Deciphering Zechariah 14:5

An indepth analysis of Zechariah 14:5

Posts Tagged ‘nahal etsel

Was Azal One of Solomon’s Chariot Cities?

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If you’re not up to speed yet on where Azal in Zechariah 14:5 is located, see Azal: A Longtime Mystery Rediscovered.


Was Azal Even a City?

Ample evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Azal mentioned in Zechariah 14:5 is the river/valley that joins the Kidron Valley at the southern end of the Mount of Olives. However, evidence that there also was a town named Azal is scant. In fact, the only explicit evidence we have that Azal was a town is from Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria (412-444 AD), who mentioned in his commentary on Zechariah 14 that Azal was known to be “a town situated at the far point of the mountain [of olives]”.

[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)

The Masoretic Text (MT) version of Zechariah 14:5, that underlies the narrative of fleeing east through a split Mount of Olives to Azal, has led many to believe that this “far point” was at the east of the mountain. For instance:

According to Cyril [Azal] is a village to the east of Mount Olives, but his statement is based upon mere hearsay.
Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 9 – The Minor Prophets, Frederick Carl Eiselen, pg. 680, (1907)

However, this statement is misleading because Cyril didn’t say anything about Azal being east of the Mount of Olives. That idea is based upon mere assumption. And without knowing who told Cyril about Azal’s location, it is presumptuous to say “his statement is based upon mere hearsay” because they (i.e., Cyril’s sources) may have had direct, personal knowledge of Azal. It would be presumptuous also to assume that Cyril consciously meant, or even conceived, that Azal was east of the Mount of Olives because the MT, from which that narrative derives, did not even exist yet. It is obvious from his remark (i.e., “the filling-in of the valleys … as far as Azal”) that he used the Septuagint (LXX), which says nothing about fleeing east through a newly made valley reaching all the way to Azal, but does say that an existing valley would be filled in and blocked as far as Azal. The only valley where this is realistic (because it’s already happened there) is the Kidron Valley between the well of En Rogel and the mouth of Azal River/Valley at the southernmost point of the Mount of Olives.

So, as a matter of fact, it is far more realistic to conclude that Cyril was referring to the far southern point of the Mount of Olives (whether he knew so or not), because that is exactly where the mouth of Azal River/Valley is located. This fact alone lends authenticity to his comment, and essentially discredits the presumption that “his statement is based upon mere hearsay”, because those who told Cyril about Azal’s location appear to have known what they were talking about.

Four hundred years after Cyril, a church named after Saint Cyriacus (also spelled Quriaqos), located in a town purported to have existed “at the southern corner of the Mount of Olives”, appeared in Commemoratorium de Casis Dei vel Monasteriis, which is a document created for Emperor Charlemagne in 808 AD identifying churches and monasteries existing then in Palestine.

De Casis Dei also speaks of the church in the name of Cyriacus … There was evidently also a wadi called after Cyriacus, and this church was situated in the village of Yason and called by its full name after the Saints Cyriacus and Julitta. Milik identifies the place with Wadi Yasul at the southern corner of the Mount of Olives
A History of Palestine, 634-1099; Moshe Gil; pg. 440, (1992)

Wadi Yasul is, of course, Azal Valley; and the town’s name, Yason, is suspiciously similar to Yasul, and more so to Yasol, the Greek word for Yasul that was used by Greek-speaking Christians there. There are all kinds of possibilities that could account for this name similarity, but since it is too frustrating (and pointless) to go down speculation’s path very far with so little information, suffice it to say that the names are phonetically similar enough to suggest a connection. So here is evidence of a town existing “at the southern corner of the Mount of Olives”, which is exactly where the mouth of Azal River/Valley is located, with a name similar to the Arabic name that replaced Azal, four centuries after Cyril indicated the town of Azal was known to exist “at the far point of the mountain [of olives]”. This adds credibility to Cyril’s comment.

And there is more that adds tremendous credibility to what Cyril wrote. Consider the picture below looking south from Mount Zion.

