Ein-Gedi is an oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea and one of the most important archaeological sites in the Judean Desert.

En-Gedi is actually the name of a spring which flows from a height of 656 feet above the Dead Sea. In the Bible, the wasteland near the spring where David sought refuge from Saul is called "the wilderness of En-Gedi" and the enclosed camps at the top of the mountains, the "strongholds of En-Gedi."

In the period before the Bar Kokhba War (132--135), the Jewish town of En-Gedi was imperial property and Roman garrison troops were stationed there. But in the time of Bar Kokhba, it was under his control, and was one of his military and administrative centers. In the Roman-Byzantine period, the settlement of En-Gedi is mentioned by the Church Fathers; Eusebius describes it as a very large Jewish village. En-Gedi was then famous for its fine dates and rare spices.

Excavations in 1970 brought to light the remains of a Jewish community in the Byzantine period. Their synagogue had a beautiful mosaic floor depicting peacocks eating grapes, and the words "Peace on Israel," as well as a unique inscription consisting of 18 lines, part of which calls down a curse on "anyone causing a controversy between a man and his fellows or who slanders his friends before the gentiles or steals the property of his friends, or anyone revealing the secret of the town to the gentiles..." (According to one authority, it was designed against those revealing the secrets of the balsam industry.) A seven-branched menorah of bronze and more than 5,000 coins (found in the synagogue's cash box near the Ark) were also uncovered.

In 1953 a kibbutz was established nearby and took the name En-Gedi. Its primary function was initially defense; but it also successfully developed farming methods adapted to the local conditions of a hot desert climate and an abundance of fresh water from the En-Gedi Springs. An area surrounding the Springs has been declared a nature reserve. A field school of the Society for the Preservation of Nature, a youth hostel and a recreation home are all situated there.

Ein Gedi Synagogue

Entry taken from "Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth" CD-ROM

by C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.

The Ein Gedi Nature Reserve (Getting Israel Together)

The Ein Gedi reserve, on the eastern periphery of the Judean Desert, is bordered by cliffs to the West, the Dead Sea shore to the East, the Mount Yishai Ridge and the Ein Gedi lookout to the North, and Nahal Hever in the South.
The lowermost section - the lowest point in the world - is 400 meters below sea level, and the highest summits are 200 meters above sea level.

The 6,750-acre reserve, officially declared in 1972, includes Nahal David and Nahal Arugot and the slopes between them.

The oasis is fed by four springs: David Spring (in the channel of Nahal David), Shulamit Spring and Ein Gedi Spring (on the southern slope of Nahal David), and Ein Arugot (in Nahal Arugot).
Together these springs supply about three million cubic meters of water each year.

The supply of water from the springs is quite steady, with only slight seasonal variations.
It is not direct affected by the amount of rainfall in a particular year, even though the springs get their water from the rainfall that flows eastward from the Hebron Hills watershed, in the direction of the Dead Sea.
The Limestone and dolomite in the Hebron Hills are jointed and the water seeps through the rock until it reaches the layers of impermeable clay and Marl.
The water flows east over the clay and Marl, running in the direction of the rock strata, until it reaches the cliffs.
At the cliffs the water gushes out as four springs.
The springs are all more or less at the same altitude: about 200 meters above the Dead Sea.
A visual marker of the groundwater level - the point at which the springs emerge - is provided by the moringa trees growning nearby.

Ein Gedi's geographic location on the Syrian-African Rift, coupled with the combination of a hot climate and plentiful sweet water in an arid desert environment, created a unique oasis, the largest on the western shores of the Dead Sea.

History

People have been aware of the extraordinary conditions of the Ein Gedi oasis since the ancient settlement in the land of Israel, as we know from the Chalcolithic temple found above the Ein Gedi Spring and the biblical references to Ein Gedi.

