Deciphering Zechariah 14:5

An indepth analysis of Zechariah 14:5

The Truth Hidden Right in Front of Our Eyes

with 2 comments

There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and nothing hidden that will not be known. Luke 12:2

Author’s Note (15-Jan-2013)

This study was developed as a means of documenting the flowing assemblage of evidence that I uncovered over the course of several years while trying to determine the location of Azal mentioned in Zechariah 14:5. It is quite lengthy (50+ pages); technical and tedious at times; and possibly not organized all that well due to the fact that I was (am) more interested in thoroughness than form. However, as my learning progressed, I did progressively reformulate it as best I could to try to make it flow together in a reasonably readable form (meaning that as I found new material I included it where I best could); but it’s current form does not reflect my sequence of discovery, which (basically) is as follows:

  1. While searching Google Maps for Azal southeast of the Mount of Olives based on descriptions by Rabbi Joseph Schwarz in Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine, I noticed a river/valley south of the Hinnom Valley and southwest of the Mount of Olives that has the same Hebrew spelling as Azal. This was intriguing, to say the least. At the time, I did not have the sense to know or question why this valley had that name; I simply took it at face value.
  2. I learned that the Septuagint (LXX) has a completely different reading of Zechariah 14:5 (than what I was used to) that predicts a valley being blocked up just as a valley was blocked up by an earthquake during King Uzziah’s reign.
  3. I became aware of Josephus’ description in one of his books of an earthquake-caused landslide on the Mount of Olives during King Uzziah’s reign blocking up the kings’ gardens in the valley floor below. The area of the kings’ gardens abuts the southernmost summit of the Mount of Olives on its western slope, and the mouth of the aforementioned river/valley abuts it on its southwestern slope. I began looking for evidence of a landslide in this area.
  4. I found a scientific paper by Israeli geologists that contains a geologic map showing the locations of several prominent landslides on the Mount of Olives. From that map I was able to determine that one of those landslides is directly adjacent to the area of the kings’ gardens and the aforementioned river/valley (part of my background is in geology)
  5. I discovered a photograph of the well of En-Rogel in the area of the ancient king’s gardens that shows obvious signs of colluvial slumping on the western slope of the Mount of Olives directly adjacent to this area, and directly below the aforementioned landslide. Colluvial slumping is a long-term residual effect of landsliding.
  6. I found a book by George Adam Smith that reveals the area near the kings’ gardens is covered with up to fifty (50) feet of earthen debris. The book also contains a topographic map of Jerusalem that shows evidence of the effects of landsliding in this area.
  7. I discovered a photograph that shows colluvial slumping at the base of the entire southwestern slope of the southernmost summit of the Mount of Olives, directly below the aforementioned landslide, extending from the kings’ gardens to the aforementioned valley. I had been praying for a photograph that showed this view, but I never expected to see the remnant of such a massive landslide, nor to find a photo that basically validates the LXX rendering of Zechariah 14:5.
  8. I realized that linguist/archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau learned the aforementioned valley’s Arabic name from local Arab peasants in 1873-74, and claimed that this Arabic name (Yasul) corresponds exactly, satisfying all the rules of etymology, with the Hebrew Azal. Based on this he proposed that the valley is Azal mentioned in Zechariah 14:5.
  9. I learned that in the field of archaeology and among certain segments of Jerusalem’s current population, the aforementioned valley is considered to be biblical Azal. At this point in the investigation I relaxed my mind enough to step back and finally connect the dots to realize that Azal was on Google Maps because contemporary archaeologists had determined that Clermont-Ganneau was right. I was now able to see the forest instead of just the trees (so to speak).
  10. I discovered a photograph that shows colluvial slumping at the base of the western slope of the Mount of Olives directly adjacent to the area of the ancient king’s gardens (as well as most of the valley from there to the Azal Valley), which validates Josephus’ account of a landslide burying the king’s gardens.

At some point in this process (#4 or #5) I became convinced based on the overwhelming evidence that Azal is the valley due south of the Mount of Olives and the Hinnom Valley. Since this location impacts certain theological considerations, I felt compelled (contrary to my desires and inclinations) to address those issues in this study.

A condensed version of this study at Azal: A Longtime Mystery Rediscovered distills the most basic, compelling points (and includes some very important new material) without the length and tediousness of this study. It is recommended that you read that first.

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.

1 Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. 2 For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. 4 And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east. And 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; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. 5 And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my GOD shall come, and all the saints with thee.
Zechariah 14:1-5, King James Version

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.

The Dilemma

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.