The Mysterious Underground Aqueduct to Azal

Beneath the northeastern slope of the Hill of Evil Counsel (pictured above) lies an 1800-feet-long aqueduct, approximately 6 feet high and 4 feet wide, that was chiseled through rock 70-90 feet below the surface. It begins near the well of En Rogel and ends over 1/3 of a mile away near the well of Ain el-Loz at the mouth of Azal Valley. Spaced along its length seven staircases descended from the surface to the aqueduct. At the beginning of the aqueduct (90 feet west and 80 feet south-southwest of En Rogel) is a large underground cistern with a holding capacity of roughly 30,000-40,000 gallons (minimum), that was cut out from a natural cavern. Groundwater seepage into the cavern overflowed the cistern into the aqueduct, which channeled the water down the Kidron Valley to Azal Valley.

Below is another picture showing basically the same view as above, but since it was taken further up-slope on Mount Zion (and a little further to the west), the far southern point of the Mount of Olives is visible, where the Azal and Kidron watercourses meet. It also shows the general course of the aqueduct from near En Rogel to Ain el-Loz.

The southern entrance to this aqueduct was discovered by Sir Charles Warren in 1867 near Ain el-Loz (or Ain el-Lozeh) at the mouth of Azal Valley, twelve feet below the surface at a place called by the Arabs of Silwan ‘The Well of the Steps’ (Ain ed-Durrage), a name which was based on their tradition of there being underground steps from there to the well of En Rogel. Warren initially conjectured that the aqueduct was used to remove sewage from the city, or to sequester surface water underground so as to deny an invading army access to it.

Looking at this aqueduct from a sanitary point of view, we might suppose it built for carrying off the sewage of the city, and, from a military point of view, for carrying secretly off any superabundant water to the nearest crevice in the rocks ; possibly it may have been used for both purposes.
The Survey of Western Palestine, Sir Charles Warren, et al, pg. 372 (1884)

But after finding that the aqueduct did not extend to Jerusalem and was fed by an underground cistern, he concluded that it most likely was used for drinking water.

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, pg. 374 (1884)

Warren’s fascinating report of his discovery is on pages 372-375 in The Survey of Western Palestine – Jerusalem. He found the aqueduct clogged with mud and had it cleared, but apparently it had been used from antiquity until the Egyptian annexation of Jerusalem (1831-40 AD).

About a quarter of a mile below the “Bir Ayub” [En Rogel] near Jerusalem, on the right hand side as one goes down the valley, there is a recess in the bank which, if noticed in dry weather, might be taken for a gravel pit. Here, however, in the rainy season water comes to the surface in considerable quantities. The place is called ‘Ain el Lozeh,’ or the Almond Fountain. Many years ago Sir Charles Warren was told by a peasant that, according to tradition, there was a subterranean passage here approached by a stairway cut in the rock, whose lowest steps were of precious metal, and that the staircase and tunnel had been closed by order of the Egyptian government, because the Egyptian soldiers had often hidden in the tunnel to waylay women who descended in order to fetch water.
Folk-Lore of the Holy Land – Moslem, Christian and Jewish, J.E. Hanauer, pg. 105, (1907)

The fact that women regularly collected water at the aqueduct’s southernmost point is further evidence that there was a nearby community as late as the early 19th century. There’s reason to doubt those women were from Silwan (the nearest known village at the time) because there were two reliable water sources much closer to the village (En Rogel and Gihon Spring); whereas Ain el-Loz was a 2-3 kilometer round trip. And it would have been much easier for gardeners to retrieve irrigation water from En Rogel situated in Silwan’s gardens than to do so from Ain el-Loz, a one kilometer, and greater, round trip. So it’s reasonable to suspect from this that there was a settlement near Azal.

