The Conduit of the Upper Pool on the Highway to the Fuller’s Field



Damien F. Mackey


Then the Lord said to Isaiah, ‘Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shearjashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, and say to him, ‘Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin of Aram and the son of Remaliah’.’

Isaiah 7:3-4


Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them. And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field.

 Isaiah 36:1-2

Where was this particular location, of such importance in the Book of Isaiah?

This was a question that I hoped to answer in my postgraduate thesis:

A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah

and its Background




Era of King Ahaz


Thesis, Volume One, pp. 361-362:



Even Assyrian support from Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria for Menahem of Israel was not able to prevent the Ephraïmite hill country (2 Kings 15:19) from eventually falling, … thanks now to the strong union now between Rezin and Pekah, who had overthrown Pekahiah of Israel (15:25). According to Irvine: …. “Rezin likely engineered the coup, thereby reducing Israel to a client state”.

Nor was Judah to be left alone.

Second Kings 15:37 reports how Rezin and Pekah were moving against Judah even during the reign of Jotham, Hezekiah’s grandfather. Jotham successfully resisted this. And later his son Ahaz would take the same stand, but not without some lengthy consideration. When Isaiah had confronted Ahaz, the king and his royal court were apparently facing this dilemma: should they resist the formidable coalition, or not? According to Irvine, Isaiah advocated that “Ahaz should “remain aloof”, that is, from the coalition. The house of David should abide by its long-standing policy of political neutrality vis-à-vis anti-Assyrian movements …”…..

Here at least is the prophet Isaiah’s brief account of the political scenario at the time, commencing at the beginning of chapter 7, verses 1-2:

In the days of Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went up to attack Jerusalem, but could not mount an attack against it. When the house of David heard that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.


וַיָּנַע לְבָבוֹ וּלְבַב עַמּוֹ, כְּנוֹעַ עֲצֵי-יַעַר מִפְּנֵי-רוּחַ ….


Commenting on this last verse, or at least on one of its key words, לְבָב, Irvine has written:….

Most translations render lebab (v 2b) as “heart”, but the term actually exhibits a wide semantic range in the Hebrew Bible – the inner person, mind, knowledge, memory, conscience, desire, and so forth …. Commentators usually construe the word in Isa 7:2 in the sense of courage: the Syro-Ephraimitic threat caused alarm and fear within the Davidic house. Lebab, however, might also refer to will or resoluteness ….

We render the term in this sense and suggest that the text has in mind the weakening resolve of the Davidic leadership to persist in its longstanding course of political neutrality.

At such a critical moment, the prophet Isaiah came to strengthen king Ahaz against the

foe (vv. 3-4):

Then the Lord said to Isaiah, ‘Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shearjashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, and say to him, ‘Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin of Aram and the son of Remaliah’.’

Isaiah was sent here to exactly the same location as to where king Hezekiah’s three chief envoys will later be sent in a time of even greater crisis for Jerusalem, at the height of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah. In VOLUME TWO, Chapter 1 (see discussion beginning on p. 5), I shall endeavour to identify this site with precision.

The House of David had every good reason to feel nervous. Had Rezin and Pekah been able to achieve their aim, then this would have seen the end of the Davidic dynasty. For it is here that Isaiah mentions the “son of Tabeel” (verse 6): ‘Because Aram – with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah – has plotted evil against you, saying, ‘Let us go up against Judah and cut off Jerusalem and conquer it for ourselves and make the son of Tabeel king in it …’.’ “According to v 6a”, writes Irvine,1048 “the Syrian plan to invade Judah involved “splitting it open for ourselves” …. Verse 6b names the son of Tabe’al (Tabe’el in the Septuagint) as the intended replacement of Ahaz”.

Despite the prophet’s optimistic assessment of the situation, as interpreted by Irvine: …. “Just as the ends of firebrands only smoke and, if left alone, soon go out, so also the plans of Rezin and Pekah would come to nothing”, Ahaz would finally decide, against Isaiah’s counsel, to call upon Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria to help Judah resist the coalition (2 Kings 16:7).

[End of quotes]

Era of King Hezekiah


Thesis, Volume Two, pp. 5-8:


Great would have been the alarm amongst the Judaeans when, eventually – and there may have been a reasonable lapse of time – a strong force made its appearance on the neighbouring hills, for a visible and unmistakable proof was then given that the Assyrian ‘Great King’ meant to have the fortress of Jerusalem. (2 Kings 18:17): “The king of Assyria sent the Turtan, the Rabsaris and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to king Hezekiah at Jerusalem”. (I have already, in Chapter 7, p. 186, proposed an identification of Sennacherib’s Rabshakeh with the famous Ahikar, or Achior).

