Azal (אצל), or Azel (e.g., NIV bible), is the location mentioned in Zechariah 14:5 in bibles that use the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) as the source for this verse.
In bibles that follow the Greek Septuagint (LXX) rendering, depending upon the source manuscript used, Azal is transcribed Jasol (ιασολ, pronounced Yasol), Jasod (a corruption of Jasol), or Asael (ασαηλ):
The reason that there are two different versions of Zechariah 14:5 is because a Hebrew verb that occurs three times in this verse can be pronounced two different ways, which results in two very different meanings. The LXX, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures made nearly 1000 years before the MT was fully redacted, has one meaning (it shall be closed/blocked up), and the MT has the other (you shall flee). These very different translations obscure a clear understanding of Zechariah 14:5. Another obscurant factor is an almost universal ignorance, existent for many centuries until now, of what and where Azal is, or was. This is largely due to the fact that no known writing authored prior to the late 19th century clarifies this mystery.
Discovery of Azal
During the period 1873-74, Charles Clermont-Ganneau, a renowned linguist and archaeologist in Palestine, explored a number of ancient tombs in a valley immediately south of Jerusalem that the local Arab peasants called Wadi Yâsûl (wadi is the Arabic word for river or valley). Based on linguistic evidence and its proximity to Jerusalem, Clermont-Ganneau proposed that Wadi Yâsûl is Azal:
“But, as with so many other Arabic topographical words, we may very likely have here an ancient geographical name … most [bible] commentators agree in regarding [Azal] as a place situated not far from Jerusalem, but otherwise unknown. May we not find it at Yâsûl, whose name agrees with it letter for letter?”
In agreement with Clermont-Ganneau’s discovery, the Israel Government Names Committee (IGNC) in 1955 named Wadi Yasul, Nahal Azal (נחל אצל); nahal (נחל) means river or valley, and Azal (אצל) is the same spelling (English and Hebrew) as Azal (אצל) in Zechariah 14:5. This naming followed the IGNC’s policy of seeking the Hebrew origins of place names that survived in the Arabic, Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek and Roman languages, and naming bible locations according to their English biblical spellings (e.g., Azal) rather than phonetically (e.g., Atzal, the Hebrew pronunciation of Azal).
Consequently, it is now common knowledge in Jerusalem that Wadi Yasul/Nahal Azal is biblical Azal. Online examples of this include:
- An American Girl in Jerusalem (3rd paragraph): “This is the Azel Valley mentioned in Zechariah 14:5 in reference to the earthquake that occurred during King Uzziah’s reign around 760 B.C. … I’m using the New International Version [(NIV) bible which has Azel instead of Azal]…”
- City of David Foundation Segway Tours (2nd paragraph): “At the foot of the ridge is the deep channel of Atzal [sic] River (Zechariah 14:5), which advances toward the Kidron Valley. Its Biblical name was preserved by the Arabs as Wadi Yasul.”
- Wikipedia: Jerusalem Peace Forest: “[The Jerusalem Peace Forest] was a location of the biblical Azal river mentioned in the book of Zechariah (Zechariah 14:5) (currently only a riverbed is left in place)”
- Wikipedia (Hebrew version): נחל אצל: “Nahal Azal (Arabic: Wadi Yasul) is one of the tributaries of the Kidron Valley southeast of Jerusalem, between the Armon Ha’Natziv ridge and the neighborhood of Abu Tor, by the Peace Forest. … This name originates in the prophet Zechariah’s end-time prophecy, ‘[content of the LXX version of Zechariah 14:4-5]’. The biblical name of the river was preserved by the Arabs as Wadi Yasul.”
The decision to name Wadi Yasul, Nahal Azal, was based on contemporary archaeologists’ determination that Clermont-Ganneau was right (essentially, their rediscovery of Azal). So as might be expected this valley is called Azal in the field of archaeology, also. For instance:
Another example occurred during a Hebrew University field trip to Haas Promenade on Mount Azal (named so by the Israel Government Names Committee in 1990; also called Armon Hanatziv Ridge; Arabic name is Jabal Mukaber) in which the archaeology professor informed his class that Azal mentioned in Zechariah 14:5 was the valley their observation point overlooked (see An American Girl in Jerusalem above).
In effect, Azal has become so mainstream it’s viewable in Google Maps. The screenshot below shows Nahal Azal directly below the red marker (A). Click map image to view Nahal Azal in Google Maps itself.
Which Version of Zechariah 14:5 is Correct?
There is considerable evidence that both the LXX rendering of Zechariah 14:5 and Clermont-Ganneau’s theory are correct.
The very similar pronunciations of Jasol (pronounced Yasŏl) and Yasul suggest that Jasol is a Greek transcription of the Arabic word for Azal (i.e., Yasul), which has been preserved since Jerusalem’s destruction in 70AD by Arab culture local to the area. Clermont-Ganneau claimed the Arabic Yasul “corresponds exactly, satisfying all the rules of etymology, with the Hebrew” Azal. Etymological analysis of Arabic geographic names in Israel has proven to be an effective tool in the discovery of forgotten biblical locations, a method pioneered in 1838 by Edward Robinson, “Father of Biblical Geography” and “founder of modern Palestinology”.
A scientific paper published in 1984 by Israeli geologists identifies the location of a large landslide on the southernmost summit of the Mount of Olives directly adjacent to both Azal Valley and the area of the ancient kings’ gardens (see relief map to right). Their discovery validates Jewish historian Flavius Josephus’ account of an earthquake-caused landslide on the western slope of the Mount of Olives during King Uzziah’s reign blocking up the kings’ gardens in the Kidron Valley. It also accords with George Adam Smith’s field research in the early part of the 20th century that revealed the Kidron Valley near the area of the ancient kings’ gardens is covered with up to fifty (50) feet of earthen debris. A topographic map of Jerusalem in one of Smith’s books also shows evidence of the effects of landsliding in this area. All of the above evidence is corroborated by photographic evidence.
The photo below, taken in the mid-1800s from the wall of Jerusalem looking southeast, shows this landslide location on the Mount of Olives. Slumping landslide rubble is visible on the western slope directly adjacent to the location of the ancient kings’ gardens at the juncture of the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys. The terraced look of this area is due to a geologic process called slumping, that occurs when landslide colluvium slowly creeps down a slope due to erosion and gravity over a long period of time. Though not clearly visible in this photograph, landslide rubble lies at the base of the southwestern slope all the way to Azal Valley.
The photo below, taken sometime in the early part of the twentieth century by a member of the American Colony in Jerusalem, shows this same landslide location at the top of the Mount of Olives (right side of photo) from the opposite direction, and clearly does show landslide colluvium lying at the base of the entire southwestern slope (click picture for images with better detail). The view is towards Jerusalem to the north overlooking Azal Valley in the foreground. Slumping landslide colluvium can be seen covering the lower half of the southwestern slope extending from the kings’ gardens to the mouth of Azal Valley (almost 0.3 mile/0.5 km). The massive volume of colluvial material at the base of the Mount of Olives makes it obvious that at some prior time landslide rubble filled in and blocked this entire section of valley from the kings’ gardens to Azal River (red ‘A’ marker designates approximate intersection of Azal and Kidron rivers). This evidence validates the LXX rendering of Zechariah 14:5, which states a valley will be filled in and blocked as far as Azal, just as a valley was filled in and blocked by an earthquake in the days of King Uzziah (as evidenced by the first photo).
The MT version of Zechariah 14:5 Contradicts Reality
The fact that Azal is directly south of both old Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives makes the MT version of Zechariah 14:5 physically impossible, i.e., that Azal is situated east of Jerusalem and a split Mount of Olives. Additionally, there is no evidence supporting that version.
The ‘Splitting’ of the Mount of Olives
The narrative of a split Mount of Olives is based on a particular translation of the Hebrew verb בקע (baqa, H1234; σχιζω, G4977, in LXX) in Zechariah 14:4 that conveys the idea of the Mount of Olives splitting in half. This word is translated similarly in Micah 1:4, which describes landsliding in metaphoric language:
This translation of בקע (baqa, H1234) in Micah 1:4 is a bit awkward, though, because the idea of valleys splitting apart doesn’t make much sense (i.e., the valleys will split apart … like water gushing down a steep incline) and doesn’t fit the context of landsliding described in the verse. A better translation of this word in this case would be tear, rip, or break apart, which are meanings applied to בקע (baqa, H1234) elsewhere in scripture. For instance, “The mountains will melt under him and the valleys will tear apart, like wax in the presence of fire and like water gushing down a steep incline” better portrays the upper slopes of valleys tearing apart from their place and landsliding (like water gushing down a steep incline). Josephus used similar language to describe the earthquake-caused landslide in King Uzziah’s day:
So considering the evidence, it is much more likely that Zechariah 14:4 describes the western half (part) of the Mount of Olives tearing apart from its eastern half (which is exactly what happened), rather than that mountain splitting apart into two halves. And the fact that this specific part of Zechariah 14:4 –
ונבקע הר הזיתים מחצין טזרחה – literally translates to “and mountain of the olives is torn from his eastward half” makes this likelihood all the more certain.
Bible Translations of Zechariah 14:5
The LXX version of Zechariah 14:5 is found in bibles used by the entire Eastern Orthodox Church (225-300 million members) and some of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. The two most popular English bibles of the Roman Catholic Church (1.2 billion members), the New American Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible, both contain the LXX reading; the French La Bible de Jérusalem contains this reading as well (Kudos to the translators of Zechariah 14:5 in La Bible de Jérusalem and (especially) the New Jerusalem Bible for such exceptional and faithful translations. They are, evidentially, the most accurate translations of this verse in existence. The New Jerusalem Bible translation was derived from La Bible de Jérusalem and is actually the more accurate of the two. Bravo!). The Jewish Publication Society, whose stated editorial policy is to favor the MT, has used the LXX version of this verse in a number of publications since about 1985 (e.g., Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures). Most Protestant bibles contain the MT rendering of Zechariah 14:5; yet at least two have the LXX reading (New English Bible, Concordant Literal Version), and three reference the LXX reading as a footnote (New International Version, Holcombe Christian Standard Bible, NET Bible).
No Stone Left Unturned
For a detailed analysis of this and other evidence with cited references see The Truth Hidden Right in Front of Our Eyes.
The lower half of the photo below shows what Azal Valley looks like today. The view is north towards old Jerusalem and was taken from Haas Promenade on Mount Azal. Jerusalem’s wall lies in the center; Mount of Olives is center right. The steeply sloped area just below the dense cluster of buildings at center left (Abu Tor) is the headwater of Azal River (currently just a dry river channel). Photo is from An American Girl in Jerusalem. Erin’s Adventures in Israel has numerous photos of Azal Valley taken from Haas Promenade.
A panoramic view of Azal Valley from its headwater in the Jerusalem Peace Forest to its juncture with the Kidron Valley at the foot of the Mount of Olives is viewable from 0:21 – 0:30 in this video taken from Haas Promenade on Mount Azal.
Was Azal Even a City?
Ample evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Azal mentioned in Zechariah 14:5 is a tributary of the Kidron Valley. However, evidence that it also was a town is scant. The only explicit evidence we have that it was a town is from Cyril (370-444 AD), Patriarch of Alexandria, who mentioned in his commentary on Zechariah 14 that Azal was known to be “a town situated at the far point of the mountain [of olives]”.
The Masoretic Text (MT) version of Zechariah 14:5, that underlies the narrative of fleeing east through a split Mount of Olives to Azal, has led many to believe that this “far point” was at the east of the mountain. However, it’s far more realistic to conclude that Cyril was referring to the far southern point of the Mount of Olives (whether he knew so or not), because that is exactly where the mouth of Azal River/Valley is located. This fact alone lends authenticity to his statement, and moves it away from being mere hearsay.
It would be presumptuous to assume that Cyril consciously meant, or even conceived, that Azal was east of the Mount of Olives because the MT, from which that narrative derives, did not even exist yet. It is obvious from his remark (i.e., “the filling-in of the valleys … as far as Azal”) that he used the Septuagint (LXX), which says nothing about fleeing east through a newly made valley reaching all the way to Azal, but does say that an existing valley would be filled in and blocked as far as Azal. The only valley where this is realistic (because it’s already happened there) is the Kidron Valley between the well of En Rogel and the mouth of Azal Valley at the far southern point of the Mount of Olives.
Four hundred years after Cyril, a church named after Saint Cyriacus, located in a town purported to have existed “at the southern corner of the Mount of Olives”, appeared in Commemoratorium de Casis Dei vel Monasteriis, which is a document created for Emperor Charlemagne in 808 AD identifying churches and monasteries existing then in Palestine.
Wadi Yasul is, of course, Azal Valley; and the town’s name, Yason, is suspiciously similar to Yasul, as well as Yasol, the Greek word for Yasul that was used by Greek-speaking Christians there. There are all kinds of possibilities that could account for this name similarity, but since it is too frustrating (and pointless) to go down speculation’s path very far with so little information, suffice it to say that the names are phonetically similar enough to suggest a connection. So here is evidence of a town existing “at the southern corner of the Mount of Olives”, which is exactly where the mouth of Azal River/Valley is located, with a name similar to the Arabic name that replaced Azal, four centuries after Cyril indicated the town of Azal was known to exist “at the far point of the mountain [of olives]”. This adds credibility to Cyril’s comment.
And there is more that adds tremendous credibility to what Cyril wrote. Consider the picture below looking south from Mount Zion.