Aqueducts Weren’t Built to Go Nowhere

Now it has to be wondered why a remarkable aqueduct like this was built in an area that, as far as we know, was uninhabited; and the Kidron Valley from there to the Dead Sea was nothing but Judean wilderness. What was located at the aqueduct’s southern end point to justify the tremendous time and effort spent to bring water there? Was it perhaps the village of Azal at “the far [southern] point of the mountain [of olives]”, as Cyril said? This seems very possible, and there really are no other plausible explanations. For where in ancient history was an aqueduct of this magnitude built that did not lead to some community? In fact, its existence virtually guarantees that a town did exist at its southern terminus, because it is inconceivable that an ancient culture would have chiseled a tunnel through solid rock 70-90 feet underground for 1/3 mile to bring water to a place that did not have a nearby populace.

So although the evidence that Azal was a town is scant, it’s enough to be almost certain that Azal was indeed a town situated near the mouth of Azal River/Valley. Whether the river/valley was named after the town, or vice versa, is immaterial. What is significant is the historical continuity of the name Azal with “the far [southern] point of the mountain [of olives]” where a town almost certainly existed. Here’s a summary of the evidence:

  • The preservation of Azal’s name in the Arabic name of Wadi Yasul, a valley which lies at the far southern point of the Mount of Olives (this exact etymological connection fixes the name Azal to the location of Wadi Yasul)
  • The existence of a large underground aqueduct that brought water to the mouth of the valley at the far southern point of the Mount of Olives (this fact alone virtually guarantees that a town existed there)
  • Cyril’s statement that Azal was known to be a town at the far point of the Mount of Olives (this is an explicit witness of a contemporary knowledge that Azal was a town at the extremity of the Mount of Olives)
  • The existence of a village nearly 400 years after Cyril with a name similar to the Arabic word for Azal, situated at the southern corner of the Mount of Olives (this indicates the historical continuity of settlement near Azal Valley identified by a name very similar to the Arabic word for Azal)
  • The witness of local Arabs that women regularly collected water from the aqueduct’s southernmost access point at the mouth of Azal Valley as late as the early 19th century. (an indication that a settlement existed near Azal Valley fourteen centuries after Cyril)

Who Built the Aqueduct?

King Solomon seems like the most likely person to have had this aqueduct built, for several reasons. First, he had access to free, captive labor by way of the tens of thousands of Canaanites whom he forced to work as slaves on his many building projects. The difficult, miserable and potentially dangerous job of chiseling rock in a humid tunnel illuminated by lamps that consumed what little oxygen was available 90 feet underground, would have been the kind of work given to slaves (Warren had to pump air through zinc pipes into the aqueduct when he had it cleared of mud).

Next, Solomon’s building projects in Jerusalem possibly extended into the Kidron Valley south of En Rogel, which would have necessitated a sufficient and reliable water source there. The temple and king’s palace were built over a period of years by thousands of workers who required local housing; perhaps this area was developed for that purpose. Solomon’s one thousand foreign wives and concubines, along with their children and servants, added several thousand to the area’s population. These by themselves would have been enough to populate a small village. And maybe they did. A tradition that survived in Jerusalem as late as the 17th century maintained that Solomon’s foreign wives and concubines lived on the western slope of the Mount of Olives directly across the Kidron Valley from the City of David and Mount Zion.

Rauwolff [1535-1596 AD] (Travels, par. 3. c. 4. p. 233) says,”before Mount Zion toward the south, at the other side of the rivulet Kidron, lies the mount of transgression, called Mashith, 2Ki 23:13, this is higher and steeper than any hereabout; there you still see some old walls of habitations, wherein the concubines of Solomon did live;” and Mr. Maundrell [1665-1701 AD] (Journey from Aleppo, &c. p. 102) observes, that below the hill stands now a village called Siloe [Silwan], where it is said he kept them.
John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, 2 Kings 23:13

Over against this Fountain on the other side of the Valley, is a Village called Siloe [Silwan]. In which Solomon is said to have kept his strange wives, and above the Village is a Hill called the Mountain of Offence; because there Solomon built the high places mentioned 1 Kings 11.7, his wives having perverted his wise heart, to follow their Idolatrous Abominations in his declining years.
A journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter, A.D. 1697, Henry Maundrell, pg. 101, (1703)

[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.]The location of Silwan would have been ideal for this purpose because it would have kept Solomon’s harem of foreign, idolatrous women out of Jerusalem, yet very near to him; and it was adjacent to the king’s gardens and the idolatrous high places on the Mount of Corruption, both of which his pagan wives and concubines likely frequented. This part of the Mount of Olives is called the Mount of Corruption, but it also has been called the Mount of Transgression, or Offence, as it is above.