The verb [נסתם], with a prefixed [ו], rendered, “Ye shall flee,” occurs three times in this verse, and may be the Niphal of [סתם], to stop or close up, as well as the second person plural of [נם], to flee.
Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, John Calvin, Vol. 5, pg. 414, translator’s footnote

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.

נסתם occurs three times in this verse. According to the Western pronunciation it is read נַסְתֶם [i.e., you shall flee]…, but the Oriental reading is וְנִסְתַם “and the valley of my mountains shall be closed up” in the first case, and נַסְתֶם [i.e., you shall flee] in the two other cases : so, too, the Targum and Rashi, and Ibn Ezra. LXX. in all three cases (Symm. and Hex.-Syr. in the first two) read nistám [i.e., it shall be closed up] …
Hebrew Students Commentary on Zechariah, W. H. Lowe, pg. 123, (1882)

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.

The efforts of the scholars to fix the reading and understanding of the sacred text were overshadowed somewhat by the study of the Talmud. After the close of the Talmud the work was resumed and cultivated in Babylonia and Palestine (at Tiberias). In both schools the work of former generations was continued; but the Palestinians, who acted more independently than the more Talmudically inclined Babylonians, finally got the victory over the Babylonian school.
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. 2, pg. 97, Bible Text

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:

The Jews, have a notion, that, at the general resurrection of the dead, the Mount of Olives will cleave asunder, and those of their nation, who have been buried in other countries, will be rolled through the caverns of the earth, and come out from under that mountain. This is what they call “gilgul hammetim”, the rolling of the dead; and “gilgul hammechiloth”, the rolling through the caverns. So they say in the Targum of Son_8:5:

“When the dead shall live, the mount of Olives shall be cleaved asunder, and all the dead of Israel shall come out from under it; yea, even the righteous, which die in captivity, shall pass through subterraneous caverns, and come from under the mount of Olives.”

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, John Gill, Zechariah 14:4


This notion of a final gathering under a split-in-half Mount of Olives is repeated in later commentary:

GOD will make them underground tunnels and they will travel through them, until they reach the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. GOD will stand on the mount causing it to split, and the Ten Tribes will emerge from within.
Midrash Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah 469

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:

The Jews … represent “the rolling through the caverns” as very painful and afflicting; and say that this was the reason that Jacob desired he might not be buried in Egypt, and is now one reason why the Jews are so desirous of returning to their own land: nay, at this time the more wealthy and religious among them go thither on this very account, especially when advanced in years, that they may die, and be buried there, and so escape this painful rolling under the earth.
The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments : Job to Solomon’s Song, Vol III, Adam Clarke. pp. 887-888, (1837)

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 Viewed within the context of the aforementioned passages, it is a stunning sight to behold (This one is spectacular).

Click image for higher resolution photo, and then zoom in for better detail.

The whole side of the mount along here is covered with the rude slabs lying flat upon the graves … For centuries this has been a burial place of the Jews, and though there have been periods when they sought sepulture in other quarters they have come back to this. From the bed of the Kedron very nearly to the summit of Olivet the stones seem almost as close together as they can be laid. But the graves are used again. The dust of forgotten millions laid here in the time of the city’s prosperity and later in her adversity awaits the awakening trump. For the Jews believe that those of their people who are buried here will have precedence in the resurrection, and many of the sons of Israel, whose whitening heads and tottering steps indicate that their earthly pilgrimage is nearly ended, come to spend their last days in their ancestral city that they may “be gathered unto their fathers” on the slope of Olivet.
Jerusalem the Holy; Edwin Sherman Wallace, Late United States Consul for Palestine; pg. 121-122; (1904)

Jews have sought since antiquity to be buried on the Mount of Olives, where according to the Bible (Zech. 14:4) the resurrection will begin when the Messiah comes.
Israel Ministry of Tourism: Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery

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.

Sandys, who began his travels in 1610, relates that the Jews in Constantinople, at that time, had the same veneration for the Holy Land as a place of sepulture, which modern travelers affirm of them at the present day. He says of them, that even after they have been buried there, they wait till the “flesh is consumed, then dig up the bones of those that are of their families; whereof whole boat-fulls not seldome do arrive at Joppa, to be conveyed and again interred at Jerusalem; imagining, that it doth adde delight unto the soules that did owe them, and that they shall have a quicker dispatch in the general judgment.”
Jerusalem Destroyed, Miss Grierson, pg. 269, (1830); Referenced book: A Relation of a Journey Begun Anno Dom. 1610, George Sandys, pg. 148

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.

