History and Archaeology
Ein Gedi in Hebrew means “spring of the wild goat” and Ein Gedi is rich both in water and goats/ ibex. It includes two spring-fed streams with flowing water year-round: Nahal David and Nahal Arugot. The water facilitated growing crops among which the most prominent in the Old Testament period was dates. The Bible also mentions the henna flower which was common at Ein Gedi. An unknown flower called persimmon (not to be confused with the modern fruit) was common in Ein Gedi and King Josiah introduced the practice of anointing kings with apharsimon oil. It was famous for its strong smell which made it highly prized and valued by the Romans.
Ein Gedi is given a second name in 2 Chronicles 20: “Hazezon Tamar” It is mentioned as being the place that a vast army of Moabites and Ammonites is coming against Jehoshaphat, from Edom. (The word Tamar in Hebrew means ‘date’ and there are many date palms found until today in this area. Ein Gedi was already famous in the Second Temple Period for date production.) This is a very moving passage of scripture in which the famous line is spoken: The battle is not yours for it belongs to the Lord. This battle is also significant, because as the Levites praised God, He ambushed and killed all their enemies.
Tekoa is mentioned in this passage and there is a significant connection between Tekoa and the Prophet Amos. There was an ancient path that went between Ein Gedi and Tekoa. Amos was a sycamore dresser/ pollinator and he may well have used this path to dress the sycamore trees in this area. Coffins were found dating from the Second Temple Period and found in the nearby caves that were made of sycamore wood. It is extraordinary that the desert climate allowed them to survive for more than 2000 years.
In Genesis 14.5-7 Hazezon Tamar is mentioned as an Amorite city that was attacked by Kedorlaomer.
In Joshua 15:61 Ein Gedi is mentioned in the tribal allocations as being territory belonging to the tribe of Judah. six cities in the desert portion of Judea. We do not have findings for these and Ein Gedi is the only one that we can identify for sure.
In 1 Samuel 24.1-2 King David hid in the desert of Ein Gedi. This story contains the profound moment when David has the possibility to kill King Saul as he is relieving himself in a cave, but refuses to touch “the Lord’s anointed.” We could postulate that the hem of his garment was in fact the tzitzit of his tallit, or Jewish prayer shawl. Saul is deeply moved and declares that David is more righteous than he is.
The Song of Songs speaks in poetic terms of the vineyards of Ein Gedi, comparing them to the beloved.
In the Calcolithic Period or 6000 years ago, there was a Temple which was used for ritual purposes. In a cave located near to Nahal Mishmar, more than 3000 ritual copper objects were found that are displayed in the Israel Museum. This is a very early example of the caves in this region being used for shelter. This continued during the Biblical Periods, including by David and Saul and during the Bar Kochba and Great Revolts.
In the 7th century BC we have the first agricultural finding and settlements at the site. During the 7th century BCE, there was permanent settlement in the area, which can be seen by the pottery. This dating fits reign of King Menashe who introduced the foreign culture of his Assyrian Master. He was in power for 52 years and was a very successful King, developing the eastern part of Judea.
At the end of the First Temple Period, the Babylonian conquest led to the exile described in Jeremiah 52. Nebuchadnezzar appointed someone to send away the high society of Judea, leaving behind the farmers and the hunters. The interpretation of Rabbi Yosef interpreted this to mean the apharsimon/ balsam collector who were well known perfumers. The hunters could refer to those who collected snails from Lebanon or Phonicia/Tyre and brought them to Haifa. The color was extracted for dye: Aragamon and tchelet for indigo and blue. These were two of the most expensive substances produced in the area. They would earn money with the trade, thus the new regime continued with this production for financial gain. Then the Koresh/Cyrus Declaration enabled the people to come back. After this, they produced dates and perfumes. The reputation for this was known all over ancient world during the Second Temple Period. Persian remains were found including a stamp on a jar and threes letters – Yahad. This was the name of a Persian Prince as well as the community of Qumeran.
During the Second Temple Period, the residents participated in both the Great and Bar Kokhba Revolts. The settlement was rebuilt in the 3rd century AD and an ancient synagogue from this later period was excavated. There is a famous inscription from the Ein Gedi synagogue that forbade the residents of the community to reveal the communal secret. Some believe that this secret had to do with growing apharsimon and producing perfume from the oil. The Bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius said that Ein Gedi was a big city of Jews and supplier of Apharsimon.
Ein Gedi was finally destroyed in the 6th century. After 1948 Ein Gedi came back on the map, being included within the borders of the State of Israel. Today there is an Israeli kibbutz at Ein Gedi which is famous for its wonderful botanical gardens. It is also the location of the water bottling plant.
Environmental aspects of Ein Gedi:
Sink holes began to be a problem at the end of the 1980s when they began to cross the road entering the area of the date groves. 70% have now been lost and cannot be accessed, which is a tragedy. Much of the area is abandoned today because of the sink holes. The palms used to cover the entire area and this loss is not only financial, but also relates to the historical heritage of this area. Ben Sira, writing in the 2nd BCE, always connects Tamar or the date, to Ein Gedi.
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