Jerusalem's mayor has asked the Turkish government to return a famous 2700-year-old tablet uncovered in an ancient subterranean passage in the city, Jerusalem officials said Friday.
Known as the Siloam inscription, the tablet was found in a tunnel hewed to channel water from a spring outside Jerusalem's walls into the city around 700 B.C. — a project mentioned in the Old Testament's Book of Chronicles. It was discovered in 1880 and taken by the Holy Land's Ottoman rulers to Istanbul, where it is now in the collection of the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.
Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski made the request in a Thursday meeting with Turkey's ambassador to Israel, Namik Tan, Lupolianski spokesman Gidi Schmerling said Friday. Lupolianski suggested the tablet's return could be a "gesture of goodwill" from Turkey, Schmerling said.
Turkey and Israel, both Western-aligned Mideastern states, are close regional allies.
An official at Turkey's embassy in Israel said the request would be passed on to the Turkish government. A transfer of ownership was unlikely, the official said, but Turkey would look into lending the tablet to Israel or creating a replica. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as required by embassy regulations.
In the Bible's account, the Siloam water tunnel was constructed by King Hezekiah to solve one of ancient Jerusalem's most pressing problems — its most important water source, the Siloam spring, was outside the city walls and vulnerable to the kingdom's Assyrian enemies.
The tunnel, around 500 yards (meters) long, was hollowed out of the bedrock by two teams of diggers starting from each end, according to the tablet, which was installed to celebrate the moment the two teams met underground, "pickax to pickax."
"When there were only three cubits more to cut through, the men were heard calling from one side to the other," the Hebrew inscription recounts.
The tunnel and spring are located in what is today the east Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Silwan, controlled by Israel since 1967.