And the Holy One, blessed be He, will go forth and fight them … and the mountains will move and the hills will shake, and the Mount of Olives split asunder from His arrows … And the Holy One, blessed be He, will descend upon it, and Israel will flee and escape.
Midrash Lekach Tov, pg. 259

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.

“Ye shall flee,” as the Hebrew Text reads, “into MY mountains” the lofty precipitous sides of this newly-formed chasm, or valley, being called His mountains, because they were formed by an act of His power. This may, in a sense, be regarded as a parallel to the passage through the Red Sea after it was divided by the power of God, and “the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left” (Ex. xiv. 22).
The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah: The Prophet of Hope and Glory, David Baron, pg. 497, (1918)

When all is lost, YHWH leads His people forth, and like Moses at the Red Sea, parts the mountain by the very act of treading upon it (v.4). Evidence of an exodus motif continues in the choice of verb to describe the division of the mountain, for it (בָקַע [baqa’] “split”) is the same as that used to speak of the division of the waters (Ex. 14:16,21; Neh. 9:11; Ps 78:13; Isa 65:12). The splitting of the mountain creates a new valley, one that is on an east-west axis. This is clear from the compass points of the narrative which suggests that the cleft goes from east to west, exactly as the waters of the Red Sea were separated (Ex. 14:21-22).
Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Exegetical Commentary, Eugene H. Merrill, pg. 305, (2003)

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.

And the Lord shall be revealed, and fight in battle against those nations as the day he fought in battle at the Red Sea. In that time, the Lord shall take a great shofar in hand and sound ten trumpet blasts to make the dead live. And he shall be revealed in might upon the Mount of Olives before Jerusalem to the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in half … And you shall flee …
Zechariah 14:3-4, 5; Targum Jonathan to the Prophets, literal translation from The Jewish Literary Aramaic version (Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project) with variants from texts cited in the critical apparatus of A. Sperber’s The Aramaic Bible (Brill, 1959-73)

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).

The Halacha in Targum Jonathan is that of Judaism as defined by R[abbi]. Akiba and his school. Since Biblical practices often differed from those considered proper in Rabbinic times, the Targumists deliberately changed the text whenever necessary to bring it into conformity with Rabbinic Halacha. Historical accuracy was often sacrificed for the sake of Halachic expediency and need.
Studies in Targum Jonathan to the Prophets, Leivy Smolar, et al, pg. xxix

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.

Accordingly, so important was tradition, that the greatest merit a Rabbi could claim was the strictest adherence to the traditions, which he had received from his teacher. Nor might one Sanhedrin annul, or set aside, the decrees of its predecessors. To such length did they go in this worship of the letter, that the great [Rabbi] Hillel was actually wont to mispronounce a word, because his teacher before him had done so.
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim, pg. 98

The Masoretes then, later redacted this tradition into the MT, from which the popular fable derives.

The Masoretes fixed the reading of the text by the introduction of the vowel-signs, the accents, and the signs which affect the reading of the consonants. … The pronunciation they thus brought about was no invention, but embodied the current tradition. Nevertheless, one can not accept every Masoretic reading as infallible and unchangeable, especially when one considers that the tradition no doubt often fluctuated and that with such fluctuation the less correct reading may often have come into the text.
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. 2, pg. 97, Bible Text

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.

And the Lord shall go forth, and fight with those Gentiles as when he fought in the day of art [i.e., war]. And his feet shall stand in that day on the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave asunder, half of it toward the east and the west, a very great division; and half the mountain shall lean to the north, and half of it to the south. And the valley of my mountains shall be closed up, and the valley of the mountains shall be joined on to Jasod [Yasŏl], and shall be blocked up as it was blocked up in the days of the earthquake, in the days of Ozias king of Juda; and the Lord my GOD shall come, and all the saints with him.
Zechariah 14:3-5, LXX, Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton, published 1851

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:

In the mean time a great earthquake shook the ground and a rent was made in the temple, and the bright rays of the sun shone through it, and fell upon the king’s face, insomuch that the leprosy seized upon him immediately. And before the city, at a place called Eroge, half the mountain broke off from the rest on the west, and rolled itself four furlongs, and stood still at the east mountain, till the roads, as well as the king’s gardens, were spoiled by the obstruction.
Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus, book 9, chapter 10, paragraph 4, verse 225, translated by William Whiston

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).

[Photo showing general area of the king's gardens cultivated with many gardens by the villagers of Silwan (top right). The mountains in the top of the picture are Mount Ophel (left), Mount Moriah (center), and the Mount of Corruption (right).]

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.