The topo map to the right shows the layout of Silwan as it was in about 1880. Notice that most of Silwan’s dwellings were concentrated in the northern half of the area designated by the map (which is basically the western slope of the Mount of Corruption); the southern half was barely populated, even though the village’s gardens and the well of En Rogel were there. The Gihon Spring (called the Fountain in excerpt above; shown in top left corner of map) was directly across the Kidron Valley from Silwan’s northern extent, and the well of En Rogel is shown in the bottom left corner of the map (labeled Bir Eyub).

At first glance it seems odd that Silwan didn’t extend further south to be closer to its gardens and a good and reliable water source. The village’s southern extent is abrupt and noticeable; a few buildings were built south of that point, but not many (photos taken before this map was made show no buildings). The most likely reason for this is because it was considered too dangerous a place to live. The area between the southern extent of Silwan and En Rogel is the area that was buried during the landslide that occurred when King Uzziah violated the temple; and the area between En Rogel and Azal is the area that Zechariah two hundred years later predicted would be (and has been) buried similarly by another landslide.

… we learn from Josephus (Ant. ix. x : 4) that “a great earthquake (doubtless that alluded to by the prophet Zachariah, xiv. 5) occurred before the city at a place called En-rogel, in the reign of Uzziah” … where indeed the hillside still appears as though it may have undergone such a convulsion
The city of the Great King: or, Jerusalem as it was, as it is, and as it is to be, James Turner Barclay, pg. 93, (1858)

Many-centuries-old desolation from Uzziah’s landslide on the Mount of Olives next to En Rogel (mountain on right). The slope from there to Azal River was also desolate like this due to Zechariah’s prophesied landslide. Notice the southern extent of Silwan in the background along the slope horizon line (Jerusalem is on the hill across the valley on the left). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


In addition to the danger of landslides, the thick layer of landslide debris in this whole area made the ground unsuitable for building due to slumping; even today roads and buildings in that area crack from ground movement. So these are the most likely reasons why the slope south of Silwan was desolate and virtually uninhabited.

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)

But that area very well could have been (and probably was) inhabited like Silwan before the threat and aftermath of landslides made it impractical and unsafe to build and live there. The photo below gives some indication what that may have looked like; the location of the Yemenite village is the same location as in the picture above. The dotted line (middle right) designates two things: the northern extent of rubble from Uzziah’s landslide (as evidenced by slumping colluvium south of there), and Silwan’s southern extent, south of which basically nothing was built until the early 1900s when a group of Jewish Yemenite immigrants settled there. These initially were forced to live in caves in Silwan due to their dire poverty and ostracization by Jerusalem’s Jews, but eventually a fund was established to settle them next to En Rogel, a place probably no one else was willing to live. This kept these undesirables out of the city (because the Jews there did not consider them to be Jews), in the same manner (and place), possibly, that Solomon kept his unclean harem of heathen foreigners out of Jerusalem.

The original city of Jerusalem resided on the hill directly across the Kidron Valley from where both Silwan and the Yemenite village were later built (i.e., basically the entire western slope of the Mount of Corruption); the city north of this hill in the picture above didn’t exist when Solomon inherited the kingdom. At that time, Jerusalem had only two nearby water sources: Gihon Spring at the base of this hill and En Rogel south of it; and the slope where the Yemenite village was later built wasn’t covered with the thick layer of landslide debris deposited during Uzziah’s reign. So that area would have been a prime location for Solomon to have housed his pagan wives and concubines because it was so close to the city, the king’s gardens, a good water source (En Rogel) and the idolatrous high places directly above on the Mount of Corruption’s summit, which he made for them.

