The Arabah – Copper mining at Timna

The “promised land” was described to the Israelites as “a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper” (Deuteronomy 8:9). Copper was mined by Egyptians in the Arabah of Israel as far back as the 13th-12th century B.C. Recent research has demonstrated that copper was also mined there during the Iron Age

Until the the mid 1970s copper was still mined at Timna about 25 miles north of Eilat (close to Ezion-geber). (See the comment by Tom Powers on our introductory post here.)

The Timnah associated with Samson (Judges 14:1) is a different site near Beth-shemesh (Joshua 15:10), and the Sorek Valley (Judges 16:4).

The Bible does not say that Solomon had copper mines at Ezion-geber, but the presence of mining facilities dating to the 10th century B.C. indicates that this may have been one of the reasons why the King built a port and had a navy stationed there (1 Kings 9:26-28). Ezion-geber was more than 220 miles from Jerusalem. The copper provided a good medium of exchange for gold, spices, and other items that Israel needed.

Timnah Park is a beautiful place to visit. Incidentally, it is privately operated and charges an admission fee not covered by one of the tourist cards honored at  the national parks. Since my last visit in 2011, a nice Visitor Center has been erected. Here you can buy tickets, souvenirs, and snacks. There are cases with a few (mostly replica) artifacts from the ancient mining, also beautiful photos, maps and videos. I observed a “ranger” explaining the biking routes to a few travelers.

The Chudnow Visitor Center at the entrance to Timnah Valley which is humbly called "one of the world's most beautiful parks." Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Chudnow Visitor Center at the entrance to Timnah Valley which is humbly called “one of the world’s most beautiful parks.” Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The plaza outside the Visitor Center provides an opportunity to make souvenir photos, as I did. This gives one the sense of the ancient.

Leon Mauldin poses in an Egyptian chariot, but I see he doesn't have much horse power. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Leon Mauldin poses in an Egyptian chariot, but I see he doesn’t have any horse power.

The most famous formation in Timna Park if called Solomon’s Pillars.  We have no way to know if Solomon ever came this area. The leaflet distributed at the Visitor Center seems to not include information about the recent excavations. It says,

These sandstone pillars are a natural part of the cliff wall. They are a typical landscape formation that developed as a result of erosion along cracks in the hard red sandstone. They are named after King Solomon, due to a mistaken early theory that copper-mining and production were part of Solomon’s activities in this area.

Solomon's Pillars, one of the most beautiful formations in the park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Pillars of Solomon. These massive pillars at Timna have been associated with Solomon for a long time.These “pillars”, formed by water, are one of the most beautiful formations in the park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When Egyptians worked at Timnah there was a cultic site associated with the Egyptian goddess Hathor. A sign at the site explains that it contains an Egyptian sacred chamer, a central niche, and cultic basins. According to the archaeologists who worked here there are also some local Semitic elements among the ruins: Cultic basins, rock-hewn altar, and standing stones.

The Hator Temple, named after the Egyptian goddess, was used as a cult site during the Egyptian period. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Hator Temple, named after the Egyptian goddess, was used as a cult site during the Egyptian period, and afterward by local Midianites. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In Timna Valley there is one beautiful view after another. The formation below is appropriately called Spiral Hill, so named because it seems to climb to the top like a spiral staircase.

Spiral Hill in Timna Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Spiral Hill in Timna Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We have already seen the Acacia trees in the northern Araba, but there are some beautiful scenes in Timna Valley.

Another Acacia tree growing in one of the wadis of the Timna Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Another Acacia tree growing in one of the wadis of the Timna Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Four times before I have visited Timna. Two of these was since the construction of the life size reconstruction of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness. It is now included in the admission fee for Timna Park and evidently is open any time the park is open. It deserves a fuller discussion, but I am including this photo which I have enhanced in Photoshop, removing most of the autos, buses, modern roads, poles, and other obstructions. I hope you will enjoy it and perhaps use it in your teaching. Click on the photo for a larger image.

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness at Timna Park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness at Timna Park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I am leaving discussion of the Smelting Camp with its illustrations showing how the smelting of copper was done for another time.

