JUDAEAN WILDERNESS


"Who is my neighbor" (Luke 10:29)


West of the Dead Sea is the Judaean Wilderness. Not considered a "true desert," its barren appearance is mainly due to the fact that it is on the lee side of the Judaean Mountains, where it receives very little rainfall.* Throughout history the Judaean Wilderness has been used by rebels and fugitives as a place of refuge and by others who have retired from the world for religious reasons. After David smote the Philistines and saved the city of Keilah, he "remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country ofthe Wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him everyday, but God did not give him into his hand" (1 Sam. 23:14). Ziph was a village south-east of Hebron that gave its name to this section of the Judaean Wilderness.

Jesus retired to the wilderness for other reasons. At the start of his formal ministry, he came here to fast and pray for "forty days and forty nights." At the end of the forty days, "the tempter came ... to him" (see Matt. 4: 1 - 11).

The wilderness was a zone of rugged hills and sharp descents that protected the eastern approaches to the Judaean Hill Country. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, lead an army against the children of Ammon and the children of Moab as well as others who made a rare attempt to invade the hill country from the east. They came from the Dead Sea region via the pass at Engedi. Before the battle, Jehoshaphat encouraged his troops with this call: "Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed" (2 Chron. 20:20). The battle ended in a complete victory for the army of Jehoshaphat.

Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is approximately 1300 feet below sea level and is the lowest spot on the earth (above water). The northern bay of the Dead Sea is nearly 1300 feet deep, but the southern end is very shallow. Today the Dead Sea is valued for its potash, which is used in fertilizers and soaps. In ancient times, however, it was valued for its salt and bitumen, which sometimes floated to the surface. The average salt concentration of the Dead Sea is 28-31 percent, or eight times greater than that of the oceans. The biblical name for the Dead Sea was "Salt Sea" (Gen. 14:3). It was also called the "sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea" (Josh.3 16). The Romans called it Lacus Asphaltitis because of its bitumen or asphalt.

* The "lee" side is the side away from the wind. As the moist air coming off the Mediterranean Sea rises against the western side of the central mountain range, it expands and cools, forming droplets of water that fall as rain. As the air descends the eastern side of the central mountain range, the air condenses and warms. Thus, the Judaean Wilderness is said to be in the rain-shadow.

Selected Views of the Judaean Wilderness and Dead Sea

In 1894, George Adam Smith wrote that "there are few places in the world where the sun beats with so fierce a heat" as in the Dead Sea region (Smith, p. 324). And yet, because of the climate, manuscripts written on parchment and papyrus survived the centuries to be discovered in 1947. They are the Dead Sea Scrolls, on which all but one of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible are represented. Khirbet Qumran is 9 miles south of Jericho and less than a mile west of the Dead Sea. The site, also identified with the biblical "City of Salt" (Josh. 15:62), was mainly occupied during the Greco-Roman period (ca.130s.c.-68A.D.). A number of scrolls were found in caves south of Khirbet Qumran.

The most important of these was the complete scroll of Isaiah, now displayed in the SHRINE OF THE BOOK museum in Jerusalem.

Across the Jordan from Jericho are the mountains of Moab and the "plains of "Moab" (north of the Dead Sea), where the children of Israel pitched their tents "beyond the Jordan at Jericho" (Num. 22:1).

The mountain overlooking the oasis of Jericho is called the Mount of Temptation, the traditional "high mountain" from which Satan showed Jesus "all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them" (Matt. 4:8). These mountain cliffs mark the beginning of the Judaean Wilderness, the eastern frontier of Judah. The men of ancient Jericho searched for Joshua's spies along the road that led from Jericho to "the fords" of the Jordan River (Josh. 2:1-7).

The Monastery of Mar Saba overlooks the canyon of Nahal Kidron (see John 18:1), approximately 7 miles east of Bethlehem. The Kidron begins a mile north of Jerusalem's Temple Mount and descends through the wilderness over 20 miles to the Dead Sea. Mar Saba was founded by Saint Sabas in 483 A.D. and was the center of Palestinian monasticism. The mountain-like appearance of the Judaean Wilderness is due to the steep descent from the top of the hill country to the Jordan Valley, the low resistance of the chalky soil to erosion, and the relative imperviousness of the bedrock, which turns rainfall into a sud- Monastery of Mar Saba, Judaean Wllderness, Dead Sea den rush of highly erosive runoff ("Terrors overtake him like a flood; in the night a whirlwind carries him off'; Job 27:20). At the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt (131-135 A.D.), the supporters of Bar Kokhba hid in caves in the cliffs of the canyons that descend to the Dead Sea. Unable to assault the caves directly, the Romans set up camps to prevent the rebels from escaping. Except for a few small settlements and forts, the Judaean Wilderness did not have any permanent settlements.

The Herodium was built by Herod the Great on the spot where he overcame his Jewish pursuers, while escaping to Masada at the time of the Parthian invasion in 40 B.C. (I Wars xiii.8). By Herod's own order, he was finally buried here amidst great pomp and ceremony (I Wars xxxiii.9). The Herodium was one of only three strongholds, including Masada, that remained in Jewish hands just before the siege of Jerusalem in the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (70 A.D.). The fortress is 7 miles south of Jerusalem and 2.5 miles southeast of Bethlehem. Its proximity to the birthplace of Jesus reminds us that Herod slew the children in Bethlehem (Matt.2:16).

Bible Study - Judaean Wilderness

John the Baptist grew up in Judaea, and "was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel" (Luke 1:39, 80). He preached baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John was the one "spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" (Matt. 3:2). To the Pharisees and Sadducees, John said: "Bear fruit that befits repentance," reminding them that "God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham" (Matt. 2:8). Later, when Jesus came from Galilee and was baptized by John, they heard "a voice from heaven, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased"' (Matt. 3:17). The pilgrims who traveled up to Jerusalem from Galilee and Peraea ("beyond Jordan") must have been profitable prey for bandits hiding out in the wilderness. The parable of the good Samaritan reflects the kind of calamity that could have happened to anyone of the time. First, a certain man "was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers" (emphasis added). Others came that way, including a Priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. Only the Samaritan had compassion on the injured man and took care of him. After all the Samaritan could do, he took the man to an inn and paid for his continued care. After telling this parable, Jesus asked a certain lawyer which "proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" The lawyer answered: "The one who showed mercy on him. " Then Jesus admonished the lawyer: "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:25-37).
-- 1 Chron.18: 12. David smote 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt at the southern end of the Dead Sea.

-- 2 Kgs. 14:7; 2 Chron. 25:11. Amaziah, king of Judah, destroyed 10,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt.

-- 1 Sam. 23: 14,24-25; 25:2-6; 26:2. David hid from King Saul in the wilderness, in different sections called the wilderness of Ziph and the wilderness of Maon.

-- 1 Sam. 23:29; 24. David found Saul asleep in a cave at En-gedi but spared his life. Saul confessed that David was more righteous than he.

-- 2 Chron. 20:1-25. Jehoshaphat defeated the children of Ammon and Moab.

-- Matt.4:1-ll;Markl:12-13;Luke4:1-13. Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights.

-- Luke 10:25-37. The parable of the good Samaritan.

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