The Mysterious Underground Aqueduct to Azal
Beneath the northeastern slope of the Hill of Evil Counsel (pictured above) lies an 1800-feet-long aqueduct that was chiseled through rock 70-90 feet below the surface, approximately 6 feet in height and 4 feet in width. It begins near the well of En Rogel and ends over 1/3 of a mile away near the well of Ain el-Loz at the mouth of Azal Valley. Spaced along its length seven staircases descended from the surface to the aqueduct. At the beginning of the aqueduct (90 feet west and 80 feet south-southwest of En Rogel) is a large underground cistern with a holding capacity of roughly 30,000-40,000 gallons (minimum), that was cut out from a natural cavern. Groundwater seepage into the cavern overflowed the cistern into the aqueduct, which channeled the water down the Kidron Valley to Azal Valley.
The southern entrance to this aqueduct was discovered by Sir Charles Warren in 1867 near Ain el-Loz (or Ain el-Lozeh) at the mouth of Azal Valley, twelve feet below the surface at a place called by the Arabs of Silwan ‘The Well of the Steps’ (Ain ed-Durrage), a name which was based on their tradition of there being underground steps from there to the well of En Rogel. Warren’s fascinating report of his discovery is on pages 372-375 in The Survey of Western Palestine – Jerusalem. The aqueduct was clogged with mud and had to be cleared, but apparently it had been used from antiquity until the Egyptian annexation of Jerusalem during 1831-40 AD.
Below is another picture showing basically the same view as above, but since it was taken further up-slope on Mount Zion (and a little further to the west), the far southern point of the Mount of Olives is visible, where the Azal and Kidron watercourses meet. It also shows the general course of the aqueduct from near En Rogel to Ain el-Loz.
Aqueducts Weren’t Built to Go Nowhere
Now it has to be wondered why a remarkable aqueduct like this was built in an area that, as far as we know, was uninhabited and led only into the Judean wilderness. What was located at the other end of this aqueduct to justify its tremendous time and effort to build? Was it perhaps the village of Azal at “the far [southern] point of the mountain [of olives]”, as Cyril said? This seems very possible, and there really are no other plausible explanations. For where in ancient history was an aqueduct of this magnitude built that did not lead to some populace? In fact, the existence of this aqueduct virtually guarantees that a town did exist at its southern end point, because it is inconceivable that an aqueduct would have been cut 70-90 feet underground for 1/3 mile through solid rock to bring water to a place without a nearby community.
So although the evidence that Azal was a town is scant, it’s enough to be almost certain that Azal was indeed a town situated near the mouth of Azal River/Valley. Whether the river/valley was named after the town, or vice versa, is immaterial. What is significant is the historical continuity of the name Azal with “the far [southern] point of the mountain [of olives]” where a town almost certainly existed. Here’s a summary of the evidence:
- The preservation of Azal’s name in the Arabic name of Wadi Yasul, a valley which lies at the far southern point of the Mount of Olives (this exact etymological connection fixes the name Azal to the location of Wadi Yasul)
- The existence of a large underground aqueduct that brought water to the mouth of the valley at the far southern point of the Mount of Olives (this fact alone virtually guarantees that a town existed there)
- Cyril’s statement that Azal was known to be a town at the far point of the Mount of Olives (this is an explicit witness of a contemporary knowledge that Azal was a town at the extremity of the Mount of Olives)
- The existence of a village nearly 400 years after Cyril with a name similar to the Arabic word for Azal, situated at the southern corner of the Mount of Olives (this indicates the historical continuity of settlement near Azal Valley identified by a name very similar to the Arabic word for Azal)
Who Built the Aqueduct?
King Solomon seems like the most likely person to have had this aqueduct built, for several reasons. First, he had access to free, captive labor. He forced tens of thousands of Canaanites to work as slaves cutting and hauling stones for his many building projects. The difficult, miserable and potentially dangerous job of chiseling rock in a humid tunnel illuminated by lamps that consumed what little oxygen was available 90 feet underground, was the kind of work given to slaves (Warren had to pump air through zinc pipes into the aqueduct when he had it cleared of mud).
Next, Solomon’s expansion of Jerusalem possibly extended into the Kidron Valley south of En Rogel, which would have necessitated a sufficient and reliable water source there. The temple and king’s palace were built over a period of twenty years by thousands of workers who required local housing; perhaps this area was developed for that purpose. Solomon’s one thousand foreign wives and concubines, along with their children and servants, added several thousand to the area’s population. These by themselves would have been enough to populate a small village. And maybe they did. A tradition that survived in Jerusalem as late as the 17th century maintained that Solomon’s foreign wives and concubines lived on the western slope of the Mount of Olives directly across the Kidron Valley from the City of David and Mount Zion.
|The location of Silwan would have been ideal for this purpose because it would have kept Solomon’s harem of foreign, idolatrous women out of Jerusalem, yet very near to him; and it was adjacent to the king’s gardens and the idolatrous high places on the Mount of Corruption, both of which his pagan wives and concubines likely frequented. This part of the Mount of Olives is called the Mount of Corruption, but it also has been called the Mount of Transgression, or Offence, as it is above.
The topo map to the right shows the layout of Silwan as it was about 1880. Notice that most of Silwan’s dwellings were concentrated in the top half of the area designated by the map (which is basically the western slope of the Mount of Corruption); the southern half was barely populated, even though the village’s gardens and the well of En Rogel were there. The Gihon Spring (called the Fountain in excerpt above; shown in top left corner of map) was directly across the Kidron Valley from Silwan’s northern extent, and the well of En Rogel is shown in the lower left corner of the map (labeled Bir Eyub).
At first glance it seems odd that Silwan didn’t extend further south to be closer to its gardens and a good water source. The village’s southern extent is abrupt and noticeable; a few buildings were built south of that point, but not many. The most likely reason for this is because it was considered too dangerous a place to live. The area between the southern extent of Silwan and En Rogel is the area that was buried during the landslide that occurred after King Uzziah entered the holy place; and the area between En Rogel and Azal is the area that Zechariah predicted would be (and has been) buried similarly by another landslide.
The thick layer of landslide debris in this whole area made the ground unsuitable for building due to slumping; even today roads and buildings in that area crack from ground movement. So these are most likely the reasons why the slope south of Silwan was desolate and virtually uninhabited. But that area very well could have been inhabited like Silwan before the threat and aftermath of landslides made it impractical and unsafe to build and live there.
Below is a photograph taken from above and behind En Rogel with a view overlooking the garden area south of Silwan. That’s Silwan on the Mount of Olive’s western slope in the picture’s upper right corner. Now imagine a community like this extending south to En Rogel, and then southeast from there to Azal Valley. The existence of the aqueduct makes the latter idea credible because a village there gives the aqueduct a raison d’etre, something that otherwise doesn’t exist in identifiable form. But we can only imagine such a community existed, because as the first two pictures above show, whatever may have been there was destroyed and buried by two very big landslides.
Did Solomon Build Azal?
Solomon would have been one to have built such a community and its aqueduct because his kingdom was so prosperous and powerful that he built entirely new cities to warehouse its goods and garrison its chariot forces.
Now a logical question to ask is whether Azal was one of those cities. The town of Azal was probably located near the juncture of the Azal and Kidron streams, designated by the red ‘A’ marker in the photo below that was taken from Mount Azal looking north towards Jerusalem. That location would have been ideally situated as an entrepot for Arabian commerce traveling through the Judean wilderness to Jerusalem. Also, it was an excellent location to establish a military outpost to guard that southern approach to Jerusalem. And the terrain at the mouth of Azal Valley was comparatively wide and open, making it suitable for charioteering and keeping horses (unfortunately the picture doesn’t extend far enough to the right to show that). So based on these factors, Azal could have been a goods depot, a chariot city, or both.
Additionally, we may have Solomon’s own words as evidence that Azal was indeed a chariot city. As mentioned earlier, the aqueduct ends near Ain el-Loz, which means ‘Spring of the Almond’. This name suggests that almonds were cultivated in that area. Almond trees, of course, are nut trees. About 1/3 mile up the Kidron Valley were the kings’ gardens. The first photo above shows a large garden of the villagers of Silwan in that same area following that same tradition; but more importantly, it shows behind the well of En Rogel an olive grove descending into the valley towards Azal. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the entire valley between there and Azal being cultivated with similar groves during Solomon’s day. In fact, we read in Solomon’s Song that he went down into his gardens; and then someone (either he, or his beloved; it’s not clear from the text), went down the valley desiring to inspect the grove of nut trees there. And before realizing it, wandering through the grove brought that person to a place of chariots.
Taken at face value, the last sentence just doesn’t make any sense (in any translation). Yet it couldn’t be clearer within the context of Azal being a chariot city because the pericope’s sequence matches the geography perfectly: Solomon went down the steps from the royal city into the king’s gardens, and then either he or his beloved wandered down the valley through a grove of fruit and nut trees until (before realizing it, the distance being short) (s)he reached the place where chariots were kept (at Azal, near the Spring of the Almond).
This scenario might also explain why Solomon described himself in Song of Solomon 3:6 as coming up from the wilderness with a military escort. Why would Solomon be in the wilderness as a matter of course such that he would memorialize it in his song; and why would he describe his exit from there as coming up from it? Maybe because En Rogel, which marked the border between the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, was Jerusalem’s gateway to the Judean wilderness; and Azal was beyond it. And Solomon likely frequented Azal if it was a royal chariot city, where some of his 12,000 horses would have been “kept … with him in Jerusalem”. So when he would leave from there with his military guard to return to Jerusalem (perhaps after wandering down there while inspecting the grove of nut trees), he would come up the Kidron Valley from the wilderness.
So if King Solomon did build the town of Azal to store goods and/or garrison chariot forces at the mouth of Azal River/Valley, and turned the Kidron Valley from En Rogel to Azal into a paradise with fruit and nut groves, gardens and vineyards, then he also must have built the aqueduct. For without its water conveyed from the subterranean cistern near En Rogel to access points down the Kidron Valley for drinking and irrigation, Azal and its adjacent paradise realistically could not have prospered, or possibly even existed.
If Azal was a Town, Where are its Ruins?
Lieutenant Claude R. Conder, R.E., who surveyed Palestine in the late 19th century, dismissed Charles Clermont-Ganneau’s theory that Wadi Yasul was Azal partly because no ruins had been discovered. Unfortunately for his reputation, the evidence and authorities now agree that Wadi Yasul is indeed Azal. Since it probably was a town, and maybe even a chariot city, there could be some sort of ruins. But where are they? Disregarding the possibilities that they were dismantled by the Romans, or robbed by scavengers, they’re probably where they should be, but destroyed and buried under tens of feet of dirt and rock from the landslide that Zechariah said would (and later did) inundate the Kidron Valley from En Rogel to Azal.
Due in some part to this landslide, at Ain el-Loz near Azal, Sir Charles Warren had to dig twelve feet down to reach the aqueduct’s staircase entrance. Similarly, George Adam Smith, who conducted some archaeological surveys of the Kidron Valley in the early 20th century, found that the ground surface near En Rogel was about fifty feet higher than the original bed of the Kidron (Jerusalem: The Topography, Economics, and History, Vol. 1, George Adam Smith, pg. 40, 42). At the time that extensive archaeological work was being done in Palestine during the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, apparently no one knew about the landslide, and only Clermont-Ganneau suspected Azal’s whereabouts; so no one was looking for Azal buried under tons upon tons of colluvium.
To be continued …
Straight from the horse’s mouth is a figure of speech that is used to indicate receipt of information directly from the best authority.
The following letter reveals that Wadi Yasul (the valley due south of old Jerusalem that is formed by the northern slope of Jabel Mukaber and the southern slope of the hill of Abu Tor), was named Azal Valley in 1955 based on the likelihood that the identity of Azal mentioned in Zechariah 14:5 was preserved in the Arabic name and location of Wadi Yasul, and Jabel Mukaber was named Mount Azal in 1990.
It was authored by Yehuda Ziv, a member of the Israel government authority responsible for naming geographic locations in Israel, i.e., the Government Names Committee. Ziv “heads the Government Names Committee’s subcommittee for community names, and is considered one of the leading experts in Israel in the field”. So it is straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. The letter was written to the editor of Haaretz in response to one of their articles in which Jabal Mukaber was mistakenly identified as the Hill of Evil Counsel. Ziv clarifies that Jabal Mukaber is actually the Hill of Evil Council, and the hill of Abu Tor is the Hill of Evil Counsel.
The original letter in Hebrew is found here. Below is my translation with my bracketed [ ] clarifications. The translation is by no means perfect, but the salient points are clear enough. Any comments to improve its accuracy will be greatly appreciated.
Ziv’s claim that Wadi Yasul was named Azal Valley (Nahal Azal) in 1955 is substantiated by a progress report on Israel’s standardization of geographic names submitted by the Israel government to the UN Economics and Social Council, which states:
The last paragraph in Ziv’s letter reveals why Google Maps until April 2014 mistakenly labeled Azal River, Etsel River (Nahal Etsel). Mount Azal’s name was derived from its proximity to Azal River/Valley, which name was preserved for centuries as Wadi Yasul in Arabic. In like manner, Wadi Yasul was nicknamed Etsel River due to its proximity to the nicknamed Mount Etzel, possibly even before receiving its official Hebrew name. So Google simply received the wrong (i.e., unofficial) information. The screenshot below captured Nahal Etsel in Google Maps in 2009 (see red ellipse). Once notified of the error, Google corrected it with the official name, Nahal Azal (see below below).
A Quick Overview
What follows is a rather indepth analysis of Zechariah 14:5 utilizing relevant data derived from historical, archaeological, theological, linguistic, geologic, cartographic, and photographic evidence. Thorough inquiry from the standpoint of this reality-based context has uncovered long-hidden truths that completely invalidate the traditional translation and interpretation embraced by evangelical and other Western theologians; has concretely identified the location of Azal (the place mentioned in this verse, which Christendom for many centuries has been unable to locate); and has determined that all but one of the events prophesied in Zechariah 14:4-5 have already occurred.
