s interpretation has long been debated by scholars. It is apparent from the context that the tsinnor was a means of conquering the city. While some suggest meanings such as “dagger”, “hook” or “grappling-iron”, the context of Psalm 42:7 (where the NIV translates tsinnor as “water-falls”) implies that the word in 2 Samuel 5:8 has to do with the water system. ognates (words related by descent from the same ancestral language) from Aramaic and Ugaritic also indicate the tsinnor refers to a watercourse, shaft or tunnel. This implies that Joab led the charge through an underground waterway (cf. 1 Chronicles 11:6).

At one time archaeologists thought that the site known as “Warren’s Shaft” (pictured above) was the tsinnor. From the top of Warren’s Shaft a stepped tunnel leads to an above-ground entrance inside the Canaanite city wall. Joab was thought to have entered the water system through the Gihon spring and climbed up the once narrow shaft to conquer the city.

New discoveries made since 1995, however, have shed new light on this water system. It now appears that the stepped tunnel that leads from the entrance to Warren’s Shaft did not have its present form until the eighth century B.C. In Joab’s time the top of Warren’s Shaft was still buried 1,2 m below the floor of the tunnel. Joab’s entrance into the city via the tsinnor had to have been by some other water source or passage. As helpful as archaeology is in bringing the Bible to life, it is important to realize that old conclusions often need to be revisited in light of more recent excavation and analysis.


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