Todd Bolen provides a brief summary of the archaeological work indicating that the peak copper production at Timna was in the 10th century B.C. here. Especially important is the link to the report in BASOR.

Leon Mauldin’s blog site is here.

Arabah – Is Eilat the Ezion-Geber of the Bible?

Arriving at Eilat, Leon and I had traveled from the foothills of Mount Hermon to the eastern arm of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Eilat (or Aqabah, depending on whether we are in Israel or Jordan).

Eilat is a popular resort town today, and it has grown tremendously since my first visit in 1973.

The resort hotels of Eilat are brightly lit at night. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The resort hotels of Eilat are brightly lit at night. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Is Eilat the Ezion-Geber of the Bible? Ezion-geber is said to be near Eloth (Elat, Elath, in some English versions). This area is significant in biblical history.

  • Israel camped at Ezion-geber. They journeyed from Ezion-geber and camped in the wilderness of  Zin at Kadesh (Numbers 33:35-36).
  • Ezion-geber and Elath (or Eloth) are linked together in some references (Deuteronomy 2:8; 1 Kings 9:26).
  • King Solomon built a fleet of ships in Ezion-geber. The Bible says it is near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. (1 Kings 9:26)

In 1938, Nelson Glueck, reported that he had found a copper-refining plant at Tell el-Kheleifeh, which he identified as Ezion-geber, on the north shore of the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah. This site is now within Jordanian territory. Glueck identified the copper-refining plant as King Solomon’s copper mines, and explained that the apertures in the buildings served as flue holes. Through them, he thought, “the strong winds from the north-northwest entered into the furnace rooms of this structure,” which he called a “smelter, to furnish a natural draft to fan the flames.”

It is true that copper smelting was done in the Arabah in the time of Solomon, but Glueck later changed his mind about the building he had formerly identified as the refining plant. In 1962 Beno Rothenberg demonstrated that the installation at Tell el-Kheleifeh could not have been for copper smelting. Glueck was convinced by his findings that the apertures in the building “resulted from the decay and or burning of wooden beams laid across the width of the walls for bonding or anchoring purposes.” This does not affect any statement of the Bible, but it does mean that the old argument about the copper refining plant found in the Arabah is no longer valid. Glueck’s identification of Tell el-Kheleifeh with Ezion-geber is no longer accepted.

Eilat and Aqabah could be one town in better political times, but today they are separated by an almost invisible line drawn in the sand. I have never been as far south in Jordan as Aqabah, but on a clear day we can see it from Eilat, as the late afternoon photo illustrates.

The north end of the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah. The view is to the east and the city of Aqabah, Jordan. Tell el-Kheleifeh is only a short distance north of the shore in Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The north end of the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah. The view is to the east and the city of Aqabah, Jordan. Tell el-Kheleifeh is only a short distance north of the shore in Jordan. This photo was made in January, 2011, at a time when Aqabah could be more clearly seen than late March when we recently visited. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Alexander Flinder says the coastline at Tell el-Kheleifeh is a “sandy beach, with shallow water – totally unsuitable for small craft, let alone for a substantial merchant fleet” (“Is This Solomon’s Seaport?” BAR, July/August 1989, p. 38). Flinder has suggested that Ezion-geber may have been on a small island in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah called Jezirat Faraun (Pharaoh’s Island). It is located about seven miles south of modern Eilat, but now under Egyptian control. Flinder’s study shows that there has been an artificial harbor at this location in several historical periods and that it was characteristic of other known Phoenician ports. See the complete article for more details and photos.

Pharaoh’s Island in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah from the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pharaoh’s Island in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah from the west. The island is currently under Egyptian control.Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Meir Lubetski, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, says,

Unique were the underwater archaeological findings which established the existence of an artificial enclosed harbor bordering a sizable natural anchorage, with jetties built out into the water to influence currents opposite the island on the shore of the mainland.