The Popular Fable
Prima facie, the events of Zechariah 14:1-5 constitute what could be considered one of the epic messianic prophecies.
Western Christianity, to a large degree, believes this prophecy describes the Messiah’s return with all resurrected Christians; at which time he battles the armies of all nations gathered against Jerusalem, and splits the Mount of Olives in half to form a great valley of refuge, or passage, for Jews fleeing Jerusalem from enemy soldiers in the city and in the Kidron Valley to, or through, a place called Azal. Adherents of this interpretation are convinced it is the truth because the bible tells them so. Well, at least they think it does.
An indepth examination, however, reveals that in most Western bibles Zechariah 14:5 is grossly mistranslated. It logically follows, then, that any interpretation based upon this flawed translation is fraudulent as well. It will be discovered in the course of this study that the aforementioned translation/interpretation, hereafter called the popular fable, has no basis in reality whatsoever, and is merely the invention of men’s imaginations. It is the unfortunate outgrowth of the successive effects of manuscript corruption, translator error, and spurious exegesis, which have corrupted Zechariah’s prophecy to the point of being false prophecy.
In the Hebrew texts, the first word of Zechariah 14:5 is ונסתם (vnstm), being the verb form נסתם (nstm) with a prefixed conjunction ו (v). The verb occurs three times in this verse.
Disagreement over what נסתם (nstm) actually means has persisted for centuries. Some say it means, “you shall flee” (נוס, nvs, Strong’s H5127), while others say it means, “it shall be closed up” (סתם, stm, Strong’s H5640). The reason contradictory opinions regarding נסתם (nstm) have existed for so long is because the various manuscripts themselves contradict each other regarding what the correct pronunciation of this word is.
What the preceding gibberish means is that the Western (occidental) Masoretes in Palestine redacted all three instances of נסתם (nstm) in Zechariah 14:5 as “you shall flee” (pronounced nastem). This is the popular fable version. The Eastern (oriental) Masoretes in Babylon, however, redacted the first instance of the verb as “it shall be closed up” (pronounced nistam), and the next two instances as “you shall flee” (nastem). This same pattern appears in Targum Jonathan to the Prophets (TgJ), and the bible commentaries by Rashi (R. Solomon) and Ibn (Aben) Ezra. Symm refers to the Greek translation of the Hebrew manuscripts by Symmachus, which has “it shall be closed up” for the first two instances, and “and you shall flee” for the third instance. The Syro-Hexaplar (Hex.-Syr.), which contains a Syriac translation of the Septuagint (LXX), follows this pattern, as well. And finally, to add one more variation to this mess, the LXX has “it shall be closed up” for all three instances.
Only one of these versions is correct; all of the others are corruptions. Judging by the number of variations, there obviously were influences at work on this verse apart from divine inspiration. The Western Masoretic version eventually became the accepted Hebrew reading when all three instances of נסתם (nstm) were redacted as נַסְתֶם (nastem, “you shall flee”) in the Masoretic Text (MT). That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily correct. It simply means that whoever fixed the pronunciation, fixed the meaning; and in the work of fixing the Hebrew text in its final form, the tradition of the Palestinian Masoretes prevailed over that of the Babylonian Masoretes.
Notice that the English transliteration of נסתם, i.e., “nstm”, has no vowels. This is because Hebrew is a consonants-only language in written form. For millennia, vowels were transmitted orally through pronunciation; and they were not committed to writing until the sixth through eleventh centuries A.D. (500-1099 A.D.), when the Masoretes redacted the consonantal text with underlaying vowel-points. The many centuries in which word pronunciations were passed orally from generation to generation certainly provided sufficient opportunity for words to take on unintended meanings through variations in pronunciation. It is easily demonstrated how just a slight pronunciation change can greatly alter a word’s meaning. Suppose, for example, that English was a consonantal language as Hebrew is. Then depending upon what vowels are used for pronunciation, the word “slvtn” can mean either “salvation”, or “salivation”. Their pronunciations are very similar, but their meanings are vastly different. That, in essence, is the root of the problem.
Because Hebrew is written consonantally, without the benefit of vowel-points word meaning must be determined from pronunciation and/or context. As mentioned, depending upon how it’s pronounced, the verb נסתם (nstm) can mean either “you shall flee” (nastem), or “it shall be closed up” (nistam). Which is the correct rendering? Since the original pronunciation is uncertain because all manuscripts don’t agree, the correct meaning must be determined from context. Zechariah’s prophecy is too obscure and enigmatic to establish this context by itself. This is reflected in the translational disparities among the many bible versions. Virtually all Western bibles have “you shall flee” for all three instances of נסתם (nstm) because their translators used the MT, and chose to maintain its hermeneutic orthodoxy. Notable exceptions are the New Jerusalem Bible and the New American Bible (both Catholic), the New English Bible, the Concordant Literal Version, and the 1992 version of Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Jewish), which all have “it shall be closed up” for all three instances. At least one bible version has both meanings like TgJ does (e.g., Revised Standard Version). Bibles translated solely from the LXX have “it shall be closed up” for all three instances (e.g., Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible, New English Translation of the LXX, Apostolic Bible Polyglot, Complete Apostles’ Bible). This lack of consensus among bible translators highlights the confusion over what Zechariah 14:5 means, and demonstrates that the prophecy itself lacks the clarity needed to establish a credible context to resolve the correct meaning of נסתם (nstm). As such, a valid context can only be determined by examination of relevant evidence to which the spirit of truth can witness.
The Popular Fable: Weighing the Evidence
Due to its length and probable lack of interest to most readers, the material in this section has been separated to another page. In a nutshell, it concludes that there is no evidence supporting the popular fable. If you can accept that at face value for the time being, read on. If not, click here to read it in this window, or click here to read it in a new window.
The Popular Fable vis-à-vis Apostolic Teaching
This lack of a credible witness supporting the popular fable is problematic because GOD mandates that everything be established by two or three witnesses. Basically, the only witness the popular fable has is itself. But not only is there nothing of substance to support it, apostolic doctrine actually opposes it. The apostle Paul said that the Messiah will gather his people away from the earth in clouds to meet him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16), which directly contradicts the teaching that the Messiah’s people will be gathered to him standing upon the Mount of Olives, i.e., on earth. Since these two doctrines contradict each other, both cannot be true. In other words, one is a lie. It is not necessary at this point to refute the contrived doctrine that maintains the church is gathered in clouds first, and then Jews are gathered on earth afterwards at the Messiah’s third coming, because this study uncovers facts, that by themselves completely discredit a crucial component of that teaching.
The Popular Fable vis-à-vis Jewish Tradition
Yet while a terra firma, end-time gathering is contrary to apostolic teaching, it very much does conform with Jewish eschatology as indicated in Targum Song of Songs 8:5:
This notion of a final gathering under a split-in-half Mount of Olives is repeated in later commentary:
The idea of a subterranean gathering of the dead to the Mount of Olives gained a significant foothold in the Jewish mind, as indicated by the following comments:
That this belief has captured the imagination of Jews throughout the centuries is evidenced by the presence of a vast Jewish cemetery covering virtually the entire southern slope, much of the western slope, and part of the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives’ central summit. These slopes that were once covered with olive trees are now covered with tombs, the extant number of which is estimated to be 150,000 (per Wikipedia.com). Viewed within the context of the aforementioned passages, it is a stunning sight to behold (This one is spectacular).
This tradition in some form was so strongly embraced, that even the relatives of many who died away from Jerusalem went to great trouble to make sure the bones of their loved ones were buried there before the fateful day.
So it is evident, then, that a final gathering on earth is central to Jewish eschatology. Yet while the dead are gathered underground to a split-in-two Mount of Olives, the living must flee there aboveground to escape from their enemies, as indicated in the following commentary.
The similarity between the popular fable and this Jewish tradition should be obvious at this point because their central tenets of Jerusalemites fleeing to the Mount of Olives that is split asunder by GOD are identical. How this tradition came to be is not known, but it is permissible to speculate. Its key elements obviously derive from Zechariah 14:4-5. The Hebrew verb בקע (baka, H1234), translated as “split” or “cleave” in Zechariah 14:4, is the same verb used by YHWH when instructing Moses to part the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16). There is notable similarity between the stories of Moses splitting the Red Sea to let GOD’s people flee from the Egyptians, and of Messiah splitting the Mount of Olives to let his people flee from their enemies.
An attempt to incorporate this Mosaic motif into Zechariah’s prophecy is very apparent in TgJ, in which the phrase, “at the Red Sea”, was appended to the end of Zechariah 14:3.
Enhancements like this are typical in TgJ because it is not a translation per se, but an Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew text. Targums are redactions of the oral liturgical paraphrasings of scripture that developed in post-captivity Judah, to deal with the population’s pervasive inability to speak Hebrew. At religious gatherings, someone would read some portion of scripture aloud in Hebrew, and a Targumist would recite its Aramaic intepretation, that often was subject to poetic license in order to make it conform to rabbinic tradition (Halacha).
As mentioned before, Zechariah 14:5 contains three instances of the verb נסתם (nstm), which conveys two different meanings based on slight differences in pronunciation. It seems very likely that at some time during the Targumist period, some person(s) leveraged this lexical nuance to pronounce נסתם (nstm) as נַסְתֶם (nastem, “you shall flee”), thus making it possible to frame Zechariah’s prophecy within a national salvation context in which Moses’ antitype, the Messiah, splits the Mount of Olives asunder as a means for his people to flee from their enemies. The obvious purpose for this clever narrative, of course, would have been to bolster the beleaguered populace’s faith in Israel’s relevance and ultimate salvation, by unifying her past with her future through the repetition of the culturally-familar and epic miracle of her inaugural salvation from Egypt. This fantastic imagery then somehow became part of Jewish tradition, conceivably in some manner similar to, or identical with, that described in the following anecdote.
The Masoretes then, later redacted this tradition into the MT, from which the popular fable derives.
In the essay Recovering an Ancient Paronomasia in Zechariah 14:5, David Marcus postulates that the different pronunciations of נסתם (nstm) in Zechariah 14:5 derive from metaphonic paronomasia, i.e., word play based on vocalization. This seems probable as it is easy to imagine someone cleverly toying with the pronunciation of נסתם (nstm) to produce a new narrative. The essay references the work of Magne Saebø, who concluded in his study on Zechariah that the Babylonian/TgJ reading (closed up, flee, flee) was the lectio difficilior, i.e. the original reading due to its difficulty; and the Western Masoretic reading (flee, flee, flee) and the LXX reading (closed up, closed up, closed up) are later modifications to “smooth out” its difficulty. The evidence presented in this study, however, clearly contradicts this conclusion; and suggests instead that the Babylonian/TgJ vocalization is not the Vorlage, but a later word play on the original pronunciation to facilitate the narrative of Jerusalemites fleeing through a split Mount of Olives over landslide-buried enemy armies in the Kidron Valley (cf. Israelites fleeing through a split Red Sea from Pharoah’s armies, who were buried by its returning waters).
The conclusion that the Babylonian/TgJ reading (closed up, flee, flee) is not the Vorlage (i.e., original reading) is supported by the fact that the oldest known Babylonian manuscript, Codex Petrograd 916, has a different reading altogether. In it נֽסְתַם (nistam, it shall be closed up) appears three times (closed up, closed up, closed up), just like the LXX. This suggests that the exiled Judeans gradually lost touch with their indigenous land and culture to a significant degree during their multi-generational exile from their homeland; and over the course of time being immersed in Babylonian culture they developed an alternate narrative of Zechariah 14:5 (closed up, flee, flee) that found its way into later Babylonian manuscripts, and eventually the Targums. Meanwhile, this same verse in Hebrew manuscripts in Egypt (from which the LXX is likely translated) remained unchanged because Hebrew culture in Egypt was little influenced by what happened in Babylon. Why the Western Masoretes later deviated from the Babylonian/TgJ vocalization, omitting any mention of something being closed up (flee, flee, flee) is uncertain; but their work may reflect a changed tradition that sought to completely invalidate the LXX pronunciation, yet still maintain the essence of the Babylonian/TgJ reading.
At this point in the examination, the evidence has established that the popular fable, for all pratical purposes, is indistinguishable from Jewish tradition, but it has been unable to establish a credible context that would indicate the correct meaning of נסתם (nstm) is “you shall flee”. In fact, the want of evidence suggests this rendition is incorrect; and what remains to be examined will only strongly reinforce that conclusion.
The Other Reading: Weighing the Evidence
In marked contrast to the complete lack of evidence that נסתם (nstm) means “you shall flee”, the other meaning, i.e., “it shall be closed up”, is well-supported by evidence. The key witness is the LXX, of which all versions agree that something is to be closed up during Zechariah’s prophesied earthquake just as something was closed up during Uzziah’s earthquake. It should be noted that in the following LXX translation, the words that are translated as “closed up” and “blocked up” are the same Greek verb. Also, “Jasod” is the English transliteration of a corrupted Greek ιασολ (Yasŏl), which sounds very much like Yasul, the Arabic word corresponding to Azal. The corruption occurred when a copyist mistakenly copied the lambda (Λ) at the end of ιασολ (Yasŏl) as a delta (Δ): Yasol = ιασολ = ΙΑΣΟΛ > ΙΑΣΟΔ = ιασοδ = Jasod (Yasod). For clarity’s sake, Jasod will be referred to as Yasŏl hereafter, except when quoting from sources.
As the LXX is not without respectable authority, its witness should be valued and considered carefully. The apostles considered the LXX an authoritative source, and quoted more from it in their writings than from the Hebrew scrolls. Additionally, the fact that all LXX versions agree with each other regarding this word witnesses that they were not subject to the same corrupting influences the Hebrew manuscripts were.
