It has been suggested that the caves found adjacent to the Damascus gate were the caverns through which Zedekiah would flee from the final moments of the siege of Nebuchadnezzar. I believe this is not the case, and here’s why:
The kings men fled by the way of the gate between the two walls which is by the king’s garden 2Kings 25:4 and the king went by the way of the plain, and being pursued by the Babylonians was overtaken near Jericho. Note this section from kings is repeated twice in Jer 39:4,5 and Jer 52:7,8. From this we see that the gate was between the walls. This was the section between the wall of Hezekiah on the west of the Tyropean valley, and the wall on the east surrounding the palace of the king, and in particular near the Siloam pool and the fountain gate. Neh 3:15. The location on this fountain gate was near the dung gate see Neh 12:37. The king’s garden is thought to be a terraced and enclosed area southwest of the Siloam pool (1)
Nebuchadnezzar besieged the city, arriving from the north, with a full description of his path illustrated in Isa 10:27-32. It appears that the major POW camp being at Rama, or near mod Ramallah, Jer 40:1.
The road was to “the Arabah” and possibly the same route as from Mahanaim to Hebron via the extension of the Kidron valley cf 2 Sam 4:7. The intention of the king was possibly to escape to the land of Ammon, to which there were a number of connections in the record of Jeremiah: There were already escapees into Jordan Jer 40:11,12; and another exodus to Gilead in Jer 40:13f
Further information on the attempted escape is provided by Ezekiel, who predicted the event: The prince (Zedekiah) that is among them shall bear upon his shoulder in the twilight and shall go forth, they shall dig through the wall to carry out thereby, he shall cover his face, that he see not the ground with his eyes (But) my net also will I spread upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare and I will bring him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans, yet shall he not see it (being blinded at Riblah), though he shall die there, Ezek 12:12,13. The details of the capture of Zedekiah were to be that Yahweh was in control as a sign to Ezekiel that He had done it! 12:11 a matter of emphatic oath 17:19 because he has trespassed against me 17:16-21.
So why did Zedekiah get caught? It was to clearly demonstrate the results of breaking covenants. Zedekiah was notorious for breaking covenants see Jer 34. Zedekiah had proved a breaker of covenants with Babylon, 2 Kings 24:20 and in particular Nebuchadnezzar had made him swear by Elohim (of Israel) 2 Chron 36:13. Mine (Yahweh’s) oath he (Zedekiah) has despised and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense on his own head Ezek 17:19. Shall he prosper 17:9,10,15 shall he escape? 17:15 shall he break the covenant and be delivered? 17:15. That Zedekiah was caught answers directly the last question, and indirectly the first two for us as well. God calls men to himself by covenant Ps 50:4 and will bless and deliver those who keep the conditions of it, or deliver to rightful judgment Heb 10:26,27; Rom 2:4,5.
To not keep the covenant conditions is to be a profane man (one who crosses the threshold of the house) So Zedekiah was called not only wicked but a profane prince of Israel. His day had come Ezek 21:24-26 and now following his departure there has been no king in Israel unto deity would give the throne to another. Ezekiel’s prophecy demands the return of a king again to Israel, (also returning in the path of his departure). This was the subject of the prophecy concerning Christ, whose throne was to be given to him by Yahweh Luke 1:32 and for which cause he was born, John 18:37.
The repetition of the words of 2 Kings in the record of Jeremiah raise an interesting question: who wrote the book of kings? It is suggested by Rabbinic tradition (3), and altogether possible that Jeremiah compiled the records of the kings under the initial guidance of Josiah. Some Talmudic orderings of the bible placed Jeremiah following directly after the books of Kings (4), others Kings then Isaiah and then Jeremiah. Consider also the following:
- There is no mention of Jeremiah by name in the books of the kings, yet a number of references in the book of Chronicles. If you were writing a book, you would not list yourself as a particular reference, but would rely on the testimony of other characters for the strength of the argument.
- The author writing of the events of Rehoboam lived after the captivity of Samaria 1 Kings 12:19
- There is exhaustive repetition of the words of 2 Kings 23,24 within the book of Jeremiah, being the last prophet of note in the time-frame. [I note the involvement of the same within message of Isaiah 36;1-38:8; 38:21-39:8 quoting from 2 Kings 18:13-20:19]
- There is a strong repetition of the events being “according to the word of Yahweh” or “according to the word of the man of God” This was the primary argument of Jeremiah; that Yahweh had sent prophets early and repetitively to the nation, but they did not hear! examples: Jer 7:25; 25:15,27; 26:5; 29:19; 35:15; 42:6; 44:4
- Hilkiah found the law in the time of Josiah 2 Kings 22:8 and Jeremiah is described as son of Hilkiah Jer 1:1 and so was most likely appointed by Josiah to continue the reformation commenced in his day.
If Jeremiah was the author, then what was the purpose of the books? That Yahweh was involved in the unfolding of Israel’s history, that there was an urgent and ongoing need to always hear the message of the prophets, and that even in what was desperate circumstances Yahweh would be aware of His spiritual remnant, and would be attached to those who would seek after Him. Jeremiah remained in the land of Israel after the captivity, and was taken into Egypt. His message regarding the outcome for the nations, [a large slab of the end of the book] was precipitated on the evidence that God was in control previously.
So what about the caves near the Damascus gate? I am unaware of any particular scriptural importance of these caverns, outside that Herod used some stone from here for renovations of the temple. Suleiman the Magnificent used rock from here also for construction of portions of the walls. The caves are enormous, covering an area estimated around 5 acres. The stone is meleke (king’s) limestone. Further ancient quarrying of this limestone were also found in the Sanhedriya neighborhood of Jerusalem (2006)
Historical descriptions of the quarries can be viewed here: http://www.jerusalem-library.org/frameset.php?content=result_content1.php%3Findex=1018%26newsearch=1&seeAlso=blank.html A recent video of the inside of the caves was published in the Jerusalem post and can be viewed at: http://www.jpost.com/VideoArticles/Video/Article.aspx?id=235992
- WHMare, The archeology of the Jerusalem area
- Josephus antiq x.viii.2
- Eerdmans Dictionary of the bible pg 686; Talmud Baba Bathra 14b-15a
- Mercer’s dictionary of the bible pg 436
- Rahel Bar-Natan (August 19, 2008). Jerusalem, Sanhedriya; Hadashot Arkheologiyot: Excavations and Surveys in Jerusalem (Israeli Antiquities Authority) Journal 120 see also web overview of the quarry: http://www.hadashot-esi.org.il/report_detail_eng.asp?id=861&mag_id=114.