I can only point to a suggestion regarding the identity of Ezion-geber with Eloth (Elath). Kenneth A. Kitchen (New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., 1996, p. 305). says the two places were,

  • Separate stations during the Israelite wandering (Numbers 33:35-36; Deuteronomy 2:8).
  • Ezion-geber appears to be mentioned alone in the 10th-9th centuries, and is the point from which Solomon sent ships.
  • Jehoshaphat’s planned expedition from Ezion-geber was wrecked (1 King 22:48; 2 Chronicles 20:36-37).
  • King Uzziah of Judah captured Elath/Eloth from Edom and rebuilt it in the 8th century (2 Kings 14:22).
  • Ahaz lost the port to the Edomites (2 Kings 16:6).

The map at BibleAtlas.org shows the places we have discussed in this post. Notice the location of Ezion-geber is indicating, with a question mark, the location of Pharaoh’s Island.

Map of Ezion-geber, Elath, and Timnah, and a portion of the Arabah. Biblos.com.

Map of Ezion-geber, Elath, and Timnah, and a portion of the Arabah. BibleAtlas.com.

We plan next to visit Timna and learn about the copper mining in the area.

The Arabah – Keturah, the home of Methuselah

Methuselah is the oldest man mentioned in the Bible, but his namesake now lives at Keturah in the Arabah.

Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died. (Genesis 5:27 ESV)

His namesake is a male date palm grown from a seed discovered during the excavations by Prof. Yigal Yadin at Masada in the 1960s.

Getting to Keturah to see the palm is rather easy if you are traveling south (or north) on Highway 90.

This sign on Highway 90 prominently marks the entrance to the Arava Institute. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This sign on Highway 90 prominently marks the entrance to the Arava Institute. Notice the spelling of Ketura with a Q.. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If you are using your phone or other device as a GPS you can just ask for directions to the “Ketura Ancient Palm” and it should direct you to the right place. (Disclaimer: it worked for us.) Note the spelling of Ketura as Qetura.

My GPS on the camera shows 29 58.0659’N, 35 3.5999’E, and here is the location on Google Earth Pro.

The Google Earth Pro location for the Ancient Palm.

The Google Earth Pro location for the Ancient Palm.

But, I am a little ahead of myself. As we drove into the village from Hwy. 90 we noticed a lady dressed in white walking on the left side of the street. We stopped, asked about the ancient palm and were told to continue to a parking lot and the palm would be on our left. Best directions we received the entire trip. Most people just say “go straight and then ask.”

After we arrived at our destination we saw the woman who had given us directions coming our way. She was Dr. Elaine Solowey, director of the Arabah Institute. Leon Mauldin and I were delighted to hear firsthand from her the things we had read about the palm.

Ferrell Jenkins listening to the history of "Methuselah" from Dr. Elaine Solowey. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Ferrell Jenkins listening to the history of “Methuselah” from Dr. Elaine Solowey.

A sign attached to the fence around the palm tells the story more succinctly than I can. It is titled “A Date With Time.”

—  “ —

“Methuselah” – a male date palm {Phoenix dactylifera}, grown from a 1,900 year old seed discovered during Prof. YigalYadin’s excavations of Masada in the 1960s.

It is likely that this date seed was from the food supply of the Zealots, a Jewish group who defended the fortress during the war against Rome and finally perished at the end of a prolonged siege In 73 CE.

In 2005, Dr. Sarah Sallon, Director of The Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center at Hadassah Medical Organization, Jerusalem, initiated a unique project to germinate ancient seeds found in archaeological sites in an attempt to reintroduce species that once grew in the Land of Israel.

In conjunction with Dr. Elaine Solowey, Director of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES), the attempt was successful. In March of that year the oldest seed ever germinated produced a date seedling, “Methuselah”, named after the oldest person mentioned in the Bible.

“Methuselah” then attracted International attention, with a mention on CNN and in National Geographic Magazine as well as a scientific article published in the journal, “Science”.

In 2011, the seedling was planted on the grounds of Kibbutz Ketura, representing the first time in almost two millennia that the Judean Date Palm, prized in antiquity for the taste, size and medicinal properties of its fruit, has been grown in Israel.