Unlike the popular fable, the LXX does not stand alone as its sole witness, for there is other evidence testifying in agreement with it. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus corroborates that in Uzziah’s day both an earthquake occurred and something was closed up:
From two concurring witnesses, one scriptural, one historical, a credible picture emerges of an earthquake-caused landslide tearing apart from the Mount of Olives’ western slope and closing up with rubble the king’s gardens and the road(s) before the city. It is extremely significant that Josephus, who was obviously knowledgable about this particular episode in Judean history, and felt a need to relate additional details of it that are not recorded in scripture, discloses that an earthquake caused a landslide which closed things up, but makes no mention of people fleeing.
It was mentioned earlier that the verb in Zechariah 14:4 that is usually translated to create the image of the Mount of Olives splitting in two (בקע, H1234; σχιζω, G4977) can also be translated as “rend”, or “tear apart”. Josephus’ account of the landslide puts this verb into the proper context of a western portion of the Mount of Olives tearing apart from its eastern half (instead of splitting into two halves), and demonstrates how misleading an interpretation-driven translation can be.
It is likely the king’s gardens mentioned by Jospehus were dear to Uzziah’s heart, because the scriptures make a point of telling us that the king “loved husbandry” (2 Chronicles 26:10); and they, or possibly some other, were called “the garden of Uzziah” long after he died and was buried in his own gardens (2 Kings 21:26, 2 Chronicles 26:23, Antiquities 9.10.4). Imagine Uzziah’s remorse when, after being struck with leprosy and banned from the city, he returned to his beloved gardens outside the city wall for solace and refuge to find them buried in rubble. The king’s gardens were located at the juncture of the Kidron, Tyropoeon, and Hinnom valleys, somewhere in the open area between the southern slope of Mount Ophel, the southeast corner of Mount Zion, the northernmost slope of the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council), and the western slope of the southernmost summit of the Mount of Olives, which has been variously known as the Mount of Corruption, Offense (or Offence), Transgression, Scandal, or Vexation. The picture below, taken in the early 1900s from the southern hillside just above the well of En-Rogel, shows much of this area, that is cultivated with many gardens by the villagers of Silwan. The area was well suited for this purpose due to the presence of irrigation water from the nearby pool of Siloam and the well of En-Rogel (also called Joab’s well, Job’s well, Bir Eiyub, Bir Eyub).
South of the juncture of the Kidron and Hinnom valleys just beyond the well of En-Rogel, the Kidron Valley becomes Wady en-Nar, which continues south and east to the Dead Sea. Approximately 1700 feet south-southeast from the beginning of Wady en-Nar, another valley named Nahal Etsel (נחל אצל) in Hebrew, and Wady Yasul in Arabic, joins Wady en-Nar from the west (nahal and wady both mean stream, or valley). Nahal Etsel/Wady Yasul is the valley between the dashed lines in the picture below. The mountain in the center left of the picture is the Mount of Corruption situated at the mouth of the same stream/valley, and Jerusalem is in the bottom center and right.
Interestingly, the Hebrew spelling of Etsel (אצל) is the same as Azal (אצל) in Zechariah 14:5 in the MT; and Yasul’s pronunciation corresponds with Yasŏl (ιασολ) in the same verse in the LXX. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary hints at a possible connection between Wady Yasul and Azal with its statement concerning Azal that “the LXX rendering “Iasol” [Yasŏl] suggests Wadi Yasul, a tributary of the Kidron.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) also tentatively connects Wady Yasul with Azal.
The ISBE is actually echoing the work of Charles Clermont-Ganneau, an ancient oriental languages expert and archaeologist who explored many tombs in Wady Yasul, which valley he claimed served as an auxiliary cemetery for Jerusalem during some ancient period(s). Based on linguistic evidence and this valley’s proximity to Jerusalem, he proposed that Wady Yasul is Azal.
Twenty-five years earlier, this exerpt from his book appeared in basically the same form in the April 1874 issue of the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (PEFQS). One statement is worth noting, and appears below. Some of the difference may be translational in nature, as the previous exerpt was written in French, whereas the following one was likely written in English (due to the fact that the PEFQS was an English publication). (The word אבל below is a typo, and should read אצל; because the latter, and not the former, appears in Zechariah 14:5.)
These comments were not uttered in a vacuum, as Clermont-Ganneau was, arguably, the most famous archaeologist in Palestine of his time, and was eminently respected by the editors and readers of the PEFQS, as well as his colleagues who contributed field reports to the same publication. Also, the Encyclopaedia Biblica (pg. 394) plainly states that Clermont-Ganneau considered Wady Yasul to be Azal. So it is puzzling that in light of such candid, authoritative testimony, Christendom is so blind to such an obvious and plausible location for Azal. Before Clermont-Ganneau publically identified Wady Yasul as Azal, bible commentators understandably claimed that Azal’s location was unknown. Yet since that time, nothing has changed in this regard because Christendom is still oddly unaware of this fascinating geographic connecton. Apparently, it has become so fixated on the myth of fleeing east from Jerusalem to Azal that it can’t see (or doesn’t care to see) the likelihood of Azal existing at the only substantive and credible place that has actually been identified as such, right in front of its eyes immediately south of Jerusalem.
Several factors have undoubtedly contributed to this oversight. The scribal error(s) in LXX manuscripts that transformed ιασολ (Yasŏl) into ιασοδ (Jasod) obscured a recognizable connection between ιασολ (Yasŏl) and Wady Yasul, and thus between Wady Yasul and Azal by virtue of Yasŏl’s and Azal’s concurrency in Zechariah 14:5. Moreover, the ISBE does not mention Clermont-Ganneau as being the originating proponent of the intimated relationship between Yasul and Azal, which has left its readers dangling without the fuller context that would facilitate further investigation. Also, a typo in the Encyclopaedia Biblica wrongly references Clermont-Ganneau’s first public identification of Azal as appearing in the 1871 issue of the PEFQS, rather than the correct 1874 issue, effectively hiding that evidence trail. The London-published PEFQS had a circulation limited primarily to Europe; and very few European bible commentators mentioned Clermont-Ganneau’s discovery (if there even was more than one). One who did effectively dismissed it.
The last comment was unfortunate and counterproductive because it obscures the issue by making the unwarranted assumption that Azal had to be something man-made (that became a ruin), to the exclusion of all other possibilities. Also, the veracity of Conder’s conclusion “that the names are not very similar” is suspect, because it is very doubtful his expertise in ancient oriental linguistics was comparable to that of Clermont-Ganneau, a professional linguist whose career included positions as dragoman for consulate in Jerusalem, Secrétaire-interpréte for oriental languages in Paris, and Director of École des Langues Orientales [School of Oriental Languages], his alma mater (Conder was a Royal Engineer with the British military).
|Additionally, during the period in which a popular-fable-promoting theology (i.e., dispensationalism) became dominant in American seminaries and bible colleges, no mention was made in mainstream American Christian publications of Clermont-Ganneau’s popular-fable-crushing discovery, i.e., that Azal lies south of both Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, rather than east of them. And finally, in virtually all books about Jerusalem by Christian authors (or perhaps by any author), any maps of the city that might be contained therein designate nothing much farther south than the juncture of the Kidron and Hinnom valleys. In the rare instance when the location of this stream is shown on a map (like the one to the right), it isn’t labelled as Yasul, Etsel, or Azal. So, in effect, the existence and name of this stream/valley has remained in obscurity just beyond the periphery of Christendom’s focus.
Fortunately now, however, this very compelling location for Azal lies in plain sight for all to see clearly. Nahal Etsel can be viewed on a Google map of Jerusalem by clicking here (GPS coordinates = 31.763786015317773, 35.238046646118164; GCS coordinates = +31° 45′ 49.63″, +35° 14′ 16.97″). The marked location will be the approximate intersection of the stream of Etsel with Wady en-Nar (Kidron Valley). The Etsel watershed is the valley southwest of this point, and the blue line there is the stream itself. The mountain immediately northeast of this point is the southernmost peak of the Mount of Olives, i.e., the Mount of Corruption.
If the stream of Etsel (אצל) lying in a valley south of both Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives is indeed the Azal (אצל) referred to by Zechariah (which ensuing evidence will prove to be certain), the popular fable with its aspect of fleeing east through the Mount of Olives to Azal becomes completely undermined. Though, at this point in the examination it can’t be determined with certainty that they are one and the same, the presence of a stream which is situated at the base of the mountain that is historically and prophetically linked to landslides, and which has an identically-spelled name as the location that a prophesied landslide on that mountain touches, is very compelling evidence. So compelling, in fact, that since there is no other convincing witness available to explain what and where Azal is/was, for the sake of this study it will be assumed that they are one and the same. And for the sake of continuity with its English translation in scripture, אצל will hereafter be referred to as Azal.
The evidence becomes even more compelling when it is learned that a large landslide exists on the Mount of Corruption a very short distance from Azal. In a paper entitled Earthquake Risk and Slope Stability in Jerusalem (Environmental Geology and Water Sciences, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 183-186, 1984), geologists Daniel Wachs and Dov Levitte identify the locations of three prominent landslides on the western slopes of the Mount of Olives: one on the northern summit (Mount Scopus), one on the central summit across from the temple mount, and one on the southern summit (Mount of Corruption) across from Mount Zion. Of the three landslides, what appears to be the largest one is on the southern half of the Mount of Corruption, just up-slope from Azal. Looking across the Kidron Valley from Mount Zion, it lies at the rightmost (southernmost) extremity of the Mount of Corruption’s summit. This location is very near, or is, the place where King Solomon built idolatrous high places for his pagan wives and concubines.
It may be possible (and seems probable) that some of these high places were on the part of the mountain that broke loose during the landslide (with King Josiah later destroying those that remained). If true, how significant that GOD destroyed some of these abominations that Uzziah failed to remove (see 2 Kings 15:3 below), and in judgment against the proud king, buried his beloved gardens with their rubble.
|The relief/topo map to the right shows the approximate location of the landslide on the southern part of the Mount of Corruption’s summit (marked by the ellipse), and the location of Azal due south of it (A) (©2011 Google – Map data ©2011 Mapa GISrael). Notice at the base of the mountain directly to the left of the ellipse, that the slope juts out to the west forming a slight bulge, or corner. This bulge was formed by landslide rubble, some of which is visible in photographs below. The landslide appears to be about 1200 feet in width; and the distance from the northernmost extremity of landslide rubble at the base of the mountain to Azal appears to be about a half-mile (about four furlongs). The king’s gardens in the valley due west of this landslide were directly in its path, which substantiates Josephus’ account of a landslide burying Uzziah’s gardens. Rocks and debis that fell hundreds of feet from the top of the mountain accumulated along the southern half of the western slope base, as well as along the entire base of the southwestern slope to the point of touching Azal. The valley southwest of the marked location (A) is the valley of Azal, and the blue line there is Nahal Azal (נחל אצל), i.e., the stream of Azal. The northern and southern slopes that encompass this large watershed are spurs of the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council). The eye icon at the bottom of the map, situated at the top of the southernmost ridge of the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council), designates the approximate vantage point of the photographer who took the photograph below, which provides a ground perspective view of the area shown in this relief/topo map. (The white dashed line doesn’t mean anything related to this study.)|
|Major-General Charles George Gordon, a British army officer and administrator who visited Palestine during 1882-83, remarkably identified exactly this landslide location (B in image below) in Wady en-Nar (which he called the valley of Zin) between En-Rogel and Azal (the valley due south of location B), even though he evidently believed Zechariah’s prophesied landslide to be an event future to his time. Yet he identified the wrong source location of the landslide (A), possibly due to the erroneous belief that the Mount of Olives is only the peak due east of the temple mount rather than being the entire ridge bordering Jerusalem on the east (a belief also held by many contemporary bible students and tourists to Israel, which is insupportable by the historical context circumscribed by the facts that the temple did not even exist at all, or entire, during the only two periods in which the Mount of Olives appears by name in the Old Testament, yet the southern peak of the Mount of Olives, i.e., the Mount of Corruption, did exert an imposing presence over Jerusalem proper, i.e., the city of David and Mount Zion, during those times).|
The photograph below, with a view overlooking the valley of Azal towards Jerusalem to the north, was taken sometime in the early part of the twentieth century (possibly the 1920s), and provides an informative visual context for both Josephus’ description of Uzziah’s landslide, and Zechariah’s prophesied landslide. It shows the location of a landslide on the Mount of Olives’ southern summit that tore apart from the mountain and closed up the valley below with landslide rubble, from the king’s gardens to the valley of Azal. The picture following the one below has an expanded view of this landslide, and clearly shows a mass of accumulated rubble at the base of the mountain. Most of the area underneath the landform which tore away from the mountaintop is visible in the photograph below, extending from the building at the summit to the upper part of the western and southwestern slopes. However, not all of the landslide rubble is visible because a large quantity of it fell down the western slope, which lies beyond the slope horizon. A detailed view of some rubble lying near the base of the western slope is visible in a following photograph, which was taken from the approximate vantage point indicated by the eye icon at the southeastern base of Mount Zion, towards the center part of this photo.
The picture below is an expanded view of the landslide area in the photograph above. The white, dotted line designates the upper extent of visible landslide rubble on the southwestern slope. The rubble may extend further up the mountain to some degree, but the bulk of material is clearly concentrated on the lower half of the slope, as evidenced by the distinct upper boundary of the rubble pile that can be seen directly below the white, dotted line. Obviously, the rubble pile is not “fresh”, and has undergone centuries of settling and compaction, as well as vegetation overgrowth. Nevertheless, it does clearly exhibit signs of slumping, which is the process whereby loose earth material (colluvium) deposited by a landslide settles and slowly migrates down a slope over time. The red, dotted line at the mountain summit delineates the approximate landslide area, from which a previously overlaying landform collapsed to the west and southwest.
