Posts Tagged ‘Wilderness of Judea’

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.

Adventures in the Wilderness of Judea

September 11, 2012

Today was the hot-day-in-the-desert day. And we certainly don’t say that to complain–we’ve have rarely seen the kind of wild beauty like we saw today. The wilderness of Judea is almost painfully exquisite.

If you have plenty of water and a hat, that is.

Wilderness of Judea Judah Dead Sea Desert

Wilderness of Judea

We drove out into the wilderness and across a checkpoint into Bethany beyond the Jordan, where some translations say John the Baptists baptized at the Jordan River. Our visit was primarily at the Jordan River, and it looked quite lovely, regardless of how it smelled.

Bethany Jordan River John the Baptist

The Jordan River at Bethany

From Bethany, we drove along the Dead Sea and past the oasis of En Gedi, whereunderground springs provide a rare bit of moisture. But these hills are also riddled with caves (this is not very far at all from Qumran–we’ll get to that in a minute). This was where David hid for a time, when Saul pursued him in I Samuel 24.. So it makes sense that this would be a place David would hide, in the middle of nowhere with food and water available and an excellent line of sight. It is also completely feasible to think of David hiding in a cave here, since they were everywhere.

En Gedi Oasis David Saul Cave

En Gedi

The next stop was the mountain fortress of Masada. For the history fan, this is an exciting stop. Herod the Great originally built a sumptuous palace here, complete with swimming pools and a sauna. It’s quite a logical place for a fortress, a huge isolated plateau that gives you a view for miles. No one could approach without being seen. This realization gives you a pang, when you think of the last of the Jewish rebels who fled here after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. They would have watched the Romans march in, seen the runners come and go, as the ramp grew higher and higher until they were able to break down the gate. That night, around 960 people died–the men killed the women and children, and then themselves. When the Romans entered, they found 2 women and 5 children who had survived the self-massacre by hiding in a cistern.

After Masada was the site of Qumran, where we explored the remains of the Essenes’ community. This was one of the religious sects from New Testament times, who was camping out near the Dead Sea while they waited for the Messiah to come sweeping over from the East and scoop up the faithful. The Romans came instead, and the Essenes fled to Masada. But first they hid nearly a thousand scrolls containing Old Testament scriptures, community laws, and eschatological philosophies. Quite some time later (like, 1946) bedouins hiding from troops happened upon the first cave. Fun times ensued, and archeologists have uncovered 11 caves now with scrolls, jars, and fragments–some of which Romans used in an impromptu confetti party while they were raiding the area.

Qumran Essenes Dead Sea Scrolls Cave 4

Cave 4 at Qumran, Where the Dead Sea Scrolls Were Found

Jericho was the last stop of the day. Ah….Jericho. We could wax eloquent on the history, the controversies, and the details that makes this one of our favorite stories; but that’s for another time. The site has been rather neglected, and it was a bit sad to see beautiful ancient mud bricks deteriorating in the open air. Again, this is similar to Masada, in that one can see all around. Here, you can see across the Jordan River all the way to the mountains of Moab. Imagine the people’s growing terror as they watched around 2 million people moving across the river and towards the city, and only one woman in the city had nothing to fear.