If Solomon did build a settlement there, how far down the Kidron Valley did it extend towards Azal? The existence of the aqueduct with seven access stairways spaced along its length gives credibility to the possibility of a community also being there, because a village at that location gives the aqueduct a raison d’etre, something that otherwise doesn’t exist in identifiable form. The fact that the rock steps were very worn from usage indicates that people were active in that area for a long time.

The staircases … may have originally been used for bringing up the chippings, but they appeared to be very much worn, as if they had been in constant use.
The Survey of Western Palestine, Col. Sir Charles Warren, K.C.M.G., R.E. and Capt. Claude Reignier Conder, R.E., pg. 374, (1907)

According to Warren, hollowed-out depressions to pool water existed at the base of some of those stairways, which suggests that those locations may have been water collection points for nearby residents. If he had specified which staircases have this feature, some determination could be made regarding possible population occurrence at those locations. But he didn’t, so probably we will never know if, and to what extent, a community existed on the slope between En Rogel and Azal, because as the picture below shows (several paragraphs down), whatever may have been there was destroyed and buried by a very big landslide. Nevertheless, there is some indication that water was needed in the southern half of the valley at the base of the Mount of Olives because a branch aqueduct was built to (apparently) channel water there.

In one place, between the third and fourth staircase, there is a branch tunnel leading across towards the east side of the valley in a south-east direction : this was only followed for 30 feet.
The Survey of Western Palestine, Col. Sir Charles Warren, K.C.M.G., R.E. and Capt. Claude Reignier Conder, R.E., pg. 373, (1907)

Another possible use for the aqueduct could have been to provide irrigation water for groves of fruit and nut trees that Solomon may have planted in the valley between En Rogel and Azal, similar to the olive grove shown in the picture above. This will be explored next.

Did Solomon Build Azal?

Solomon would have been one to build a community and aqueduct south of En Rogel because he built entirely new cities to warehouse his kingdom’s goods and garrison its cavalry and chariot forces.

Solomon built … all his store cities and the towns for his chariots and for his horses; whatever he desired to build in Jerusalem, in Lebanon and throughout all the territory he ruled. … Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem.
1 Kings 9:17, 19; 10:26, NIV


Now a logical question to ask is whether Azal was one of those cities. The town of Azal was probably located near the juncture of the Azal and Kidron river channels, designated by the red ‘A’ marker in the photo below. That location would have been ideally situated as an entrepot for Arabian commerce traveling through the Judean wilderness to Jerusalem. Also, it was an excellent location to establish a military outpost to guard that southern approach to the city. And the terrain at the mouth of Azal Valley was comparatively wide and open, making it suitable for charioteering and keeping horses. So based on these factors, Azal could have been a goods depot, a chariot city, or both.

[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 Azal Valley.]

Additionally, we may have Solomon’s own words as evidence that Azal was indeed a chariot city. As mentioned earlier, the aqueduct ends near Ain el-Loz, which means ‘Spring of the Almond’. This name suggests that almonds were cultivated in that area. Almond trees, of course, are nut trees. A photo above shows an olive grove south of the kings’ gardens, descending down the Kidron Valley towards Azal. As much as Solomon liked gardens, it doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the entire valley from there to Azal being cultivated with similar groves during his reign. In fact, we read in Solomon’s Song that he went down into his gardens; and then someone (either he, or his beloved; it’s not clear from the text), went down the valley desiring to inspect the grove of nut trees there. And before realizing it, wandering through the grove brought that person to a place of chariots.

My beloved [Solomon] has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to gather lilies. … I went down to the grove of nut trees to look at the new growth in the valley, to see if the vines had budded or the pomegranates were in bloom. Before I realized it, my desire set me among the royal chariots of my people.
Song of Solomon 6:2, 11-12, NIV

Taken at face value, the last sentence just doesn’t make any sense (in any translation). Yet it couldn’t be clearer within the context of Azal being a chariot city because the pericope’s sequence matches the geography perfectly: Solomon went down the steps from the royal City of David into the king’s gardens, and then either he or his beloved wandered down the valley through a grove of fruit and nut trees until (before realizing it, the distance being short) he (or she) reached the place where chariots were kept, at Azal near the Spring of the Almond.