The picture above gives a very good indication that an entire section of the mountain summit collapsed, and now lays as a slumping mass of colluvium at the base of the mountain. Slumping is also apparent in the next two photographs that show more detailed views of landslide rubble at the point labeled “Bulge” in this picture, which is immediately adjacent to the area of the bygone king’s gardens. Notice how close the rubble field is to Azal, even after centuries of erosion. One could almost say that landslide rubble touches Azal. Also notice how the stream of Azal (black line) crosses the valley floor to join the brook of Kidron at the very edge of the picture. What is most impressive about the picture above in regards to Zechariah’s prophecy is that it clearly shows that landslide rubble closed up the entire valley between the king’s gardens and Azal. It is edifying to pause for a moment to ponder this view with the LXX version of Zechariah 14:5 in mind:
The photograph below was taken in the mid-1800s atop the wall of Jerusalem on Mount Zion. It shows the mentioned landslide location on the Mount of Olives, the area of the kings’ gardens at the juncture of the Hinnom and Kidron valleys, the valley of Azal, and landslide rubble lying at the base of the western slope of the Mount of Olives. The terraced look of the rubble field is due to geologic slumping of landslide colluvium. This picture is very significant because it clearly shows that landslide rubble fell down the Mount of Olives’ western slope and closed up the valley in the area of the king’s gardens, as described by both Zechariah and Josephus.
The photograph below was taken sometime around 1894 from what appears to be the southeast corner of Mount Zion (further down the slope than the previous picture), and shows the southern extent of the location of the ancient king’s gardens at the juncture of the Kidron, Tyropoeon, and Hinnom valleys. The view is to the south-southeast. The valley of Hinnom is towards the right, lower corner of the picture. The valley of Kidron starts from the left, lower corner of the picture, and curves to the left around the Mount of Corruption on the left where it becomes Wady en-Nar. On the right are three spurs of the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council). The large valley between the farthest two ridges is the valley of Azal. The slope in the background appears to be far away and vast in size due to the many objects that look like houses upon it. However, they are only rocks, and the distance from the photographer to the ridgeline is only about one mile line of sight. The eye icon above this ridge indicates the approximate location from which the preceding two photographs were taken. The king’s gardens would have been in the northern extent of the level area in the bottom of this photograph; and they possibly extended into this area. The vegetation in the center foreground of the picture is a garden belonging to the villagers of nearby Silwan, and is in fact the garden shown in the center foreground of the first picture above (which view is to the north-northeast). The stone structure with the arched opening is the well of En-Rogel, and the pool of Siloam was in the vicinity near to where the photographer was situated.
This southerly view shows landslide rubble at the base of the previously mentioned bulge in the Mount of Corruption, where the slope transitions from a southwesterly to a westerly aspect. The very unconsolidated surface material in the leftmost part of the photo is part of the bulge; and the section adjoining it, with the horizontal rows of benches, and the ledge with trees and white square at the very end (which is the end of a building), is the northern end of the southwestern slope. The quasi-terraced look of this area is due to slumping of colluvial material, an effect that is very characteristic of deposition material from landslides. This characteristic is also visible in the previous picture, but it is much more distinct and apparent in this photograph. In contrast to the disturbed and unconsolidated appearance of the ground surface in this area, the surfaces of the slopes across the valley have undisturbed vegetation coverings, which are interrupted only by rock outcroppings, walls, and paths. Vegetation cannot establish itself well on soil that is continually subject to slumping and slope collapse, as this part of the Mount of Corruption obviously is; and for that reason it stood apart from the surrounding area as being barren and austere.
|Another indication that this is an unstable landslide area is shown on the topo map to the right, which zooms out from the area shown on the previous map to include the village of Silwan and the summit of the Mount of Corruption (the previous map area is in the lower left corner). The village of Silwan on the western slope of the Mount of Corruption, shown as it was in the mid-1800s, is indicated by the many small rectangular shapes spaced closely together in the top half of the map. It was densely settled compared to the area south of it, which had only a few buildings. This disparity in settlement density is most likely due to the dangererous instability of the slope in the southern area, which was always prone to slumping and landsliding. It seems reasonable to think that if the southern area had been considered safe and stable enough to build on by Silwan’s villagers, they would have built there in order to be nearer the well of En-Rogel and their gardens, which were in the southern part of the valley. This area may have been settled at some time prior to the landslide. Solomon’s harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines (as well as their servants) had to be housed somewhere, and this area may have been used for that purpose (see 2 Kings 23:13 in John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible). It had the advantage of being adjacent to the king’s gardens and the idolatrous high places on the Mount of Corruption, both of which his pagan wives and concubines likely frequented.
The photograph above, taken nearly 2600 years after Uzziah, shows only one building on the slope near the newer landslide (i.e., the bulge). The photo previous to it (which was taken approximately twenty-five years later) shows more buildings in that area (though still relatively few). This was due to the emigration of numerous Jews from Yemen to Jerusalem during that period, who were not allowed to live in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter because they were not considered to be Jewish by other Jews. Consequently, their extreme poverty forced them to settle outside the city on what was probably considered by others to be unbuildable, and/or unsafe, land. Today, the western and southern slopes are heavily settled from top to bottom; but even with modern construction methods and materials, cracks appeared in roads and houses after construction due to slumping (Wachs and Levitte, ibid.).
|It is noteworthy that the topo map above shows the southern extent of Silwan, where no landslide material fell, aligning with the southern extent of the highest part of the Mount of Corruption’s summit (indicated by the highest contour line). Considering this with the fact that a large amount of material from the top of the mountain is now on the slope and in the valley south of Silwan, the highest part of the summit may have extended, or even actually been, further south at some earlier time. The bible says that Solomon built idolatrous high places on the right hand of the Mount of Corruption (2 Kings 23:13); and it would seem that high places would have been built on the highest part of the mountain. However, the relief/topo map to the right clearly shows the Mount of Corruption’s highest point lying at the northern, or left-hand, part of the summit. So it may be that the highest part of the mountain in Solomon’s day extended, or actually was, further south. The area of the summit just south of the highest contour line (2433′, not labeled) that circumscribes the highest elevation point (2437′) is the part of the mountain that broke loose during the landslide. Looking from Mount Zion, this is the portion of the summit that lies on the right hand of the Mount of Corruption. It is worth noting on this top-down view of the mountain that the summit ridge lies along a north/south axis, which divides the mountain into eastern and western halves. Consistent, then, with Josephus’ account of the landslide, part of the mountain summit tore away from its eastern half and fell to the west.|
As indicated in a previous picture, the landslide originated at the top of the mountain, which now stands 400 feet above the valley floor. That means the full distance of the landslide from the bottom of the mountain up the 30° slope to the summit is about 800 feet. The landslide rubble field extends up about 50% of this distance, or about 400 feet. The horizontal distance of the rubble field on the southwestern slope, from the bulge to Azal, is approximately 1800 feet (about one-third of a mile); and the rubble-field distance on the western slope is probably 1000 feet, or more; for a total distance of about one half-mile (4 furlongs). These figures indicate the size of the landslide is immense, which explains one reason why both Zechariah and Josephus would memorialize it centuries later. Another possible reason is that the landslide would have been considered a major disaster if it buried the well of En-Rogel (which it probably did judging from the picture of En-Rogel above, and considering the fact that the current valley floor is approximately fifty feet higher than it was in Uzziah’s day before the landslide) depriving Jerusalemites of an important, year-round water source that was especially valuable in times of drought.
An additional reason why Uzziah’s landslide likely remained in Jerusalemites’ memories is because for centuries the landslide itself served as a reminder of that calamity, a fact demonstrated by the photographs above showing a large landslide still visible more than 2600 years after Uzziah. It is not credible in the least that an account of Judeans fleeing Uzziah’s earthquake would appear in Judean lore over 200 years later during Zechariah’s time, 70 of which were filled with the trauma of captivity in a foreign land (i.e., Babylon), unless it had been recorded in written form (of which there is no evidence). But it is very believable that Zechariah would have been very impressed by this massive landslide on the Mount of Corruption, and that former residents of the city who returned from Babylon would have been able to inform him of its history. Looking at the photograph above showing the valley at the juncture of the Kidron, Tyropoeon, and Hinnom valleys, the landslide on the Mount of Olives, and the valley of Azal in the background, the vision that Zechariah saw more than two centuries after Uzziah’s landslide becomes much clearer. And it becomes perfectly clear how, more than eight centuries after the fact, Josephus knew certain details about Uzziah’s landslide (i.e., it broke loose from the Mount of Olives near Eroge, covered the king’s gardens, covered a half-mile). For the details of that event were inscribed upon the geography south of Jerusalem, preserved as a witness for all to see for millenia.
Mysterious Subterranean Aqueduct Between King’s Gardens and Azal
At some point in Jerusalem’s history, the valley between the well of En-Rogel and Azal served some important purpose, or something important was planned for it, as evidenced by a remarkable underground aqueduct discovered there by Sir Charles Warren in 1867.
Near the well of En-Rogel, the aqueduct received the overflow from a large underground cistern with a capacity of roughly 30,000 to 40,000 gallons that had been cut out of a natural cavern.
After the juncture of the two northern aqueducts, one stopped, and the other proceeded north towards Jerusalem and stopped abruptly after 148 feet underneath the area of the king’s gardens. Their sudden terminations suggest the project was never completed, which is remarkable considering the tremendous cost already incurred to cut this aqueduct 70 – 90 feet underground (plus seven staircases) through solid rock, for over one-third of a mile from the king’s gardens to Azal. This could indicate that something catastrophic happened to prevent the aqueduct’s completion. The fact that the head of a staircase descending to the juncture of the two northern aqueducts was discovered under twenty-two feet of debris in the area of the king’s gardens may be a clue to what happened. This staircase served as the initial access point to begin cutting the aqueduct back towards the grotto; which once completed allowed water to be withdrawn from the cistern (as evidenced by the numerous broken jars and pottery found in the staircase). It also allowed for the removal of rock chippings, and the entrance of fresh air for the workers who cut the aqueduct south towards the grotto, and north towards the city. The burial of this critical access point by landslide rubble certainly would have had a negative impact on the project at the stage of construction it was found to be in.
Furthermore, until he was struck with leprosy, King Uzziah was an extraordinarily enterprising and accomplished ruler, whose fame was renowned among the surrounding peoples (2 Chronicles 26:5-15). One of his noted achievements was the hewing of many wells throughout the land (2 Chronicles 26:10). The word “hewing” is used because the words used in 2 Chronicles 26:10 signify the cutting of stone (H2672, חָצֵב; λατομέω, G2998), and are not the words typically used in scripture to describe the digging of wells, or otherwise. In light of these considerations, perhaps this aqueduct was Uzziah’s ambitious project to provide a reliable water source for his considerable livestock grazing in the valley of Azal and nearby areas; and/or to provide a convenient water supply for dwellings built in this area due to the prosperity of his kingdom.
Cyril of Alexandria (ca. 370-444 AD) mentioned in his commentary on Zechariah 14 that he was told Azal was a village “situated at the far point of the mountain [of olives]”. The MT version of Zechariah 14:5 has led many to believe that this “far point” was at the east of the mountain. However, it is far more likely that Cyril was referring to the farthest southern point of the Mount of Olives, because that is exactly where the mouth of Azal Valley is located (which fact alone lends authenticity to his statement).
So perhaps this aqueduct was being built for the village of Azal situated near the mouth of its namesake valley (or vice versa; i.e., village named after valley), but was abandoned after landslide rubble made the aqueduct’s point of northward progress inaccessible (and possibly also Azal village was destroyed because the chalky ground in that area is seismically unstable, compared to Jerusalem’s solid foundation of hard limestone); and Uzziah’s leprosy made him a pariah to his own countrymen and quenched his kingly ambitions. Josephus description of Uzziah’s life after he became a leper indicates that he no longer actively participated in the affairs of the kingdom.
This scenario provides a feasible context to possibly explain why Zechariah’s prophecy mentions this seemingly insignificant valley, and gives continuity to all of its elements, both past and future. It is possible that Uzziah’s landslide was confined to the Mount of Corruption’s western slope, and only closed up the area of the king’s gardens, leaving Uzziah’s conjectured irrigation project untouched in the valley between there and Azal. Then, conceivably, viewing the abandoned aqueduct and village of Azal some two hundred years later, Zechariah prophesied GOD’s abasement of it by declaring that the exalted places of the mountain would collapse into the valley, completely burying this enduring symbol of Uzziah’s self-glorifying rebellion against GOD, and demonstrating the preeminence of GOD’s will over man’s self-serving achievements, no matter how grand. This scenario also would invalidate Josephus’ claim that Uzziah’s landslide rolled four furlongs (about a half mile), which is the approximate distance of the rubble field at the base of the mountain. But that claim is invalid anyway because the photograph above clearly shows that a landslide fell en masse 800-900 feet down the southwestern slope and stopped when it reached the bottom of the mountain. There is no way rubble fell 800 feet down the mountain, and then rolled another 1800 feet down the valley to Azal (for a total of 2600 feet, or about a half mile). A logical explanation for this error is that Zechariah’s prophesied landslide occurred before the time of Josephus, who assumed (or was taught) that what he saw of the combined aftermath resulting from two separate landslides was caused by only Uzziah’s landslide.
Though it is no more than a speculative guess that this aqueduct was built in Uzziah’s day, there are factors that lend support to this hypothesis. The top of the staircase found buried under twenty-two feet of debris was sealed by a masonry wall (ibid, pg. 374). Considering the fact that this staircase provided relatively easy access to water, it has to be wondered why something so beneficial was closed off. The staircase was also found to be partially filled with mud. If the staircase was sealed as part of the unfinished aqueduct’s decommissioning and subsequent abandonment, how did large quantities of dirt get into it? It may be possible that landslide rubble buried the head of the staircase before it was sealed, partially filling it with dirt; in which case it is reasonable to suspect that the builders, being concerned about the cistern eventually filling with mud, sealed off the staircase from the backside to prevent further incursion.