Aerial photo of Jerusalem and Valley of Azal

Update (01-Feb-2015)

In 1955 the Israel Government Names Commitee named Wadi Yasul, Nahal Azal. Until April 2014 Google Maps mistakenly labeled Nahal Azal (in English), Nahal Etsel. The screenshot below captured Nahal Etsel in Google Maps in 2009 when this study was being written.

Nahal Etsel

This error was due to the erroneous association of אצל (Azal) with the similarly spelled אצ”ל (IZL; pronounced etsel), which is the acronym for the Irgun military organization (also called Etzel) that violently opposed the British Mandate government (1920-47) headquartered at Government House atop the southern ridge of Nahal Azal. This ridge was named Mount Azal (הר אצל) in 1990 by the Israel Government Names Committee (; however, since a number of streets near Government House are named in honor of אצ”ל (Etzel) members, some locals call the ridge Mount Etsel (הר אצ”ל), and (by association from its geographic proximity and similar Hebrew spelling) the watershed it overlooks to the north, Nahal Etsel. So whoever compiled Google’s original map data for this area used, for Wadi Yasul, a local nickname derived from mistaken association (Nahal Etsel), rather than its official Hebrew name (Nahal Azal).Google has corrected this error, and it is mentioned here parenthetically to help the reader understand the confusion it introduced when this study was written (click on map above to see how it is labeled in Google Maps now.).

Now back to our scheduled programming…


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.

Azel, ā’zel, AV Azal (אָצַל,´āçēl; ’Ασαήλ, Asaēl; Zec 14 5) : A place not far from Jerus[alem]. There may be an echo of the name in that of Wādy Yasūl, to the right of ‘Ain el-Lōz, in Wādy en-Nār.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, et al; Azel; (1915)

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.

Going down Wâd en Nâr, below Bîr Eyûb, when one comes to ‘Ain el Lauz (a ten minutes’ walk) one sees on the right hand a little valley which comes from the west, and whose drainage probably feeds the well of ‘Ain el Lauz. This valley, which is pretty large but very short, is shown in some old maps, but without any name. The fellahîn of Selwân call it Wadyâsûl, which we ought probably to break up into Wâd+Yâsûl, not Wady+Âsûl, for other peasants have pointed it out to me under the name of Shèb Yâsûl and Ardh Yâsûl. … Yâsûl, indeed, corresponds very regularly with the Hebrew אצל [Azal], which occurs in that most difficult and celebrated passage of Zechariah xiv, 5 … As for Esel [Azal], most commentators agree in regarding it as the name of 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?
Archaeological Researches in Palestine, Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Vol. 1. pg. 420, (1899)

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.)

… [Yasul] corresponds exactly, satisfying all the rules of etymology, with the Hebrew אבל [Azal], which occurs in the difficult and famous passage of Zechariah xiv. 5 …
Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement, Charles Clermont-Ganneau, April 1874, pg. 102

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.

Lieut Claude R. Conder, R.E., who has achieved so much in the recent explorations of Palestine, has informed me that Azal is a place not known, but that M[onsieur]. Clermont-Ganneau has suggested that it may be the present Wady Asul or Yasul, an affluent of the Kedron. Lieut. Conder notes, however, that the names are not very similar, and no ruin exists to which the name applies.
Zechariah and His Prophecies, Charles Henry Hamilton Wright, pg. 476, (1879)

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).

[Image from one of the few maps in Christian books that actually shows (partially) the location of the stream of Azal.]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.

The high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king [Josiah] defile. And he brake in pieces the images, and cut down the groves, and filled their places with the bones of men.
2 Kings 23:13, King James Version

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.

And [Uzziah] did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done; Save that the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places.
2 Kings 15:3, King James Version

[Relief/topo map showing the locations of the landslide on the Mount of Corruption, and Azal due south of it.]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).

Location of landslide location between En-Rogel and Azal identified by Charles George Gordon in 1882-83.Jerusalem is like this [see map to right], and my idea is, that the cleft will be in the Mount of Olives, at A. Half the mountain will go north, and the other half will go south, and fill up the valley of Zin, at B. The description of the earthquake in the time of Uzziah is given in Josephus, ‘Antiquities,’ IX. x. 4 (see also the note therein alluding to Zechariah), when the rock split off, and blocked the valley. Evidently the prophecy alludes to that part of the rock blocking the valley at EnRogel.
Events in the life of Charles George Gordon: from its beginning to its end, Henry William Gordon, pg. 286, (1886)

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.

[Photo taken by a member of the American Colony in Jerusalem in the early part of the the twentieth century, showing Jerusalem, the southwestern part of the landslide on the Mount of Corruption, and landslide rubble touching the valley of Azal.]