This scenario might also explain why Solomon described himself in Song of Solomon 3:6 as coming up from the wilderness with a military escort. Why would Solomon be in the wilderness as a matter of course such that he would memorialize it in his song; and why would he describe his exit from there as coming up from it? Maybe because En Rogel, which marked the border between the tribes of Benjamin and Judah (Joshua 15:7), was Jerusalem’s gateway to the Judean wilderness; and Azal was beyond it. And Solomon likely frequented Azal if it was a royal chariot city, where some of his 12,000 horses would have been “kept … with him in Jerusalem”. So when he would leave from there with his military guard to return to Jerusalem (perhaps after wandering down there while inspecting his nut trees), he would come up the Kidron Valley from the wilderness.

Who is this coming up from the wilderness like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant? Look! It is Solomon’s carriage, escorted by sixty warriors, the noblest of Israel, all of them wearing the sword, all experienced in battle, each with his sword at his side, prepared for the terrors of the night.
Song of Solomon 3:6-8, NIV

Or possibly, with its mention of myrrh, frankincense and all spices brought by traveling traders, this passage could be describing Solomon’s personal escort of a costly shipment of Arabian aromatic spices from the entrepot at Azal to Jerusalem.

So if King Solomon did build the town of Azal to store goods and/or garrison chariot forces at the mouth of Azal River/Valley, and turned the Kidron Valley from En Rogel to Azal into a paradise with fruit and nut groves, gardens and vineyards, then he also must have built the aqueduct. For without its water conveyed from the subterranean cistern near En Rogel to access points down the Kidron Valley for drinking and irrigation, Azal and its adjacent paradise realistically could not have prospered, or possibly even existed.

If Azal was a Town, Where are its Ruins?

Lieutenant Claude R. Conder, R.E., who helped survey Palestine in the late 19th century, dismissed Charles Clermont-Ganneau’s theory that Wadi Yasul was Azal partly because no ruins had been discovered. Unfortunately for his legacy, the evidence and authorities now agree that Wadi Yasul is indeed Azal. Since it probably also was a town, and maybe even a chariot city, there could be some sort of ruins. But where are they?

Disregarding the possibilities that they were destroyed by the Romans, or robbed by scavengers (possibly after the Egyptian government made living there unfeasible when it backfilled the aqueduct’s access stairways), they’re probably where they should be, but destroyed and buried under tens of feet of dirt and rock from the landslide that Zechariah said would (and later did) inundate the Kidron Valley from En Rogel to Azal. Due in some part to this landslide, at Ain el-Loz near Azal, Sir Charles Warren had to dig twelve feet down to reach the aqueduct’s staircase entrance. Similarly, George Adam Smith, who conducted some archaeological surveys of the Kidron Valley in the early 20th century, found that the ground surface near En Rogel was about fifty feet higher than the original bed of the Kidron (Jerusalem: The Topography, Economics, and History, Vol. 1, George Adam Smith, pg. 40, 42). At the time that extensive archaeological work was being done in Palestine during the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, apparently no one knew about the landslide, and only Clermont-Ganneau suspected Azal’s whereabouts; so no one was looking for Azal buried under tons upon tons of colluvium.

To be continued …

Copyright © 2015, Zechariah Fourteen Five. All rights reserved.


Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: The Namings of Azal River and Mount Azal

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If you’re not up to speed yet on where Azal in Zechariah 14:5 is located, see Azal: A Longtime Mystery Rediscovered.

Straight from the horse’s mouth is a figure of speech that is used to indicate receipt of information directly from the best authority.

The following letter reveals that Wadi Yasul, the valley due south of the City of David that is formed by the northern slope of Jabel Mukaber and the southern slope of the hill of Abu Tor, was named Azal Valley in 1955 based on the likelihood that the identity of Azal mentioned in Zechariah 14:5 was preserved in the Arabic name and location of Wadi Yasul; and Jabel Mukaber was named Mount Azal in 1990.