The description of the war of the war of the four kings against the five kings in Genesis 14:7 recounts, "and also the Amorites who dwelt in Hazazon-tamar..." Hazazon-tamar is identified as Ein Gedi.
A verse in Chronicles, discussing the war between Jehoshaphat and the Moabites and the Ammonites tells, "The report was brought to Jehoshaphat: 'A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Aram, and is now in Hazazon-tamar' that is Ein Gedi" (II chronicles 20:2).
At the time of the conquests of Joshua, Ein Gedi is listed among the cities bequeathed to the tribe of Juda: "in the wilderness: Beth-arava, Middin, Secacah, Nibshan, Ir-melah, and Ein Gedi: six towns, with their villages" (Joshua 15:61-62).
In I Samuel 24:1, we are told that after David ran away from Saul, he wandered through the Judean desert, and reached Ein Gedi: "David went from there and stayed in the wilderness of Ein Gedi."

A number of descriptions of Ein Gedi are found in the Song of Songs: "My beloved to me is a spray of henna blooms from the vineyards of Ein Gedi" (1:14), and an image appropriate to the landscape, "O my dove, in the cranny of the rocks, hidden by the cliff" (2:14).

Archeological finds at Tel Goren and in the Ein Gedi region supports some of the historical accounts.
The findings date from the seventh century B.C.E. to the end of the biblical period.
According to the Talmud (Tractate Shabbath), Jews continued to reside in Ein Gedi after the First Temple was destroyed.

Ein Gedi had a large Jewish community during the Second Temple period (second century B.C.E.).
This Jewish settlement, which grew dates, is mentioned in the book of Ben Sira. Josephus Flavius tells that that the residents of Ein Gedi were massacred by the zealots - followers of Elazar Ben Yair - at the end of the Second Temple period. Letters Bar Kokhva wrote to the local commanding officers (135 C.A.), found in the Nahal Hever caves on the Ein Gedi slopes, shed light on the period of the Bar Kokhva War and the part Ein Gedi played in the events of this time.
The first letters are worded like orders and threats; the later ones are reprimands.

The many unique finds from the Mishna -Talmud period, including a synagogue and a bathhouse, attest to the size and special nature of the community.

The settlement in Ein Gedi flourished during the fourth to sixth centuries.
The continual settlement of Ein Gedi ended in the sixth century.

The archeological remains point to a large, thriving, and well-organized settlement, which utilized every piece of land and drop of water for agriculture, as is illustrated by the terraces, aqueducts and reservoirs.

Balsam was the "special secret" of Ein Gedi. This fruit was used to produce a particular type of perfume, which was especially valuable for trade.
The central authority in Judea long considered Ein Gedi to be imperial property, most likely because of Ein Gedi's wealth of economic resources.

The gradual decline of Ein Gedi began in the Byzantine period.
We know from the testimony of nineteenth century researchers and travelers, especially the well-known zoologist Henry Baker Tristram, that a large part of the agricultural system became run down.

From this time, Ein Gedi was portrayed as a wild place, with a few Bedouin families of the Rashida tribe living in reed huts at the foot of the Ein Gedi Spring.
In the mill building, the sugar (or flour) mill, which used water from the Ein Gedi Spring to power the upper and lower millstones, dates from the Islamic period.

The renewed Jewish settlement of Ein Gedi began with the arrival of the Israel Defense Forces in March 1949.
A rout was opened from the South (Sodom) and Kibbutz Ein Gedi was established.
This transformed the area into an agricultural paradise.

Today the kibbutz has about 250 members and 300 children and most of its income comes from tourism.
The Ein Gedi area also has a field school and a youth hostel.

Fauna

The abundant water, diverse vegetation, and warm climate naturally attract a wide variety of animal life.
The ibex and hyrax, whose habitat is supported by the scarps, are prominent and characteristic residents of the oasis.
The male ibex can be identified by his large horns, pointing back; the female is smaller and her horns are shorter and thinner.
The Ibex generally live in separate herds of males and females, except during the annual mating season (September-October).

The courtship ritual and the battles among the males are fascinating to witness.
Another heartwarming scene takes place in the early spring (April), when the female ibex and her young descend from the desert highlands to the spring and streams.

Families of hyrax make their homes in the thicket of reeds, between the salvadora trees (see picture) and the rockfalls at the foot of the cliffs.
"The high mountains are for the ibex; the crags are refuge for the hyrax" (Psalms 104:18).
The nocturnal mammals in the reserve include two species of fox (red fox and Afghan fox), as well as wolves, striped hyenas, and leopards.