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.

[Landslide on the southwestern slope of the Mount of Corruption showing a slumping mass of landslide rubble at the base of the mountain touching Azal.]

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:

And the valley of my mountains shall be blocked up; and the valley of mountains shall be closed up even to Jasod [Yasŏl/Azal]. It shall be blocked up as it was in the days of the earthquake in the days of Ozias king of Juda. …
Zechariah 14:5, LXX, first English translation by Charles Thomson, Secretary to the first United States Congresss, published 1808

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.

Azal Valley from Jerusalem

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.

[Photograph taken sometime around 1894 showing area of the king's gardens, the well of En-Rogel, landslide rubble on the Mount of Corruption, and the valley of Azal. Photo is from Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee and the Journeys of His Apostles by John Vincent, et al]

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.

The view from En Rogel is very striking. The hills rise high, to both east and west. On the north are the outlying slopes of Zion and Moriah, with part of the city walls, overhead, and to the south the eye follows the course of the valley to its south-eastern bend. There, the hill, which sinks gently southwards, offers a pleasant view of luxuriant olive-trees and springing fields, but the one east of the well is as rough and barren as the other is attractive. It bears the ominous name of the Hill of Offence, from the belief that it was here that Solomon built temples to Chemosh, the abomination of the Moabites, and to the other heathen gods of the neighbouring peoples (1 Kings 11:7).
The Holy Land and the Bible, Cunningham Geikie, Vol. 1, pg. 557, (1887)

[Topo map showing disparity between the densely settled Silwan and the lightly settled landslide area on the Mount of Corruption. Map is from the General Plan of Jerusalem found in George Adam Smith's Jerusalem: The Topography, Economics, and History.]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.).

[Relief/topo map of the Mount of Corruption]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.

Bir Eyub is at present a deep well (125 feet), from which an almost inexhaustible supply of water, of better quality than that at the Virgin’s Fountain, can be drawn all the year round. In the height of a particularly dry summer I have known of a hundred and twenty animals – donkeys, mules, and horses – being employed night and day carrying goatskins of water (two or three to each animal) up to Jerusalem. On an average every animal made four or five journeys within the twenty-four hours. In addition great quantities of water were taken locally – for Silwan and for the vegetable gardens near the well.
The Biblical World, Dr. E. W. G. Masterman, Vol. 19, pg. 89, (1902)

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.

South of this well [Bir Eyub, En-Rogel, Well of Joab], about 500 yards, there is a place called by the Arabs, “The Well of the Steps,” about which they had a tradition that there were steps leading up to the Well of Joab. I had the ground opened, and at 12 feet below the surface came upon a large stone which suddenly rolled away, revealing a staircase cut in the solid rock leading to a rock-cut chamber and aqueduct, running north and south. … We cleared it out to the north for about 100 feet, and found it to be a great aqueduct 6 feet high, and from 3 feet 6 inches to 4 feet broad. … This tunnel, as we have now examined it, extends from near Bir Eyub to a point 1,800 feet down the Kedron valley [i.e., Wady en-Nar]: it has been judiciously cut under one side (the west side) of the valley, so that, though it is from 70 to 90 feet under the surface of the rock, yet the staircases being commenced to the east (nearer the bottom of the valley), have not to descend by more than 40 to 50 feet. In the 1,800 feet we have cleared out, seven staircases have been exposed … It is apparent that this aqueduct was of considerable importance, for the labour in cutting it so far below the surface must have been enormous. That it was for water I think there can be no doubt, and probably for pure water.
The Survey of Western Palestine, Sir Charles Warren, et al, pp. 372-374 (1884)

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.

Apparently this grotto was originally natural, but afterwards cut out so as to form a receiving tank. It is 35 feet from east to west, and 20 feet from north to south, nearly oval on plan ; it is about 45 feet in height, the roof being formed by the sides gradually approaching each other. At the highest point there appears to be a shaft upwards, about 2 feet square, covered by a white stone. The bottom of the passage by which we entered is about 9 (or more) feet above the bottom of the cistern, so that there would always be a depth of 9 feet of water retained in it. At the northern end are two aqueducts running into the cistern … they both come from the same point (about 80 feet north-northeast of the cistern), where they are in one, forming a passage 15 feet high, and nearly 6 feet wide. This point is 90 feet due west of Bir Eyub. … A shaft was now sunk at 75 feet north of the pool at Bir Eyub, and at a depth of 22 feet came on head of staircase. … The staircase to south (with fifty-four steps) falls 41 feet 5 inches in 72 feet, and ends in the aqueduct, where the upper and lower join together, at about 86 feet north of the grotto. These staircases were only partially filled up with mud and broken jars and pottery.
The Survey of Western Palestine, Sir Charles Warren, et al, pg. 373-375 (1884)

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).