It was authored by Yehuda Ziv, a member of the Israel government authority responsible for naming geographic locations in Israel, i.e., the Government Names Committee. Ziv “heads the Government Names Committee’s subcommittee for community names, and is considered one of the leading experts in Israel in the field”. So it is straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. The letter was written to the editor of Haaretz in response to one of their articles in which Jabal Mukaber was mistakenly identified as the Hill of Evil Counsel. Ziv clarifies that Jabal Mukaber is actually the Hill of Evil Council, and the hill of Abu Tor is the Hill of Evil Counsel.

The original letter in Hebrew is found here. Below is my translation with my bracketed [ ] clarifications. The translation is by no means perfect, but the salient points are clear enough. Any comments to improve its accuracy will be greatly appreciated.

Opinions: Letters to the Editor

“The Evil Council” in Mount Azal

Yehuda Ziv, Government Names Committee


In response to the “Secrets of the Palace” By Noam Dvir (Haaretz, Gallery, 24.4).

The book of Zechariah provides a description of a great commotion which dominated the south of Jerusalem at the time: “and the Mount of Olives will be split from its eastward half, even a very great valley westward. And the northward half and southward half of the mountain will be removed. And the valley of mountains will be blocked up for they will be joined together unto Azal.” ([Zechariah] XIV, 4-5) .

It is customary to identify the place referred to [i.e., Azal] as Mount Azal, following its [i.e., Azal’s] probable preservation in the [Arabic] name of Wadi Yasul [Yasul Valley], [where] the level of Talpiot [neighborhood] drops to the Kidron Valley.

The Government Names Committee, therefore, decided on the name Azal River [for Wadi Yasul] (April 1955). Later (May 1990), Jabal Mukaber that looks upon Azal River from the south and Armon Hanatsiv sits atop, received the name Mount Azal.

The council of elders which decided to offer Jesus to Pontius Pilate, governor of Judah, that he would take him to be crucified, met according to Christian tradition at the residence of the high priest, Ananias. The hill of Abu-Tor designates this place. Hence, they call this hill, Hill of Evil Counsel.

The decision to house the UN headquarters in Armon Hanatsiv “stirred up” Jerusalem, and they (which disliked the days of the British Mandate government) began to call the name of the mountain Hill of the Evil Council, following the UN Security Council’s name.

Mount Azal also was awarded this “enhancement” in Jerusalem jargon. Most of the streets of the neighborhoods near Armon Hanatziv bear the names of executed immigrants [who were members of Etzel, i.e. Irgun]; and consequently, it is popular to call its name also Mount Etzel.


Ziv’s claim that Wadi Yasul was named Azal Valley (Nahal Azal) in 1955 is substantiated by a progress report on Israel’s standardization of geographic names submitted by the Israel government to the UN Economics and Social Council, which states:

… in March 1951, it was decided to appoint a government names committee for the whole country, whose decisions should be binding on all State and public institutions. In 1953 the Committee published the Gazeteer (sic) for the second sheet of the 1:250,000 map of Israel, and in 1955, it completed the fixing of names for all the geographical objects shown on the 1:250,000 map.
UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographic Names, E/CONF.53/L.25, 3 August 1967

The last paragraph in Ziv’s letter reveals why Google Maps until April 2014 mistakenly labeled Azal River, Etsel River (Nahal Etsel). Mount Azal’s name was derived from its proximity to Azal River/Valley, which name was preserved for centuries as Wadi Yasul in Arabic. In like manner, Wadi Yasul was nicknamed Etsel River due to its proximity to the nicknamed Mount Etzel, possibly even before receiving its official Hebrew name. So Google simply received the wrong (i.e., unofficial) information. The screenshot below captured Nahal Etsel in Google Maps in 2009 (see red ellipse). Once notified of the error, Google corrected it with the official name, Nahal Azal (see below below).

Nahal Etsel

©2014 Google – Map data ©2014 Mapa GISrael

Copyright © 2015, Zechariah Fourteen Five. All rights reserved.

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