Water Supply

Rain and dew were the main sources of water. West of the Jordan streams usually dried up outside the rainy season (cf. Amos 5:24 where a "permanent torrent" is seen as an unusual blessing). Since many parts of Israel are almost without rain from May to September cisterns and wells are vital.


Water was stored in large holes cut into rock (best for retaining water) or dug in soil and lined with lime to make them waterproof (easier, but less effective, a cracked cistern was a terrible waste of a vital resource, cf. Jer 2:13).

To minimize evaporation cisterns had small entrance holes that were plugged with stone stoppers like the one shown. (Both pictures are of a cistern at Kirbet Taqu`a from Clifford)

Iron tools made good cisterns less difficult to cut, and so the highlands of Palestine really became economically viable for a larger population in the Iron Age (which roughly corresponds to the time of Israel's installation in Canaan).

Wells and springs

Even though there was no perennial stream, there might still have been permanent availability of water under the surface. Such sources were necessary for the large numbers of people who form a city. For defense, cities were built on higher ground, thus the well or spring (which are low lying) was usually outside the walls. Since this was vulnerable in time of war, elaborate water supply systems developed for the major cities, such as those at: Megiddo, Jerusalem and Hazor.

The water tunnel at Megiddo is some 60m in length

These systems varied according to the situation, essentially the aim was to provide access to the well or spring from inside the city walls and then cover over and hide the outside entrance. Usually this meant tunneling.

The entrance to the spring at Megiddo was blocked by a wall and then soil fill

At Megiddo the main system is believed to have been produced in the 9th Century BCE. There the spring was at the base of the steep sided mound on which the city is built. A huge pit (34m/115ft deep) - its sides lined with stone to prevent erosion - was dug into the hill down to the level of this spring. At the top digging was easy as here they were digging through the rubble of centuries of previous occupants. When they reached rock, excavation must have been slow! 

After the pit an access tunnel was cut (60m/200ft horizontally) out to the water. There a wall was built and the entrance covered with earth and plants to protect the spring from enemies.


This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,

© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.