[Zechariah] also said the actual pinnacles [of the Mount of Olives] were split, the result being the filling-in of the valleys, struck by an unexpected earthquake as far as Azal, a town situated at the far point of the mountain, they say.
Commentary on the Twelve Prophets, Volume 3, Saint Cyril (Patriarch of Alexandria), pp. 259-260, translated by Robert C. Hill (2012)

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.

So [after Uzziah became a leper] he abode out of the city for some time, and lived a private life, while his son Jotham took the government; after which he died with grief and anxiety at what had happened to him, when he had lived sixty-eight years, and reigned of them fifty-two; and was buried by himself in his own gardens.
Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus, book 9, chapter 10, paragraph 4, verse 227, translated by William Whiston

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:

On page 1512, next to Hebrews 1:3, the text contains an interesting marginal note, “Fool and knave, leave the old reading and do not change it!” – “ἀμαθέστατε καὶ κακέ, ἄφες τὸν παλαιόν, μὴ μεταποίει”, which may suggest that inaccurate copying, either intentional or unintentional, was a recognized problem in scriptoriums.
Wikipedia, Codex Vaticanus; Referenced quote: T. C. Skeat, The Codex Vaticanus in the 15th Century, JTS 35 (1984), ss. 454–465); T. C. Skeat, The Codex Vaticanus in the 15th Century, w: T. C. Skeat i J. K. Elliott, The collected biblical writings of T. C. Skeat, Brill 2004, p. 131.

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).

Deciphering Eroge

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:

I do not doubt but that this remarkable event is alluded to in Zechariah, and that גיא הרי Ge Harai, is by transposition nothing else than the Eroge for Ge-ore, of Josephus, Hebrew Ge Harai, or that it was called both Ge Harai and Harai Ge; and I actually once saw an edition of Zechariah which read ונסתם הרי גיא [i.e. “and הרי גיא (harai-ge) shall be closed up”] …
Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine, Joseph Schwarz, pp. 263-264, (1850)

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:

… in process of time, as usually happens to such as undertake great things, I grew weary, and went on slowly, it being a large subject, and a difficult thing to translate our history into a foreign, and to us unaccustomed, language.
Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus, 1.7

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”:

הרי [harai] is the same as הרים [haraim]. There are other examples of this form, as אצילי ידי (armholes, Ezek. xiii. 18,) for ידים . And again, וקרע לו חלוני, “And cutteth him out windows” (Jer. xxii. 14), for חלונים. And again, חשופי שת, the same as חשופים (Isaiah xx. 4). And there are other similar instances, as we have written in the book Michlal.
Commentary on the Prophecies of Zechariah, David Kimchi, pg. 180, (1838)

[גיא־הרי (ge-harai), or 'valley of mountains', is the valley at the bottom of this topo map.]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:

And before the city, at a place called Heroge [הרי־גיא (harai-ge), valley of mountains], half the mountain broke off from the rest on the west, and rolled itself four furlongs, and stood still at the east mountain, till the roads, as well as the king’s gardens, were spoiled by the obstruction.
Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus, book 9, chapter 10, paragraph 4, verse 225, translated by William Whiston

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 valley of my mountains will be filled in, and a valley of the mountains will be joined together as far as Azal in the way it was filled in at the time of the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. …
Zechariah 14:5, LXX, Alexandrian version circa 387 AD used by Didymus the Blind in Commentary on Zechariah; translated by Robert C. Hill in The Fathers of the Church, A New Translation, Volume 111, Didymus the Blind: Commentary on Zechariah, pg. 325, (2006)

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:

The valley between the hills will be filled in, yes, it will be blocked as far as Jasol [Yasŏl], it will be filled in as it was by the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. …
Zechariah 14:5, New Jerusalem Bible, 1985

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.

In Arabic, yâsûl signifies a certain part of a plow that joins it to the yoke(?); it seems that it is an old Semitic word, preserved in the language of the Talmud in the form יצול (plough-tail).
Archaeological Researches in Palestine, Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Vol. 1. pg. 420, (1899)

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.