[End of quote]

My more recent articles on this biblical character are:

Ahikar Part One: As a Young Officer for Assyria 


Ahikar Part Two: As a Convert to Yahwism 


“Nadin went into everlasting darkness” 

Back to my thesis:

There are several reasons though for thinking that the army, even at this stage, did not come all the way to Jerusalem, but stood some distance off – Sennacherib’s plan being to terrify the Jews into submission rather than having to undergo the inevitable long siege.

I refer to this combination of data:

  1. the description of the place of meeting between the Assyrian delegation and the Judaean officials (Eliakim now having taken leadership over Sobna, who had succumbed to the Assyrian pressure), combined with
  2. the geographical description of the Assyrian advance in Isaiah 10 (see next page), plus the fact that

III. the Judaean officials “went out” to meet the Assyrians.

Let me try to explain these points:

According to Isaiah 36:2: “The cupbearer-in-chief (i.e. Rabshakeh) took up a position near the conduit of the upper pool on the road to the Fuller’s Field”. Commentators usually presume that the Rabshakeh’s position was right outside the walls of Jerusalem,

and that he had addressed Eliakim and his fellow Judaean officials within earshot of those on the ramparts of the capital city. After all, Sennacherib had sent his army to the king in Jerusalem (Isaiah 36:2).

The geographical experts, as well, generally seem to accept this view; although none of

them has, to my knowledge, succeeded in pinpointing this rather precisely named spot in a way that inspires complete confidence.

There are reasons I think to suspect that the Upper Pool was not right at Jerusalem at all,

but was some distance off from the city.

The very fact that the Judaean delegation “went out”  וַיֵּצֵא אֵלָיו (Isaiah 36:3), to the Assyrians, to meet the Rabshakeh, might indicate that Hezekiah’s embassy went some distance from Jerusalem, to a strategic position guarding the capital city. That the Rabshakeh marched from Lachish towards Jerusalem, but did not come all the way, might also be implied by a clever passage in Isaiah (10:27-32) that describes the onrushing Assyrian cavalry force, moving with incredible speed to within close range of

Jerusalem – and that I am going to suggest just might describe the Rabshakeh’s march:

He advances from the district of Rimmon, he reaches Aiath,

he passes through Migron, he leaves his baggage train at Michmash.

They file through the defile, they bivouac at Geba.

Ramah quakes, Gibeah of Saul takes flight.

Bath-gallim, cry aloud! Laisah, hear her!

Anathoth, answer her!

Madmenah is running away, the inhabitants of Gebim are fleeing.

This very day he will halt at Nob. He will shake his fist against the mount of the

daughter of Zion, against the hill of Jerusalem.

Now Boutflower …. thought that this fearsome charge might pertain to Sargon II’s army, as it was certainly a characteristic tactic of his. What would seem most likely, at least, was that this passage pertains to an Assyrian action (and not e.g. to a Syro-Ephraimitic one), given that these verses are located in Isaiah after a speech about the Assyrians (10:5-27). Though, in my context, it needs to be explained how a Rabshakeh, departing from Lachish to the south-west of Jerusalem, would all of a sudden be approaching the capital city from the north. An important consideration of strategy may come in here. It is an interesting fact that, though Sennacherib’s army was commanded by three officials, it is only the Rabshakeh of whom we hear as being present before the Judaean officials, and it is only the Rabshakeh who then returns to tell Sennacherib of the outcome (Isaiah 37:8). The clue to the precise Assyrian strategy and progress may well lie in the reversion in Isaiah 10 from the plural (v. 29),עָבְרוּ  “they file through” and, לָנוּ “they bivouac” [i.e. the masculine plural form of the verb], to the singular (v. 32),יְנֹפֵף יָדוֹ   “he will shake his fist”.

The Rabshakeh, after having left Lachish where Sennacherib had established himself, may have firstly had to connect with the main body of the Assyrian army – which was steadily dismantling the forts of Judah – before coming in person to parley with Hezekiah’s officials at ‘Nob’ – so far not unequivocally identified, but apparently in sight of Jerusalem. If so, then this location must coincide with the “conduit of the upper pool … Fuller’s Field”. Certainly the verse, “he will shake his fist against the mount of the daughter of Zion”, is an appropriate description of the Rabshakeh’s contemptuous words against Jerusalem and its king (e.g. Isaiah 36). So where was this precise location? Boutflower who, keeping open his geographical options, was not sure if the Upper Pool were “north, west or south of the Sacred City”, imagined that it must have been at least “very close to the walls”. ….