—  ” —

In additional reading, I have picked up a few interesting points that our readers will appreciate.

A 2017 article by Stephanie Buck in Timeline reports that the seed found in the jar at Masada was tested by carbon dating.

Back at the lab, scientists broke off tiny chips of the seeds’ shells; carbon dating estimated their origin between 155 BC and 64 CE.

More interesting facts from the Timeline article:

Solowey got to work. First, she soaked the seeds in hot water to activate absorption. From there, she bathed them in nutrients and fertilizer made from seaweed. She chose the Jewish holiday, New Year for Trees, which in 2005 fell on January 25, as the day to plant. After a few months, she noticed a crack in the soil…then a sprout.”

In 2011 the palm flowered, but because it is male there was no fruit.

Solowey and her team “mated him with modern female date plants. His seed is healthy. ‘We got fruit and some 50% ancient date trees,’ says Solowey.”

Solowey explained to us that shoots from this palm could also be planted. When they are able to mate him with a female, then the fruit will be 100% ancient.

“Both the Bible and the Koran praise the date palm. The tree provided shade, food, and medicine. In the “land of milk and honey,” dates were the honey. The fruit was large, dark, and very sweet, says Solowey. It had good “shelf life” and was in high demand in Rome.”

“Roman emperors wanted Judean dates for their tables,” Solowey told Timeline. “Since they had absolutely nothing else good to say about Jews, Judea, or Judaism, I assume they were very good dates.”

“The ancient fruit made tonics for longevity, laxatives, and aphrodisiacs; lore claims they could cure infections. The date was so important to the region that it featured on ancient coinage, and even on Israel’s 10-shekel coin today. But 800 years ago, crusaders destroyed the last Judean palm and rendered the plant extinct. Dr. Sallon hopes Methuselah is the key to medicinal remedies once lost to history.”

When the Romans captured Judea and destroyed the temple the emperors portrayed the captives siting under a date palm. Earlier, Herod the Tetrarch (Luke 23:7), some of the Roman prefects, including Felix (Acts 23-25),  used the palm on their coins. We also see it on the Israeli 10 New Shekel coin.

Vespasiano_Sesterius_Iudaea_Capta-RIC_0424

Vespasiano_Sesterius_Iudaea_Capta-RIC_0424. From Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Solowey ask if we would like to see some frankincense, balm, and myrrh plants in the hothouse. We were astonished when we entered the hothouse and saw those as well as several young potted palms.

In the hothouse at Ketura we saw these growing young palms. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In the hothouse at Ketura we saw these growing young palms. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The names were fascinating. I assumed the one named Eve was the first female plant. Others were labeled Ruthi, Boaz, Jeremiah, and Judah. We will patiently await the mating of Methuselah with one of these girls.

There is more to tell about other plants we saw in the hothouse, but that will need to wait for another time. I will tell you that Dr. Solowey mentioned one of her books to us. Trees of Fragrance and Mystery is available from Kindle. I have enjoyed the portions that I have read, especially about frankincense, balm, and myrrh.

We saw and learned more than we had hoped for at Keturah. I want to go back in a few years in the summer as my wife and I did in 2008 and see Methusaleh’s “wife” like this.

Arabah date palm in August 2008. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Arabah date palm in August 2008. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I wanted to add one more thought about dates being the honey of the Bible. There is little evidence for beekeeping in the promised land, but the discovery of a commercial apiary at Tel Rehov in the Jordan Valley has provided more information. Here is the summary by the excavators, Mazar and Panitz-Cohen.

The term “honey” appears fifty-five times in the Bible, sixteen of which as part of the metaphor of Israel as “the land of milk and honey.” This honey has been always understood as having been produced from fruits, such as dates and figs, with bees’ honey mentioned explicitly only twice, both times in relation to wild bees (Judg 14:8–9 and 1 Sam 14:27). However, careful reading of biblical metaphors mentioning honey led Forti (2006) to suggest that they refer mostly to bee’s honey, through in her view, due to the lack of agriculture in the Bible, the references are to honey collected in nature. Indeed, in no case does the Bible mention bee rearing as a productive industry. The discovery of the beehives at Tel Rehov shows that this was a well developed economic branch during the First Temple period. We can now assume that at least some of the notations of honey in the Bible pertain to bees’ honey. (Mazar, Amihai and Nava Panitz-Cohen. “It is the Land of Honey: Beekeeping at Tel Rehov.” Near Eastern Archaeology 70:4 (2007): 213-214.