But I think I have found the key to this passage, and will quote for this end the following passage from Josephus, Antiq., book 9., chap. 10., being a part of the history of Uzziah: “The king was highly nettled at this, and threatened to put them to death if they spoke a word more. Immediately the earth trembled, and the roof of the temple opened, through which a beam of the sun darted full upon the face of the king, who from that instant became a leper. This prodigy was followed by another: near a certain place before the city, named Eroge, the one half of a mountain that looked westward was torn from the other half, and rolled for the space of four furlongs, till it stopped to the eastward of it, by which means the road was blocked up, and the king’s gardens covered with rubbish.
Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine, Joseph Schwarz, pp. 263-264, (1850)

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:

For behold, the Lord goes forth out of his place, and he will go down and walk upon the heights of the earth. And the mountains will be shaken from beneath him … and I will tear down her stones into chaos
Micah 1:3-4, 6, LXX, Apostolic Bible Polyglot

Similar to the LXX translation of Zechariah 14:4, TgJ has force (חילא, khelah) instead of valley (חילת, khelat).

… And the Mount of Olives will tear apart from its eastward half; a very great force (חילא, khelah) westward. And half of the mountain to the north, and half to the south, will tear out. And an army (חילא, khelah) by mountains will be closed up, for a valley (חילת, khelat) of mountains will be joined together unto Azal
Zechariah 14:4; Targum Jonathan to the Prophets, literal translation from The Jewish Literary Aramaic version (Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project)

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.

[Geologic map showing the landslide on the Mount of Corruption, and two adjoining fault scarps]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.

[Picture taken from the Hill of Evil Counsel (or Council) above the Hinnom Valley looking east towards the southern part of the Mount of Corruption, showing a scarp and landslide area.]

[Topo map of the Mount of Corrution showing the location of two fault scarps, and a northwest-facing landform that appears to align with the northwest-facing fault scarp.]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.

[Aerial photo, shot from a blimp in 1931, of the large landslide area on the Mount of Corruption.]

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 Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; to declare the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of recompence; to comfort all that mourn; that there should be given to them that mourn in Sion glory instead of ashes, the oil of joy to the mourners, the garment of glory for the spirit of heaviness: and they shall be called generations of righteousness, the planting of the Lord for glory.
Isaiah 61:1, LXX, Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton, published 1851

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 Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
Luke 4:18, King James Version

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.

Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
Matthew 27:50-54, King James Version

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.

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
Matthew 28:1-2, King James Version

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:

And surely the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rock is removed out of his place.
Job 14:18, King James Version

Therefore will we not fear when the earth is troubled, and the mountains are removed into the depths of the seas.
Psalms 46:2, LXX, Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton, published 1851

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:

And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal.
Zechariah 14:5, English Standard Version

And ye shall flee by the valley of my mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azel.
Zechariah 14:5, American Standard Version

You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal.
Zechariah 14:5, New Living Translation

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.

Heb. : and ye shall flee, the ravine of My mountains. The text is obviously corrupt, but it is difficult to see how it should be repaired. LXX., Targ. Symmachus and the Babylonian codd. (Baer, p. 84) read וְנֽסְתַם, shall be closed, for וְנַסְתֶם, ye shall flee, and this is adopted by a number of critics (Bredenkamp, Wellhausen, Nowack). But it is hardly possible before the next clause, which says the valley extends to Asal.
The Book of the Twelve Prophets, George Adam Smith, Vol. II, pg. 486, (1898)

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):

A preposition is implied here [Zechariah 14:5] but apart from a couple of exceptions (Josh. 8.20; 1 Kgs 12.18 = 2 Chron. 10.18) the verb נוס [nvs, Strong’s H5127] when it has the meaning ‘to flee to’ normally takes a preposition (ל or אל) or terminative adverb (e.g., שמה).
Inspired Speech, Recovering an Ancient Paronomasia in Zechariah 14:5, David Marcus, pg. 130, footnote #2

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:

And ye shall flee [to] the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal.
Zechariah 14:5, Webster’s Bible Translation

And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal.
Zechariah 14:5, King James Version

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.

And the valley of mountains will be closed up, and the valley of mountains will be joined together all the way to Azal …
Zechariah 14:5, LXX, Apostolic Bible Polyglot, literal translation

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.

אצל [Azal] was the proper name of a place, close to one of the gates on the east side of Jerusalem, to which the cleft or valley was to extend westward, so as at once to admit those who should flee from the enemy.
The Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets, Ebenezer Henderson, pg. 432, (1845)

Azal – the name of a place near a gate east of the city. … The valley reaches up to the city gates, so as to enable the fleeing citizens to betake themselves immediately to it on leaving the city.
A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Vol. 4, pg. 707, (1871)

[The Lord on the Mount of Olives] may be conceived of as from that point looking toward the city, and making the cleft to reach to its very gates; so that there might be no difficulty in finding an outlet;—no embarrassment, no hesitancy, no delay. The danger being immediate, the way of flight from it is thus instantly accessible at the very point where it was needed.
Lectures on the Prophecies of Zechariah, Ralph Wardlaw, pg. 394, (1869)

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:

Here, in this chapter, I give up. For I am not sure what the prophet is talking about.
“Lectures on Zechariah. The German Text, 1527” in Luther’s Works, Vol. 20: Lectures on the Minor Prophets III: Zechariah, Martin Luther, pg. 337.