There are other plausible scenarios to account for this aqueduct, as well. Considering the fact that King Solomon increased Jerusalem’s population by many thousands, possibly he initiated this project to provide water for Jerusalem’s conceivable expansion into this area; but it was abandoned by his successor as the unified kingdom disintegrated. Herod the Great was certainly an ambitious builder and megalomaniacal enough to undertake such an endeavor. Considering the aqueduct’s large interior dimensions and terminus nearly a half mile from Jerusalem, perhaps the project was just a ruse by this paranoid, but cunning, Idumean to hide his ulterior motive of building a clandestine escape route out of the city, so that he and his family could flee to the mountain fortress of Masada in Idumea, his ultimate safe haven, in case they ever became trapped in Jerusalem during a revolt, or coup d’état. This scenario actually did happen, yet without an escape tunnel, during the early part of his reign, which undoubtedly left an enduring impression on his deranged psyche (Antiquities of the Jews, 14.13.7-9). Realistically, though, it is not certain at this point when, or why, the aqueduct was built. What is less uncertain, however, is that Zechariah did prophesy GOD’s abasement of this grand, yet vain, scheme of man, whether it was yet visible to Zechariah’s eyes, or it lay in the future visible only to GOD.
Is Name Change from Azal to Yasul Visible in the LXX Manuscripts?
At this point it is necessary to examine the disparate renderings of Azal (אצל) in the LXX manuscripts. In Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Marchalianus, Azal (אצל) is transcribed as Asaēl (ασαηλ). In Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, it is rendered Yasŏl (ιασολ). There may be a simple explanation for this discrepancy. After Jerusalem was destroyed and its inhabitants exiled, the peoples who replaced them named localities according to their own preferences and vernaculars. Jerusalem was renamed to Aelia Capitolina by the Romans; the Hebrew Azal (אצל) was displaced at some point by the Arabic Yasul, and disappeared from the scene. The valley wasn’t re-identified as Azal (אצל) until Clermont-Ganneau’s announcement in 1874, and wasn’t officially named Nahal Azal (נחל אצל) until sometime after 1948 (no doubt a decision based on Clermont-Ganneau’s work). European explorers of Jerusalem during the nineteenth century found that local Arab peasants (the fellahîn) called the valley Wady Yasul; and there is nothing to suggest that it was known by any other name for the many prior centuries. Arabs have lived in the close-by village of Silwan for many hundreds of years, dating back to at least the 7th century A.D. (possibly minus the Crusader period) when Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab granted that part of the Kidron Valley to a community of poor cave dwellers already living there.
The name transition from Azal to Yasul appears to be visible in the LXX manuscripts. Asaēl (ασαηλ) in Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Marchalianus is reasonably close to Azal (אצל), which makes it appear that the original translator(s) sought conformity to Azal’s Hebrew pronunciation. In contrast, the pronunciation of Yasŏl (ιασολ) in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus is not as similar to the Hebrew Azal (אצל); but it is very similar to the Arabic Yasul. The very similar pronunciations of Yasŏl and Yasul suggest that Yasŏl is a Greek transcription of the Arabic word for Azal (i.e., Yasul), which has been preserved by Arab culture for nearly two millenia. Conceivably, Yasul became the name for Azal after Hebrew culture disappeared from the region following Jerusalem’s destruction, and nearby peoples supplanted its former residents. No one better than the neighboring Arabic-speaking population would have known the name of this valley; and they certainly would have pronounced it in their own language instead of the Hebrew tongue. Then, possibly, the copyist(s) of the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus manuscripts, in a misguided attempt to make Zechariah 14:5 more relevant to the prevailing time and culture, changed Asaēl (ασαηλ) to Yasŏl (ιασολ) in order to match the contemporary name of the valley. That Asaēl (ασαηλ) was intentionally changed to Yasŏl (ιασολ) seems likely because it is difficult to imagine an inadvertent scribal error causing ΑΣΑΕΛ (ασαηλ, Asaēl) to become ΙΑΣΟΛ (ιασολ, Yasŏl). A surprising marginal note in Codex Vaticanus provides some indication that this is not an outlandish possibility:
It is generally believed that Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Marchalianus were made in Egypt, which is several hundred miles from Azal. There is no reason to think that the name of this obscure valley would have been common knowledge in a scriptorium so far away in Egypt. Thus Asaēl (ασαηλ) may have remained unchanged in these Egyptian manuscripts simply because their copyists were not influenced by the culture local to Jerusalem that knew Azal as Yasŏl (ιασολ); just as נסתם (nstm) was translated into “it shall be closed up” because the LXX translators in Egypt were not influenced by the tradition taught in the land of Israel (at that time, or later) that נסתם (nstm) meant “you shall flee”. No one really knows where the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus manuscripts originated, though Palestine is suspected. The fact that they both have Yasŏl (ιασολ) coupled with the preceding speculation might lend weight to the theory that either they, or their ancestral manuscripts in which Asaēl (ασαηλ) was changed to Yasŏl (ιασολ), were made in Palestine. The possibilities exist that the change occurred in only one manuscript, to which the genealogies of Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus both trace back; or that the lineages of both manuscripts extend back to the same scribe, or school of scribes, who took the liberty to change the old reading of Asaēl (ασαηλ) to a contemporary Yasŏl (ιασολ).
Josephus mentioned that Uzziah’s landslide originated at, or near, a place called Eroge. Though he didn’t explain what Eroge was, he did indicate it was before Jerusalem, which suggests a location outside the wall facing the city on the south, or east. Some have speculated that Eroge refers to En-Rogel (עין רגל) because Eroge and Rogel sound somewhat similar. Their names are similar enough to warrant attention, and En-Rogel’s location near the king’s garden makes it quite suitable as a candidate. However, this theory is problematic because ερωγη (Eroge) is not the same as πηγηη ρωγηλ (En-Rogel), and not even that similar to just ρωγηλ (Rogel). Josephus should have known the correct word for En-Rogel because it appears in the LXX from which he transcribed for his own works, but he wrote ερωγη (Eroge) instead. And it seems unlikely that a scribal error would account for both the omission of a letter at the end of ρωγηλ (Rogel) and the addition of one at the beginning to produce ερωγη (Eroge). Also, the Aramaic name for En-Rogel in TgJ is עין קצרא (ain katzrah), which may have been used by the Aramaic-speaking population of his day instead of the Hebrew עין רגל (ain rogel). Nevertheless, because the Hebrew and (assumed) Greek pronunciations are somewhat similar, and the location is prime, this theory deserves serious consideration. Rabbi Joseph Schwarz proposed the intriguing idea that Eroge is a Greek transliteration of a transposed גיא־הרי (ge-harai), which are the Hebrew words in Zechariah 14:5 that are translated “valley of mountains”. Commenting on Uzziah’s earthquake he says:
In other words, Schwarz was convinced that גיא־הרי (ge-harai) was also called הרי־גיא (harai-ge), and claimed he had once seen an edition of Zechariah 14:5 that actually had הרי־גיא (harai-ge) instead of גיא־הרי (ge-harai). Then he inferred that when Josephus wrote Antiquities of the Jews in Greek, he transliterated הרי־גיא (harai-ge) into ερωγη (Eroge). Since written Greek has no equivalent letter for the Hebrew letter ה (h), in ancient times the “h” sound had to be transmitted orally in the same way vowels were in Hebrew. Today, a rough breathing mark is written to indicate a comparable “h” sound, just as vowel-points are used in Hebrew. But breathings were not marked in ancient Greek manuscripts, just as vowels weren’t notated in ancient Hebrew scrolls. For example, the word Hebrews is written Εβραιους in the manuscripts (ΕΒΡΑΙΟΥΣ actually), and Έβραίους in modern texts (notice the tiny marking prefixing the “E”). Another example is the word Hellenists (Ελληνιστων, Έλληνιστῶν). Therefore, the correct pronunciation of Eroge could very well be (and probably is) Heroge, i.e., Έρωγη (heh-row-ge), which is very close to הרי־גיא (harai-ge). Clermont-Ganneau described Schwarz’s idea as “very ingenious” (ibid.).
Of the two possibilities for Eroge just mentioned, Schwarz’s theory is certainly the more compelling one. If there is any doubt that Έρωγη (Heroge) is a suitable transliteration of הרי־גיא (harai-ge), it should be considered that Josephus experienced some difficulty with the Greek language, as evidenced by his own admission in the preface to his book in which he composed Eroge:
When attempting to decipher an obscure puzzle like Eroge, it is profitable to start with what is well known in order to establish a stable point of reference to build from. One thing that is known with 100% certainty is that a landslide on the Mount of Corruption has buried the open area at the juncture of the Kidron, Tyropoeon, and Hinnom valleys. Five concurring witnesses prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt. First and foremost is the geologic survey conducted by Israeli geologists Wachs and Levitte, which identified a landslide location on the Mount of Corruption directly adjacent to this area. Second is the above photograph of this area showing the remnant of a large landslide on the Mount of Corruption in the exact same location identified in the geologic survey. Third is Adam Clarke’s field research (referenced above), which indicates this area is covered with about fifty feet of debris. Fourth is the historical record of Josephus, who stated in Antiquities of the Jews that a landslide on the Mount of Olives during Uzziah’s earthquake closed up the road(s) and king’s gardens with rubble. And fifth is the historical witness of Zechariah, who stated in his prophecy that גיא־הרי (ge-harai) was closed up during Uzziah’s earthquake. From Josephus’ and Zechariah’s accounts it can reasonably be inferred that גיא־הרי (ge-harai) refers to the open area at the juncture of the Kidron, Tyropoeon, and Hinnom valleys where the king’s gardens were located, because both this area and גיא־הרי (ge-harai) were closed up during the landslide.
A typical translation of גיא־הרי (ge-harai) is “my mountain valley”. But according to Rabbi David Kimchi, גיא־הרי (ge-harai) is equivalent to גי־הרים (ge-haraim), which means “valley of mountains”; and therefore both should be translated “valley of mountains”:
|The LXX has “valley of my mountains”. Yet whether this a mistranslation of the original Hebrew, or is the correct rendition itself, either “valley of mountains” or “valley of my mountains” accurately describes the open area at the juncture of the Kidron, Tyropoeon, and Hinnom valleys. Unlike most of the Kidron Valley, which at any typical point is bordered by a mountain on either side, this area is encompassed by five mountains: the Mount of Olives (A), Mount Moriah (B), Mount Ophel (C), Mount Zion (D), and the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council) (E). Though not visible in the topo map to the right, two other northern slopes of the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council) (E) extend to the right, visually completing the valley’s southern border (click here for this southern view). Click here for the view north showing Mount Ophel (C), Mount Moriah (B), and the Mount of Olives (A). Click here for the view west up the Hinnom Valley showing Mount Zion (D) to the right, and the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council) (E) to the left. Nestled in amongst these several mountains, גיא־הרי (ge-harai) truly is a valley of mountains.
The only details available concerning Eroge are that it was before the city, and it was near where the landslide occurred. The fact that it was before the city implies it was not in the city proper, and was, therefore, outside of the city walls. The location of גיא־הרי (ge-harai), or “valley of mountains”, matches these details perfectly, as it is before the old city of Jerusalem to the east and southeast just outside of the city wall, and it is directly adjacent to where the landslide occurred. It is quite reasonable to allow the possibility that גיא־הרי (ge-harai) in Zechariah 14:5 became transposed into the proper name הרי־גיא (harai-ge) by the local populace to refer to this area. For that matter, הרי־גיא (harai-ge) is easier to pronounce than גיא־הרי (ge-harai) is. Adding to this the possibility that Eroge’s correct pronunciation is Heroge, which matches a transliterated transposition of גיא־הרי (ge-harai), i.e. הרי־גיא (harai-ge), makes the “valley of mountains” emerge as a very convincing prospect for Eroge. If this actually is the case, then Josephus’ account of the landslide should read:
This certainly makes a lot of sense, and describes exactly what happened. In terms of resolving translational difficulties with Zechariah 14:5, though, it really is not important whether Eroge is גיא־הרי (ge-harai) or En-Rogel. It is crucial, however, that גיא־הרי (ge-harai) and גי־הרים (ge-haraim) have both been identified as being the small valley at the juncture of the Kidron, Tyropoeon, and Hinnom valleys.
Resolving Other Problematic Translational Issues
It has already been determined that landslide rubble reached Azal. However, Zechariah 14:5 states that גי־הרים (ge-haraim), or “valley of mountains”, reaches unto Azal. But this appears to be nonsensical, for how can the “valley of mountains” possibly reach the valley of Azal? The difficulty of this passage derives from the translation of the Hebrew word נגע (naga, H5060) as “reach”, which suggests the arrival at the extent of some distance. The verb נגע (naga), however, conveys the idea of touching, which joins two things together. The verb used in the LXX is εγκολληθησεται, which also signifies the joining of two things together through cementation, or glueing. As landslide rubble fills in a narrow valley, it causes one mountain to touch the other mountain, and cements, or joins, them together. The ancient brook of Kidron mentioned in the bible is approximately fifty feet below the current valley surface between the Mount of Corruption and the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council) due in no small part to this very thing. The difficulty of the passage, then, is removed by a translation which conveys the idea of the “valley of mountains” touching the valley of Azal through landslide rubble, and being glued, or joined, together with it through the same thing. As proven by a preceding photograph, this is exactly what happened, and is yet another witness lending credence to the rendering “it shall be closed up”.
