"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
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.
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
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.
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"
-- 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
-- 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.