Rehov was not an Israelite site.

We are headed to Eilat, the southernmost tip of the Arabah in Israel. I am not sure if our next post will be about Eilat or if we will stop at Timna on the way. Thanks for following the blog.

The Arabah: Has Tamar, Solomon’s desert fortress, been located?

The Tamar Biblical Park is located about 20 miles south of the southern end of the Dead Sea. We can suggest several reasons why the site was settled in many biblical periods. The spring at the site made it immediately attractive to travelers, and in fact the site was “the central gateway from Edom and Arabia enroute to Beershebe and Ashkelon for incense and copper trade” (Bowman, Biblical Tamar, Bible and Interpretation).

Road sign on Hwy 90 at the junction with Hwy 227. The site is at Hazeva. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Road sign on Hwy 90 at the junction with Hwy 227. The Biblical Tamar Park is at En (spring) Hazeva. In earlier years there was a now-defunct kibbutz named Ir Ovat because the founders thought this was the site of biblical Oboth, one of the places the Israelites camped when they wandered in the wilderness (Numbers 21:10). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I have a Promote GPS device which I sometimes use with my camera. If I am patient and take time for it to connect to satellites I can usually be assured of about one out of four shots showing the location as well as the elevation. The elevation here is 137 meters (about 450 feet) below sea level.

The GPS location of Tamar Biblical Park.

The GPS location of Tamar Biblical Park.The red pointer is at the Iron Age gate. Enter 29 58.0659’N, 35 3.599 9’E in Google Earth.

The Biblical Tamar Park is curated by a private Christian group called Blossoming Rose, but excavations were carried out under the direction of the Israel Antiquities Authority. A source tells me that the IAA did not show much interest in the site even though they acknowledge the importance of the discoveries. One can understand why a site like this which is not on the main tourist routes would be of less interest than those that are.

The Blossoming Rose organization has placed nice signs to identify the various periods under consideration. Instead of just referring to the Bronze Age or the Iron Age, Blossoming Rose mentions the seven historic periods that are identifiable here. (1) Abrahamic Period; (2) Moses Period; (3) Israelite Period; (4) Roman-Christian Period; (5) Islamic Period; (6) British Period; (7) Israeli Period.

The Bible says that Solomon built Tamar in the wilderness.

so Solomon rebuilt Gezer) and Lower Beth-horonand Baalath and Tamar in the wilderness, in the land of Judah, (1 Kings 9:17-18 ESV)

Could this be that site? It is possible. I must be selective in the photos I present. Here goes. The first one is of a Roman period wall. There is also a large cistern dating to this period. And, yes, the Romans built a bath at Tamar.

A Roman Wall at Tamar Biblical Park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Portion of a Roman wall at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo shows the ruins of what is called the Hazeva Fort, a structure said to date to the 10th century B.C., the time of King Solomon.

An Iron Age fortress at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Fortress dating to the time of King Solomon at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This sign shows the footprint of the fortress during various periods as well a drawing of an Edomite stone seal from the first Temple Period with Edomite writing and an incense burning scene.

Sign at Tamar showing layout of the Iron Age fortress. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sign at Tamar showing layout of the Iron Age fortress and some artifacts belonging to the Edomites. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

On the right side of the sign above there is a drawing of “an incense burning utensil.” The Edomite shrine is displayed in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. The Chronicles of the Land: Archaeology in The Israel Museum Jerusalem says,

Tangible evidence for foreign cults has been revealed at Hazeva in the Arava, where a pit containing ritual objects from an Edomite shrine was discovered. The objects, offerings brought to the shrine, had been deliberately smashed after they could no longer be used and buried in the pit. Among them were human shaped ritual stands, which may have represented the worshipers themselves. These objects highlight one of the sharp contrasts between Edomite and Judahite public worship, the latter avoiding the human image. (p.77)

Many see this destruction in the light of the reforms of King Josiah of Judah (2 Kings 23).