Another possibility is that join (נגע, naga, H5060) refers to the joining together of the valley’s opposing slopes as far as Azal (which is, of course, also exactly what happened). So instead of the “valley of mountains” being joined to the valley of Azal through landslide rubble, the Mount of Corruption and the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council) are joined together with landslide rubble all the way to Azal (a subtle, yet distinct difference). This view appears to stand out in the Alexandrian version of the LXX quoted by Didymus the Blind in his Commentary on Zechariah circa 387 A.D (exerpted below). Being blind, Didymus was certainly quoting from memory. Consequently, this rendition may reflect to some degree an anecdotal viewpont of Didymus, who was much closer to the continuity of ancient knowledge regarding this prophesied event.
A rendition very similar to this is found in the New Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic bible translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, instead of the Latin Vulgate:
Word play is present in the phrase that relates the concept of joining unto Azal. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew English Lexicon, the lemma of Azal (אצל) means “to join” (also see Strong’s H680 and Gesenius). The significance of this meaning with regards to the stream of Azal could be that it joins the brook of Kidron (or that the valley of Azal joins the Kidron Valley, i.e., Wady en-Nar). The concept of joining is also visible in the meaning of the word Yasul.
Zechariah 14:4 has also suffered from mistranslations which have clouded its meaning. The phrase “the Mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley”, does not accurately represent the literal meaning of the text, or the historical/evidential context. For the first part of this passage, the Hebrew is literally translated “the mountain of olives will be torn apart from his eastward half”, which correlates very nicely with Josephus’ description of the landslide. The Whiston translation referenced above is a bit too obscure in this regard, but the translation that Rabbi Schwarz used clearly indicates the western half of the mountain tore apart from the eastern half, which is, of course, exactly what happened.
As was shown in the relief/topo map above, the landslide fell from the middle of the mountain, tearing away from its eastern half. The Hebrew word that is translated “half” in this verse (חצי, H2677), is not a quantitative term specifying 50% of something (at least in this context), but denotes one part of something that has been divided into two parts, which may, or may not, be equal in quantity. The interpretation of the corresponding Greek word in the LXX (ημισυ, G2255) would have to follow this same, qualitative meaning (i.e., one of two parts) simply because it is a translation of the Hebrew.
The latter part of the Zechariah 14:4 passage, “and toward the west a very great valley” (the phrase “and there shall be” does not exist in the text and was added by translators), could possibly be an accurate translation elsewhere, but it makes no sense within this particular historical/evidential context. The word translated “very” is מעד (meh-ode, H3966) in the MT, and σφόδρα (sphodra, G4970) in the LXX. Both words convey the idea of vehemence, or forceful intensity, which accurately describes the intense energy unleashed during the sudden collapse of a mountain slope and its ensuing landslide. The translators of the LXX obviously knew something about the historical context of this prophecy because when they translated Zechariah 14:4, instead of using a Greek word for valley, they used the word χαος (chaos), i.e., “vehemently great chaos”, which is an accurate descriptor of a landslide. The fact that the translators deviated from a literal translation in order to convey in Greek the essence of something (i.e., violent disorder) written in an allegorical language (Hebrew), greatly supports this interpretation as being correct.
This pattern is repeated in the only other place χαος (chaos) is used in the LXX, Micah 1:6, which describes an earthquake’s contribution to Samaria’s destruction. The MT has, “I will pour down the stones thereof into the valley”, but the LXX says:
Similar to the LXX translation of Zechariah 14:4, TgJ has force (חילא, khelah) instead of valley (חילת, khelat).
There seems to be wordplay between חילא (khelah) and חילת (khelat) in this instance; and there also may be wordplay within the word חילא (khelah) itself. According to The Jewish Literary Aramaic version produced by the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project, in all Aramaic dialects, חילא (khelah) means power, or force. In Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Jewish Literary Aramaic of the Targums (Palestinian), and Ancient Imperial Aramaic חילא (khelah) means army. So it may be that the Targumists leveraged this nuanced wordplay to create the narrative in peoples’ minds of the great force of a landslide from the Mount of Olives burying an enemy army in the Kidron valley.
The popular fable frames the translation of Zechariah 14:4 in such a way to create the impression that the entire mountain will split in half, with one half moving to the north away from the other half that moves to the south. A much more realistic and plausible translation is one that conveys the idea of north- and south-facing halves of the mountain summit tearing away from the rest of the mountain and falling down the slopes. This is a much more credible translation because it is so sensible within the historical/evidential context. As was shown earlier, an entire section of the mountain summit did collapse and depart down the mountain. Judging from the previously examined pictorial evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that the southern-facing half of the landform that once existed on the summit is gone and lays on the southwestern slope below as rubble. That solves one half of this particular puzzle.
|The other half of the puzzle involving the northern half of this landform is a bit more subtle and complex. The geologic map to the right shows the Mount of Corruption landslide as the cross-hatched area. The dashed line to the left of the landslide represents the base of the mountain, where the bulge formed by landslide rubble can be seen. The two straight lines with hatch marks signify two fault scarps. One fault scarp adjoins the landslide on the north and faces northwest, and the other one borders it on the south and faces south-southeast. A fault scarp is a cliff-like landform that results when one side of a fault sinks or rises relative to the other side (Click here to view images of fault scarps). The side of the line with the hatch marks signifies the downward side of the scarp. Fault scarps, however, do not always have a scarp due to erosion and other factors. For example, the southernmost fault scarp just mentioned is not visible at all in the photo above, which shows virtually all of the Mount of Corruption’s southwestern slope. The fault scarp adjoining the landslide in the north, however, may be a different matter.
The photograph below was taken from the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council) above the Hinnom Valley, looking east towards the southern part of the Mount of Corruption. The designated scarp in the picture lies in the northern extent of the landslide area marked on the geologic map above (as does the northeastern end of the northern fault scarp). Though impossible to determine from the photo, this scarp faces northwest. Several scarps below this one also have a northwesterly aspect. The dashed/dotted line at the mountain summit designates the approximate lower boundary of the part of the mountain from which a landslide tore loose. The line transition from dashed white to dotted yellow represents the corner of the mountain between the western and southwestern slopes. The dotted yellow line signifies the southwestern slope, and the dashed white line signifies the western slope. The upper part of the slope below and including the designated scarp, however, faces northwest.
|Though the aspect of the scarp designated above can’t be determined from the photo, the topo map to the right shows this landform jutting to the southwest and facing northwest (see inset for better detail). The northwest-facing fault scarp (indicated by the top blue dashed line) appears to precisely align with this landform. The only significance that can be ascribed to these two scarps being the same is the possibility that, because the fault scarp extends south to the bottom of the mountain, the scarp in the photo above may have extended further south (right) at some point. If this is true, the facts that the scarp extension isn’t visible now, and its location lays within the area that tore loose during a landslide, would strongly suggest that the part of the northwest-facing scarp that did extend further south also collapsed in this landslide.|
The aerial photo to the right, taken from a blimp in 1931, shows virtually the entire landslide area on the Mount of Corruption (unfortunately, it doesn’t show the part touching Azal). The terraced-looking terrain on the western and southwestern slopes are areas affected by landsliding. The yellow dotted line designates the corner of the mountain between the southwestern and western slopes. As indicated by the northwest-facing scarp, though, the upper part of the mountain on the western slope, halfway between the corner of the mountain and the large building at the summit, faces northwest (for orientation’s sake, the building is aligned approximately 4° east of due north). The western half of the somewhat level-looking area at the summit (south of the large building on the northern part of the summit) is the area from which the top of the mountain collapsed.
As can be seen from the picture, this area at some former time supported a landform that faced southwest and northwest. The southwestern-facing half of the landform collapsed and fell down the southwestern slope; and the northwestern-facing half of it collapsed and fell down the western slope. To reiterate these facts within the context of Zechariah 14:4, the north and south facing halves of the landform that once existed on this part of the summit are gone.
Technically, a southwest-facing landform does not face true south; nor is a northwest-facing landform on the center part of the mountain a northern part of the mountain. But it is a spiritually dull mindset that stumbles over such technicalities when attempting to understand the enigmatic language of Zechariah’s visions. The number four appears repeatedly throughout Zechariah’s prophecies (Zechariah 1:18, 1:20, 2:6, 6:1, 6:5); so his reference to the four corners of the earth (i.e., north, south, east, and west) to describe the Mount of Olives tearing apart westward from its eastern half, such that northward and southward halves of the mountain summit would move from their places, is entirely consistent with his affinity for this mysterious, spiritual symbolism, whatever it signifies.
Zechariah’s Prophecy Already Fulfilled?
The landslide on the Mount of Corruption fulfills every aspect of Uzziah’s landslide as described by Josephus: it tore loose from the eastern half of the Mount of Olives and fell to the west; it closed up the king’s gardens; and it covered an area approximately one half-mile (four furlongs) in length. This landslide also fulfills all aspects of Zechariah’s prophecy, as it broke loose from the Mount of Olives eastern half, and fell to the west; and northward and southward halves of the summit collapsed into גיא־הרי (ge-harai) closing up it and the valley southwards to Azal. This is intriguing because that potentially shifts the timeframe of Zechariah’s prophecy from the future to the past. In actuality, the photographs above, which show that northward and southward halves of the mountain summit have departed from their places due to landsliding; and that landslide rubble closed up גיא־הרי (ge-harai) all the way to Azal, are very strong indications that Zechariah’s prophecy has been fulfilled. Unfortunately, the date this landslide occurred isn’t known. Gauging from the smaller, newer landslide discussed above, it is actually very probable that this location has experienced multiple landslides over the centuries.
The idea that a landslide occurred in this location during the Messiah’s first advent on earth, and was thus a fulfillment of Zechariah 14:4-5, is, by no means, farfetched. Zechariah 14:4-5 has two aspects that would have had to occur for this to be true: the Messiah standing upon the Mount of Olives; and a landslide occurance on the same mountain that causes northward and southward halves of the mountain to depart from their places, and that closes up גיא־הרי (ge-harai) to Azal. It has already been determined that this latter, landslide-related aspect has very definately occurred. When it occurred is the only unknown. The first aspect has also very definately occurred, as it is well known that the Messiah stood on the Mount of Olives many times during his sojourn on earth. His standing upon the Mount of Olives, and its subsequent tearing apart are not necessarily directly connected in time or space because sentence sequence doesn’t necessarily indicate, or prove, cause and effect in prophetic writings. In the context of prophecy it is quite plausible that the two events of the Messiah standing upon the Mount of Olives, and a landslide there are separate in both time and space. A good example supporting this claim is an Isaiah prophecy describing the Messiah’s time of ministry on earth and his subsequent day of recompence, which, depending upon how one interprets, were separated by a period of forty-something years (i.e., from Messiah’s appearance to 70 A.D.), or are separated at this point in time by nearly 2000 years:
The wording of the passage seems to indicate that “the day of recompence” occurs at the same time as the rest of the passage, because it occurs in sequence with it. The Israelites who were alive when the Messiah walked in their midst certainly had that expectation. However, the Messiah’s own interpretation of this prophecy and the witness of history clearly indicate that the two events are not directly connected in time.
The Messiah standing upon the Mount of Olives and its rending apart may indeed be directly connected, but in light of the previous example, to insist that they have to be is foolish presumption. Additionally, though the Messiah did physically stand on the Mount of Olives, Zechariah may have simply been speaking figuratively as Micah did when, in predicting Samaria’s destruction, he said that YHWH would “tread upon the high places of the land” (Micah 1:3). Or it may simply be that Zechariah was not given the understanding that these two events were separated in time, just as GOD hid so many other things in mystery from all of the prophets. For if those to whom the mystery of GOD has been revealed “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), how less clear was the prophetic lens in the preceding age when the mystery was not revealed (Ephesians 3:5)?
It is also known that two large earthquakes occurred during the Messiah’s first advent: one at his death and the other at his resurrection.
That earthquake must have been major in magnitude to fracture rocks, and terrify a battle-hardened centurion and his soldiers. The veil tearing in two from top to bottom may have been caused by the fall of one of its supporting marble pillars (or whatever marble support held it at its ends), which tore the veil from the top as it fell. This is purely speculation, but certainly not beyond plausibility. GOD’s anger at king Uzziah’s sin unleashed a major earthquake, which damaged the temple and triggered a large landslide. Why would there not be as much, or more, when GOD unleashed his anger against the sin of mankind upon his son? Because Jerusalem is built on a solid foundation of dolomite/limestone, it does not suffer the extensive damage areas east of the city do. This is especially true for the Mount of Olives, which is very susceptible to landslides due to its seismically-unstable, western slopes. If the earthquake was of sufficient magnitude to fracture rocks and open tombs in the city, and possibly damage the temple, it certainly could have been strong enough to cause a landslide on the Mount of Olives.
Additionally, as is typical with major earthquakes, a large aftershock soon followed.
Either one of those earthquakes could have triggered a landslide on the Mount of Olives. If a landslide occurred at either the Messiah’s death or resurrection, then it could be said with confidence that Zechariah 14:4-5 has been fulfilled. The only real question, then, is did a landslide occur then? If a landslide did occur at the Messiah’s death or resurrection, why wasn’t it mentioned in any of the four narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Perhaps it was. A noun for landslide doesn’t appear to have been a part of scriptural vernacular, because they are always portrayed descriptively with sentences. For example:
It is written in Matthew 27:51 that “the rocks rent” when the Messiah died. The Greek verb translated as “rent” (“split” in many versions) is σχιζω (schizo, G4977), and is the same verb used in the LXX version of Zechariah 14:4 to describe the Mount of Olives tearing apart. So the possibility does exist that the information was conveyed, albeit obscurely. Considering the facts that the apostles had been seriously traumatized, baffled, and elated after the crucifixion and resurrection; and that they returned to Galilee using a road well north of the landslide area; and that clogged roads would probably have been cleared quickly due to their importance to the Roman Empire, the impact on their consciousness could have been minimal. Also, because the men were Galileans, and therefore not as familiar with the local geography as the Judeans were, they may not have known about Azal, which laid outside the bounds of normal commerce and travel at the doorstep of Wady en-Nar (Valley of Fire) that descends through the Judean wilderness to the Dead Sea. And as was shown in a photograph above, the valley that was clogged up with rubble from the area of the king’s gardens to Azal is not observable from Jerusalem. Additionally, landslides on the Mount of Corruption have probably been a recurring and, therefore, not totally unexpected occurrance over the centuries, so another landslide there may not have been considered especially noteworthy. And finally, before becoming disciples of John and then the Messiah, the apostles were schooled under traditions reflected in the Targums, which framed Zechariah 14:3-5 within a Mosaic motif of fleeing to a split-in-two Mount of Olives. So even if a landslide had occurred right in front of their eyes, it is conceivable that they wouldn’t have been aware of its significance. Of course, they had the LXX, which had the correct rendering. But what were they to think about a disparate textual/exegetical matter concerning an obscure prophecy that had no direct bearing on their prime directive of proclaiming, and living in, the good news? And there are, in fact, other applicable prophecies that aren’t mentioned in their writings either (cf. John 21:25).