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.

If, in order to determine which of the two interpretations is best, we consider the context, and the history of the earthquake referred to, as well as the age of the interpreters [i.e., era of the LXX and the Arabic translations], all will concur in deciding in favour of the former [i.e., it shall be closed up]. Scripture is altogether silent in respect to the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, except that it is just mentioned as an era, or date, Amos i. 1. But Josephus describes it as having taken place at the time when Uzziah invaded the priestly office, and was smitten with leprosy, and adds, “Before the city, at a place called the Cleft, one half of the mountain, on the western side, was broken off, and having rolled four furlongs towards the eastern mountain stopped, so that the roads were choked up, and the king’s gardens.” What then can be more apposite than to render, “And the valley of the mountains shall be choked up, as it was choked up by the earthquake in the days of Uzziah?”
A Literal Translation of the Prophets, Dr. Blayney, et al, Vol. 5, pg. 376, (1836)

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).

And in that day, his feet will stand upon the Mount of Olives that is before Jerusalem to the east. And the Mount of Olives will tear apart from his eastward half, even a vehemently great valley westward. And half of the mountain northward and half of it southward will depart. And the valley of mountains [גיא־הרי (ge-harai)] will be closed up, for the valley of mountains [גי־הרים (ge-haraim)] will be joined together all the way to Azal. And it [גיא־הרי (ge-harai)] will be closed up as it was closed up from the presence of the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah. …
Zechariah 14:4-5, MT, Interlinear Scripture Analyzer, literal translation

And in that day his feet will stand upon the Mount of Olives facing Jerusalem to the east. And the Mount of Olives will tear apart from its eastward half, even a vehemently great chaos westward. And a half of the mountain northward and a half of it southward will fall. And the valley of my mountains will be closed up; and the valley of mountains will be joined together all the way to Azal. And it (i.e., valley of my mountains) will be closed up in the manner it was closed up from in front of the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah. …
Zechariah 14:4-5, LXX, Apostolic Bible Polyglot, literal translation

It would be difficult to argue that the following slightly less literal translation doesn’t accurately conform to the factual evidence:

… The Mount of Olives will tear apart from its eastward half, a vehemently great chaos westward; and the north- and south-facing halves of the mountain summit will fall. And the valley of my mountains will be closed up and filled in as far as Azal, as it was closed up during the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah. …
Zechariah 14:4-5, LXX, Apostolic Bible Polyglot, less literal translation

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.

In place of נַסְתֶּם [i.e., you shall flee] several MSS. read נִסְתָם [i.e., it shall be closed up], which is the reading followed by LXX., Aq., Sym., Targ., Arab., the first of which [i.e., LXX] renders ἐμφραχθήσεται, shall be stopped up. This is adopted by Flügge, Dathe, Blayney, and Boothroyd ; but the sense is so inept that some modern critics refuse even to notice it.
A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical, Johann Lange, Vol. 14, pg. 109, (1866)

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.

Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
John 3:11, New King James Version

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.


Written by zechariahfourteenfive

February 10, 2010 at 2:39 am

2 Responses

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  1. This website has enormous amount of wealth … Thanks for the excellent study…


    August 24, 2013 at 11:32 am

  2. Thank you for sharing this amazingly detailed study of Zech 14:5. I haven’t been able to give it the proper time or reading it deserves yet, but from what I have read, your conclusions on the translation and the location of Azal seems solid and fit the physical and historical criteria. I understand how this dispels the “epic” rendering of the mountain being cleft in two and so on. However, as it takes Zech 14:5 in isolation I am wondering how this understanding fits in with the whole chapter describing the gathering of all the nations against Jerusalem, the Lords defense of Jerusalem when it is in crisis and the very peculiar plague that assaults the nations, etc. How do you understand the chapter in its entirety. For example, are you proposing that verse 5 is describing the circumstances that lead to physical layout of the land as it will be on the Lords day as opposed to the land of Zechariahs time? I find this prophecy fascinating, so I would be interested to understand your view of it. Many thanks once again!


    November 24, 2015 at 5:47 pm

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