The ritual stands found here date to the late 7th – early 6th century B.C. Our next photo shows the display in the Israel Museum.

Edomite shrine assemblage from Hazeva (Tamar) in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Edomite shrine assemblage from Hazeva (Tamar) in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo may show the prize of Tamar, a four chamber gate which is labeled as the Israelite Fortress Gate.

Iron Age gate, possibly Solomonic, at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Iron Age gate, possibly Solomonic, at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I was impressed with the four-room house. Avraham Faust describes the four-room house.

The term four-room house is a generic term which refers to a new type of house which became extremely popular and dominant during the Iron Age. The “ideal type” of this structure is a long house with four main spaces or areas: a broad room at the back, and three long spaces stemming forward from it. These long rooms were typically (though not always) divided by a combination of stone pillars and walls. The entrance was usually located in the central (long) room. Not all houses, however, follow precisely this “ideal” plan, and there is some variation, mainly in the number of long rooms. One can therefore refer to three-, four-, and five-room houses (though all subtypes are usually referred to by the name “four-room house”). Variation also exists in the form of inner division(s) of the rooms, due probably to the lifecycle of the family. Apart from this, the basic plan is quite rigid and easy to identify. (Encyclopedia of the Bible, p. 564).

Four room house at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Four room house at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Next to water, shade is one of the most important things for settlers and travelers. There is a large Jujube tree, better known by  it’s technical name Ziziphus spina-christi, Christ’s thorn Jujube. Ami Tamir includes a photo and description of this tree in his Sacred Flowers: Holy Trees & Blessed Thorns (pp. 89-92). We reviewed this Carta Guide Book here. Tamir explains how the thorns develop on the tree.

A Jujube tree at Tamar, said by some to be the oldest tree in Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A Jujube tree (Ziziphus spina christi) at Tamar, said by some to be the oldest tree in Israel. The popular name for this tree is Thorn of the Messiah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Pictorial Library of the Bible Lands includes several good photos of Tamar in the volume on Negev and the Wilderness. See details here.

BibleWalks.com includes several good drone aerial photos in their discussion of Tamar.

I trust you have enjoyed our lengthy visit to Tamar Biblical Park. Our next stop is planned for Keturah where we will see the ancient palm named Methuselah.

The Arabah – the northern end

When we speak of the Arabah (or Aravah, in Israel) we are speaking of the part of the Great Rift that begins at the south end of the Dead Sea and continues to Eilat. The distance is about 196 kilometers (121 miles). The Arabah is more or less the divider between Israel on the west and Jordan one the east. At some points the main Israeli highway 90 almost touches the Jordanian border.

Immediately south of the Dead Sea there are many mining installations processing the many minerals available in the Dead Sea. For several miles we continue to see the cliffs along the road, especially on the west side.

Cliffs on the west side of the Arabah a few miles south of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cliffs on the west side of the Arabah a few miles south of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I pulled down the August, 1965, issue of National Geographic to look at the article by Helen and Frank Schreider “Journey into the Great Rift” that I recalled reading many years ago.  The authors describe the stretch of the Great Rift Valley between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba as they were calling it at the time.

South of the Dead Sea, the Great Rift Valley forms a rounded trough that narrows to the Gulf of Aqaba, then broadens again into the Red Sea. Wild, dry country it is, as lifeless today as when trains of camels carried frankincense and myrrh from Yemen to Damascus; as forbidding as when the Nabateans, at the time of Christ. preyed on the caravans and lavished the booty on their capital at Petra. (p. 275)

While there is some difference in the terrain along the way, the entire stretch is desert. The photos I wish to share show the typical wadis that run north to south in the valley. This photo shows a wide dry wadi or desert ravine. When it rains in the hills to the west water rushes like a torrent and floods the wadi. Click on the photo for a larger image. You will be able to see various levels where the water has cut along the sides of the wadi.