In conclusion, a number of other factors exist that support this line of thought, but it is enough to say that a plausible context has already been established to possibly explain why, if a landslide did occur, it wasn’t mentioned at all, or in greater detail. If a landslide didn’t occur at either the Messiah’s death or resurrection, then the world possibly awaits a future fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. Certainly, at some point in the future the Messiah will stand upon the Mount of Olives again. And before he returns to earth there will be a devastating earthquake in Jerusalem (Revelation 11:13). And when that earthquake does strike, the likelihood is great the Mount of Corruption’s seismically unstable slopes will collapse again, closing up גיא־הרי (ge-harai) all the way to Azal. And who’s to say that the Mount of Olives won’t split apart forming a great valley then? However, it would be wise to consider the fact that since this idea originated in men’s imaginations, the belief and expectation that it will split into a great valley is born of wishful thinking, rather than the inspiration of GOD. But even if it did happen, it certainly wouldn’t be as a fulfillment of Zechariah 14:4.
A Translation Conformed to an Interpretation Rooted in Tradition = Myth
The foregoing analysis has identified a compelling body of evidence that strongly indicates the correct translation of the Hebrew verb נסתם (nstm) in Zechariah 14:5 is “it shall be closed up”. Additionally, it has uncovered no evidence supporting the popular fable, yet has demonstrated it doesn’t make sense, is contrary to apostolic doctrine, and its elements originate in Jewish tradition.
At this point it is important to point out the subtle distinction between a translation and its interpretation. In this particular case, the translation (i.e., you shall flee) has become inextricably intertwined with its interpretation that states the subject of the verb (i.e., you) refers to people, even though nothing in the prophecy directly refers to people. That is simply a matter of interpretation, or assumption. To demonstrate how important this distinction is, and what ramifications it can have on exegesis, suppose for a moment that Zechariah actually did mean “you shall flee”, but instead of prophesying to people, prophesied to the rocks on the hill. That would completely change the interpretation from one that is improbable to one that is quite plausible.
The suggestion that Zechariah would prophesy to the rocks on the hill declaring they would flee before the face of an earthquake and fill the valley below is not inconceivable, for in another place the prophet declares “Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.” (Zechariah 4:7; see also Psalms 114:6, Ezekiel 6:3). When Zechariah made this declaration, he very well could have been on Mount Zion looking across the valley to the Mount of Corruption, which was a veritable symbol of wicked exaltation against GOD’s dominion. In fact, Zechariah 14:4-5 could be a prophetical extension of, or complement to, Zechariah 4:7. Both images dovetail nicely together with the recurrent prophetic theme of every exalted thing being humbled at the Messiah’s presence.
Unfortunately, since Zechariah is not here to explain exactly what he meant, the evidence must be weighed in order to make a reasoned judgment. In actuality, though, it is somewhat irrelevant whether he prophesied that the rocks would flee, or that the valley would be closed up because both convey the same overall message. A valley cannot be closed up with landslide rubble unless rocks “flee” from above, and rocks on the Mount of Olives cannot “flee” from the face of an earthquake without closing up the valley below. The consistent prophetic message is the abasement of pride, and the exaltation of humility, before the Messiah (e.g., every mountain abased, every valley exalted). It is fascinating that a word can be translated with two very different meanings (one right, the other wrong), yet the prophecy’s message remains essentially unchanged. It is only when an unfounded interpretation is imposed, i.e., you people shall flee, that the prophecy becomes badly skewed into false prophecy.
In light of these considerations, it cannot be said that those who thereafter translated bibles into other languages from these corrupted MT manuscripts actually mistranslated the verb נסתם (nstm), because the source they used was itself corrupted. Unfortunately, though, correct translation of an incorrect word still results in falsehood. The LXX has been available as a textual source, and Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews has been available as a historical reference, for many hundreds of years; so it is perplexing that so many translators have rejected the historically supportable rendering for one rooted solely in tradition. Perhaps that decision reflects a systemic, theological bias against Josephus and/or the LXX. If this is true, that attitude was misguided and counterproductive because the factual evidence in this case has vindicated both.
But as was demonstrated, even the presence of the incorrect verb doesn’t neccessarily alter the prophecy in a negative way. It is only when the interpretation of people fleeing to something is overlaid that gross error results. It can be said, then, that bible translators have mistranslated this prophecy by facilitating this traditional intepretation through the unwarranted insertion after the corrupted verb of a non-existent preposition (i.e., to, by, through), which skews the syntactic relationship of Zechariah 14:5. The very fact that the verb itself was corrupted certainly contributed to this error, for the translators in trying to make sense of something they didn’t understand, or know was corrupted, made an assumption that shouldn’t have been made.
It is not presumptuous to make such a statement, for other bible translators who translated from the MT have obviously agreed that “you shall flee” is an incorrect translation, e.g., the New Jerusalem Bible, the New American Bible, the New English Bible, the Concordant Literal Version, and the 1992 version of Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures, published by the Jewish Publication Society (JPS). The latter version being of Jewish origin is especially significant in this regard because it signifies a break from Jewish tradition and a strictly MT orthodoxy that is observable in printings of a precursor to this bible (תנך The Holy Scriptures, Vol. II), from 1955 to 1980, which have “ye shall flee”. In fact, the stated editorial policy of the JPS is to favor the MT; but in this particular case the LXX reading was preferred over the MT. And this pattern has been repeated with at least three other subsequent JPS publications: JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, 1999; Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary, 2001; and The JPS Bible Commentary Haftarot, 2002.
The syntax-skewing preposition referred to comes after the first instance of the corrupted verb as shown in the following examples:
As can be plainly seen, the added preposition transforms the phrase “the valley of my mountains” (or “this valley” in the NLT) into an adverbial modifying the verb “you shall flee”. Without the added preposition, the sentence with this verb meaning has a non-sensical syntax, which one bible commentator had the sense and presence of mind to recognize.
What Smith thought to be impossible is actually not that difficult to explain within the context of all of the evidence examined herein, which he, unfortunately, did not have access to. His stumbling at the point mentioned serves as a very good example of how in some instances, one poorly translated word (i.e., נגע, naga, H5060, translated as extend, or reach) can obscure the meaning of an entire passage of scripture.
An implied preposition in this case is non-normative because the Hebrew verb נַסְתֶם (nastem, you shall flee) normally takes a preposition (or terminative adverb):
In many versions, the translators adopted a more honest approach of signifying the preposition’s absence in the original text by either bracketing or italicizing it:
This, of course, doesn’t do much to prevent error except with those who know it’s a signal to dig beneath the surface to determine what’s going on. It is an honest technique, but ineffective for most people who simply assume translators know what they’re doing and trust their judgment completely. For these [to], or to, is read without brackets, or italics. Normally, this doesn’t create a problem. However, when a preposition wrongly restructures syntax (as has occurred in this case), falsehood results.
Conversely, syntax which places the phrase “valley of mountains” as the object of the verb “to close up” requires no extraneous proposition, is well-supported by evidence, and makes perfect sense.
The fact that the sentence, “The valley of mountains will be closed up”, makes perfect sense without manipulation is yet another witness supporting the validity of this rendering.
The Blind Leading the Blind
There is another aspect to this issue that builds upon the error caused by the faulty translation due to the corrupted text, and magnifies it. Of all the bible translators who missed the mark on Zechariah 14:5, only a few contraposed their translation with an unbiased, explanatory footnote containing the alternate translation (e.g., New International Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible). Some bracketed or italicized the preposition to indicate its absence in the original; while others inserted the non-existent preposition as if it was true, creating a subtle, yet direct falsehood. But some have grossly magnified the error by turning their translations into ridiculous paraphrases, or by including misleading commentary. For example, one translation says that people are to flee from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives (i.e., a specific direction) by running in all directions. This apparently is an attempt to give credence to the idea of people fleeing by creating the Hollywood-like image of panicked fleeing during an earthquake. Another translation describes people fleeing through a valley that extends from the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley to a gate in the wall of Jerusalem. This nonsensical interpretation, however, did not originate with the translators, as it appears in similar form in at least three bible commentaries published many decades earlier.
Viewed against the backdrop of the examined evidence, the presumption of the preceding comments is striking. How the authors of these commentaries came up with such unfounded ideas is unknown. Yet they serve as good examples of how delusion can snowball into even more delusion, as it is now believed and taught by not a few that between the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem’s Eastern Gate (also called the Golden Gate, or Gates of Mercy) lies a geologic fault that will split apart to form the great valley. Simple examination of a geologic map of Jerusalem reveals that no such fault exists. There is, however, an inactive fault running through the southern summit of the Mount of Olives (Mount of Corruption) to the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council), which apparently has been co-opted by some to make the myth appear credible.
As demonstrated by the preceding excerpts, perpetuation of the popular fable is facilitated through bible commentary by those who presume to be authoritative, yet either proclaim self-concocted fantasies, or simply repeat what they’ve heard, but don’t know what they’re talking about. However well-intentioned such efforts may be, they serve no beneficial purpose. Fantasy rooted in falsehood never edifies the kingdom of GOD, and will produce no enduring rewards for its sponsors (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Prudence cautions that it is better to humble one’s self and say nothing, than to presumptuously teach error (Proverbs 17:27-28, Matthew 12:36, Matthew 23:12, James 3:1).
Martin Luther’s obedience to this counsel is observable in his commentaries on Zechariah, and serves as an example worthy to be emulated. When confronted with his own inability to understand the mysteries contained in Zechariah 14, rather than pretend to be an authority on the matter, he said nothing about it in his first commentary (in Latin). And in his second commentary (in German) he frankly confessed:
Such a candid expression of self-honesty and restraint is to be admired and respected because it honors the truth and places no obstacles in the way of understanding as so much bible commentary on Zechariah 14:1-5 does. Luther’s confession makes one thing perfectly clear. His understanding of Zechariah 14:1-5 exceeded manyfold the combined understandings (of this pericope) of all who promote, have promoted, and ever will promote, the popular fable. Stated another way, it is immeasurably better to know that one doesn’t know, than to think that falsehood one has chosen to believe is truth (Matthew 6:23, John 9:41).
A Translation Conformed to Its Factual Context = Truth
A notable exception to the plethora of self-indulgent, useless commentary on Zechariah 14:4-5 is that by a Dr. Blayney, which exhibits balanced reasoning from a sound mind that had the sense to realize a context larger than that acceptable to shallow, copycat hermeneutics is required to discern the true meaning of such an obscure and complex prophecy.
Without an accurate contextual framework, the original text of Zechariah 14:4-5 is admittedly difficult to understand (even in the LXX). However, when its words are translated from the standpoint of their historical/evidential context, instead of solely through the lens of linguistic opinion, and/or through the blinders of tradition or hermeneutic bias, the difficulty and obscurity of the prophecy vanishes. This is demonstrated by the following two translations, which closely align with the scrutinized evidence. The first is a literal translation from the MT (Interlinear Scripture Analyzer), and the other is a literal translation from the LXX (Apostolic Bible Polyglot).
It would be difficult to argue that the following slightly less literal translation doesn’t accurately conform to the factual evidence:
This rendition is rather mundane and unexciting compared to the popular fable’s apocalyptic drama, and likely lacks appeal to those enamored with such. Regardless, the evidence does overwhelmingly indicate its tenor is the truth. Consequently, considering the abundant evidence contradicting the popular fable, and its complete lack of credible support, any airtime it continues to get is regrettable, and further unwarranted embarassment to the kingdom of GOD. Doctrinally, it is not that important an issue, but it is a stumbling block that needs to be removed (Isaiah 57:14). With more than sufficient evidence now in clear view that the correct translation of נסתם (nstm) in Zechariah 14:5 is “it shall be closed up”, there is no longer any excuse for the gainsaying ignorance and inept dullness that have clouded this issue for far too long. The following commentary is typical of what has been published regarding Zechariah 14:5, and exhibits the confusion surrounding this issue that has led most Western translators/expositors to exalt myth over reality.
Hopefully, once the evidence examined herein has settled into the minds of today’s modern critics, it will become apparent that the popular fable’s sense is so inept that they will refuse even to notice it. Selah.
Copyright © 2010, Zechariah Fourteen Five. All rights reserved.
This study is basically complete, but will be updated if new evidence materializes, new ideas congeal, or errors are discovered. The author can be reached at zechariahfourteenfive at yahoo dot com
For the record, and for what it’s worth, messages were sent in mid-2010 to the editors of both the NET Bible and the Logos Lexham English Bible (LEB) Old Testament notifying them of this study. Unfortunately, the editors of the LEB have chosen the popular fable over truth. The NET Bible is an online version that (supposedly) is continually subject to revision. It currently has the incorrect reading.