He refers here to Josephus’ testimony that north of the city, in the same quarter as the “camp of the Assyrians”, there “stood a monument called ‘the Monument of the Fuller’.” According to Burrows … it was probably to the south of the city, near the Gihon Spring.

I think however that one can be somewhat more specific than any of this, and can perhaps tie up, all together, (a) the Upper Pool location, (b) the Fuller’s Field, and (c) the ‘Nob’ of Isaiah 10.


A Clue from 2 Samuel

‘Nob’ is usually thought to be either Mt. Scopus, or the Mount of Olives. I am going to suggest the latter, following Macduff, who went even further to equate ‘Nob’ with the New Testament’s Bethphage: ….

Bethphage is literally “the house of unripe or early figs”. Dr. Barclay identifies it with the ruins of a village on the southern crest of “the Mount of Offence”, above the village of Siloam. He describes it as “a tongue-shaped promontory or spur of Olivet, distant rather more than a mile from the city, situated between two deep valleys, on which there are tanks, foundations, and other indubitable evidences of the former existence of a village”. … – City of the Great King, 67.

…. the direction, indeed the spot, is visible from the Hosanna road; and I have no hesitation in expressing accordance with the above reliable authorities. …. In his account of the travels of the Roman lady Paula [Jerome] mentions that she had visited [Bethphage]. They describe it as a Village of the Priests, possibly from “Bethphage” signifying in Syriac “The House of the Jaw;” and the jaw in the sacrifices being the portion of the priests.

‘Nob’ of the Old Testament was most certainly, likewise, a ‘village of the priests’ (cf. 1 Samuel 22:11, 19).


The Fuller’s Spring

During Absalom’s revolt, more than two centuries before Hezekiah, king David had been forced to abandon Jerusalem, which he fled via the Mount of Olives. Beyond the summit of Olivet was a place called Bahurim (cf. 2 Samuel 15:30; 16:1, 5). [For the approximate location of Bahurim as given in my thesis, see Map 1 on p. 8].

Now Jonathan and Ahi-maaz, acting as spies for David, “were stationed at the Fuller’s Spring”, which was apparently on the road close to Bahurim (cf. 17:17, 18).

Thus we seem to have our location: a spring or pool (conduit); with the name ‘Fuller’, apparently on a main road. All about a mile or so from Jerusalem.

That would appear to be our perfect location for the Rabshakeh’s address.


Since Sennacherib had sent his officials, and did not come in person, “the strong, proud Hezekiah” – as Sennacherib called him …. perhaps would not give the Assyrians the satisfaction of his coming out in person to meet them, but would send his own chief officials, Eliakim, Sobna and Joah. Although there is also the possibility that Hezekiah himself was by now too feeble to come out, despite his having recovered from his illness.

Ahikar the Rabshakeh delivered his notorious harangue in which he made it clear that the Jews were to go into captivity. He ridiculed their continuing reliance upon Egypt, “that broken reed of a staff” (Isaiah 36:6); no doubt a telling reference to the disastrous (for the ‘allies’) battle of Eltekeh. The fact that the Jews were continuing to rely on Egypt (Ethiopia?), though, would indicate that they thought there was more help to come from that direction.

Most interestingly, Childs – who has subjected the Rabshakeh’s speech to a searching form-critical analysis, also identifying its true Near Eastern genre – has considered it as well in relation to an aspect of the speech of [Book of Judith’s] Achior (who I shall actually be identifying with this Rabshakeh in Chapter 2, e.g. pp. 46-47) to Holofernes (Judith 5:20f.)…..

After his having delivered his speech in Hebrew, so that all could understand it, the Rabshakeh “returned, and found the King of Assyria fighting against Libnah; for he had

heard that the king had left Lachish” (2 Kings 19:8). Now, whilst the Rabshakeh went to

report back to Sennacherib, Hezekiah, his clothes torn and in sackcloth, sent his trio of

officials to Isaiah to inform the prophet of the speech by the Rabshakeh whom Sennacherib “had sent to mock the living God” (2 Kings 19:1-4). This was to be the turning point for Isaiah who, when he heard the message – realizing that the Assyrian king had now gone too far – would thus confidently predict his downfall (37:6-7):

Thus says the Lord: ‘Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumour [שְׁמוּעָה] and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land’.




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