We always see a line of shrubs in the last place the water runs before soaking into the earth or totally evaporating.

View northwest in the Arabah. This wadi can rage with water after rains in the hills to the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View northwest in the Arabah. This wadi can rage with water after rains in the hills to the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Next is a photo looking to the southwest. The hills to the west are lower, but still a lot of water comes down from the central mountain range.

Arabah view to the southwest. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Arabah view to the southwest. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

These photos may leave one with the impression that the wadis are harmless, but I can assure you this is not the case. A few years ago I had the unusual opportunity to see the effect of the spring rains in the central mountain rain had on the wadis in the valley. The particular photo shows water rushing down Wadi Kelt (Qelt) at Jericho in a ravine that is normally dry. For more information about this event take a look at my earlier posting here.

Wadi Kelt at Jericho after heavy rains in the central mountains range April 2, 2006. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wadi Kelt at Jericho after heavy rains in the central mountains range April 2, 2006. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Just last week the Israeli papers reported on ten (about 18 year old) teenagers who died when they were swept away by a sudden burst of water while they were hiking in Nahal (Wadi) Tsafit in the desert west of the southern end of the Dead Sea.

Here is a close view of one of the Acacia trees in the Arabah wadi.

Close view of an Acacia tree in the Arabah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Close view of an Acacia tree in the Arabah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I am including a photo of the leaves of the tree for your consideration. My knowledge of the various flora of the Middle East is limited, but the best I have been able to determine this is an Acacia tortillis. I would be pleased to have comments from someone more knowledgeable on this subject.

Leaves of the Acacia tortillis in the Arabah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Leaves of the Acacia tortillis in the Arabah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When the wadi dries up the only comfort left is the shade of a small tree such as this. We have an example of this in the account of Hagar and Ishmael.

When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. (Genesis 21:15 ESV)

Our next stop in the Arabah will be at the possible site of Solomon’s “Tamar in the wilderness” (1 Kings 9:17-19).

The Arabah (introduction)

Recently I was doing some reading in the late Denis Baly’s Geographical Companion to the Bible (1963) and decided to share his description of the Arabah (Arava in Israel).

The southern section of the Rift Valley is normally known as the Arabah, and it is, to the surprise of many people, almost as long as the section of the valley between the south end of the Dead Sea and the Lake of Galilee. A north-east-south-west upfold running across it raises the central part of the Arabah to 1,000 feet above sea-level, and then it sinks southwards again towards the Red Sea. Everywhere it is desert, save where occasional springs provide a welcome supply of water. However, historically it has had a double importance: as a trade route to the Red Sea and as a source of cooper. This is found in the dark-red Nubian sandstone which outcrops particularly on the eastern, or Edomite, side of the rift. The most important of these copper mines was at Punon (the modern Feinan), almost certainly the place where Moses raised the serpent in the wilderness (Num. 21:4-10; 33:42-43). On the western side the copper-bearing rock outcrops only in the extreme south, and is being mined today at Timna, where also it was obtained in ancient times. This is the place known to the modern tourist as “King Solomon’s Mines” (Deut. 8:9). (p. 57).

I propose in a series of posts to discuss briefly Lot’s Wife, views of the Arabah, the excavations at Tamar, Keturah, Timnah, and Eilat.

A short distance south of the southern end of the Dead Sea is a formation called Lot’s wife. While there is no historical reality to the formation being Lot’s wife it is an interesting natural formation that promotes the memory of Lot and his family. In the biblical description of the overthrow of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah we are told,

But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26 ESV)

Lot's Wife, a natural formation south of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Lot’s Wife, a natural formation south of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Lot’s wife stands as a perfect illustration of those who turn back from doing the will of the Lord. Even Jesus called attention to this Old Testament event.

Remember Lot’s wife. (Luke 17:32 ESV)

In the next post we plan to show you some of the arid terrain as we continue south in the Arabah.

