Posts Tagged ‘Ein Gedi’

Military Strongholds and the Judaean Wilderness

August 15, 2013

Have you ever stood in a location and thought to yourself, “Wow, I could totally hide an army here!” or “This place would be SO easy to defend!”?

Perhaps not.

But if you did, you would know there are several things to consider when one is choosing a militaristic abode—especially if you 1) are on the run, 2) will ever have a longing for food or water, 3) need a defensible position, or 4) need to house an army, be it domestic or military. Many of the men (and a notable woman or two) of the Bible were of a marshal disposition. It’s an intriguing exercise to try to look at the places they have been through their eyes, and few places are easier than in the Judaean Wilderness.

Ein Gedi

Ein Gedi, a Wadi Oasis in the Desert

Ein Gedi (lit. “Kid Spring”) has been used since roughly around the time man figured out how to stack one rock on top of another. So why did David possibly wend his way here to escape Saul? Much like the famous canyons of our own Wild West, an entire army could lie hidden within this expansive fold in the Judaean Wilderness. Rebel soldiers and kings alike could relax among the many caves and waterfalls this exquisite oasis provides—all while taking advantage of the edible wildlife and surrounding agricultural communities. Defensively, a network of lookout stations would have a direct line of sight from the lofty Shulammit Spring to distant mesas, such as Masada. Offensively, a mere pittance of soldiers could defend the narrow entrances to the wadi.

Shulammit Spring Lookout, Ein Gedi

The Shulammit Spring lookout at Ein Gedi, with clear line of sight to Masada

Which brings us to Masada. Some scholars consider this a viable location for one of David’s desert strongholds. Mentioned especially in I Samuel 22:4, he could have easily passed to Moab from the lisan of the Dead Sea and back to his matsuwd (Heb. “stronghold”).  How well Masada and the wilderness proved to be in the defense department is even more evident as Herod the Great rose to power. Fearful of his safety, he built (and rebuilt) many fortresses on both sides of the Jordan River, including Herodium, Masada, and Machaerus. Signals from these fortified palaces could be seen from miles around—and any approaching enemy would be spotted from the lofty plateaus. One man alone could each have held the tiny paths leading up the mountain. Unfortunately, this made these palatial fortifications rather easy to besiege, as the fewer the entrances, the fewer the exits to guard.

Masada with Roman Siege Ramp

Masada was easy to defend, and thus easy to besiege.