Sadly, I see that neither Logos nor Accordance have Denis Baly’s The Geography of the Bible or The Geographical Companion of the Bible available.

Along the Great Rift

As I began to think about a series of articles on the Arabah (or Aravah) in Israel I realized that I should begin with a general discussion of the rift valley or, as it is sometimes called, the Great Rift.

View south from the Amanus mountains in modern Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View south from the Amanus mountains in modern Turkey. In this general area Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If we begin in the north, the great rift begins south of the Amanus Mountains in southern Turkey, near modern Antakya (biblical Antioch of Syria, Acts 11). Antioch was built on the Orontes River, a river that flows north from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley finally turning west and flowing into the Mediterranean. As it flows northward from its source into Syria it passes the site of Riblah (2 Kings 23:33; 25:6, et al.), and through Lebo-hamath (or the entrance of Hamath, as many English version read; 2 Kings 14:25). Hamath is located at the site of modern Hama, Syria. From there the Orontes flows north in the rift valley of Syria till it approaches the Amanus Mountains.

Going back to the Bekaa Valley between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains, we look to the south. The rift enters Israel near Dan. Abel-beth-Maacah  (1 Kings 15) overlooks the rift from the west. Those who have traveled north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel likely have some idea about the great depression or rift in that region.

This aerial view of the Jordan valley north of the Sea of Galilee illustrates perfectly the Great Rift. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This aerial view of the Jordan valley north of the Sea of Galilee illustrates perfectly the Great Rift. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Running south from Israel’s northern border with Lebanon continues to the Hulah Valley, then through the Sea of Galilee where it is about 700 feet below sea level. From there it continues south in the Jordan Valley until it reaches the Dead Sea at  more than 1300 feet below sea level.

I plan to begin a series of articles dealing with the portion of the Great Rift that runs from the south end of the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Eilat (or Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan). In Israel, the rift runs from Dan to Eilat (or Elath). From Eilat the depression continues south through the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba to the Red Sea and into eastern Africa. On our recent study trip Leon Mauldin and I traveled the entire length of the rift from Dan to Eilat.

One can easily find articles and maps explaining the great rift on the Internet, as well as explanations in many good Bible atlases. Describing the Rift Valley in Israel, Carl Rasmussen says,

This depression is part of the Rift Valley system that extends for 3,700 miles from southern Turkey into Africa. North of Israel the system continues in a northeasterly direction into the Lebanese Beqa; to the south it runs through the Red Sea and down into Africa.

In Israel proper, this depression runs from Dan in the north to the southern tip of the Dead Sea, a distance of 150 miles, and then continues south-southwest as far as Elath, a distance of 110 miles. The various sections of the Rift Valley are diverse in character; a considerable amount of rain falls in the northern section (24 in. at Dan), whereas in the south the rainfall is negligible (2 in. at the south end of the Dead Sea). The valley receives runoff water from the mountains to the west and east along its entire length. (Rasmussen, Carl G. Zondervan Atlas of the Bible. Revised Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. Print.)

The Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba enters the Red Sea proper at Sharm el Shekh near the tip of the Sinai. Back when the Sinai was under Israeli control I had the opportunity to visit the site. At the time Sharm el Shekh was only a place with a few cabins and a place for the adventurous to park their small trailers. It later became a popular Egyptian resort with expensive hotels. In recent years tourism has suffered due to terrorism in the vicinity.

Rusted-out gun left from the Israeli-Egyptian war in 1967. Photo made in 1973 by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rusted-out gun left from the Egyptian closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping in 1967. Tiran island can be seen about three or four miles to the east. Photo made in 1973 by Ferrell Jenkins.

In 1967 Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to ships delivering goods to Israel. This is generally thought to be the act that precipitated the June War of 1967.

As I began to study about the Great Rift  for the past several days I realized that I have visited all of the major area from north to south along this rift from the Amanus Mountains of Turkey through Syria, Lebanon, and Israel until it reaches the Red Sea at the tip of the Sinai peninsula.

An understanding of this rift helps the Bible student better understand many events of the Scripture.