The leopard is very rare and in danger of extinction.
Today approximately four leopards live in Ein Gedi Reserve.
Decidedly territorial animals, the leopards have adopted the reserve as their permanent home.
The prey on partridges, hyrax, and ibex for food.
The Nature Reserve Authority is making every efforts to guarantee their continued survival, despite the significant presence of human beings.

The reptile world is also extremely diverse and includes two species of vipers (mole and carpet) and one nonvenomous snake, the wipe snake.
A number of species of lizards and agamas also live in Ein Gedi.

Many of the birds seen in Ein Gedi have made the reserve their permanent home.
They include Tristram's starling, characterized by its usual strident voice, black feathers, and orange-spotted wing tips; black tail; sand partridge - "like a partridge hatching what she did not lay" (Jeremiah 17:11); Arabian babbler, with its long tail that points upwards; and fan-tailed raven, which most often lives in large flocks,the in Israel rare, but in Ein Gedi steady little green bee-eater (Merops orientalis).
Some birds of prey who are permanent residents of the reserve (Griffon vultures, Egyptian vultures, eagles, and falcons) nest on top of cliffs.
During migration season, many birds fly over, Ein Gedi and visitors are treated to the fantastic sight of flocks of scores - even hundreds or thousands - of storks and birds of prey.
 

Other birds stay for a period, as for example the spotted fly-catcher(Muscicapa striata) or the smyrna kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)

The reserve has plentiful supply of food the animal residents require.

Flora

Thanks to the special climatic conditions and the wide range of habitats, plants from four phytogeographical (phyto=plant) regions grow side by side in the Ein Gedi Reserve.

 

  1. Tropical (Sudanian) plants
  2. Desert (Saharo-Arabian) plants
  3. Mediterranean plants
  4. Steppian (Irano-Turanian) Plants

Ein Gedi boasts the northernmost distribution of some Sudanian flora, including trees and bushes, such as maerua (Maerua crassifolia), cordia (Cordia sinesis), and oxystelma (Oxystelmaalpini).

Flora

Thanks to the special climatic conditions and the wide range of habitats, plants from four phytogeographical (phyto=plant) regions grow side by side in the Ein Gedi Reserve.

 

  1. Tropical (Sudanian) plants
  2. Desert (Saharo-Arabian) plants
  3. Mediterranean plants
  4. Steppian (Irano-Turanian) Plants

Ein Gedi boasts the northernmost distribution of some Sudanian flora, including trees and bushes, such as maerua (Maerua crassifolia), cordia (Cordia sinesis), and oxystelma (Oxystelmaalpini).
Other tropical plants growing in the reserve are Sodom apple (Calotropis procera), balanites (Balanites aegyptiaca), moringa (Moringa peregrina), commicarpus (Commicarpus plumbagineus), flowering maple (Abutilon hirtum), nightshade (Solanum incanum), 
salvadora (Salvadora persica), jujube (Ziziphus spina-christi), and acacia (Acacia raddiana and Acacia tortilis).

Saharo-Arabian flora include zygophyllum (Zygophyllum dumosum), anabasis (Anabasis articulata), ochradenus (Ochradenus baccatus), gymnocarpus (Gymnocarpus decander) and asteriscus (Asteriscus graveolens).
These species grow primarily on the rock slopes and the desert highlands.

Most of the Mediterranean and Irano-Turanian flora grow near the streams and springs: squill (Uriginea maritima), cheilanthes (Cheilanthes vellcu and Cheilanthes fragrans) maidenhair fern (Adiantum), phagnalon (phagnalon ruprestra), and chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus).
Steppian vegetation includes willow (Salix acmophylla), helleborine (Epipactis veratrifolia), and globe thistle (Echinops polyceras), as well as riverbank vegetation such as Euphrates poplar (Populus euphratica), reed (Phragmites australis and Arundo donax).

The reserve is also blessed with colorful annual flora.
In rain years, these plants cover any areas that are not occupied by perennial flora, and they add to the variety and lushness of the reserve.
In these years, Ein Gedi is awash with Mediterranean annuals, such as grounsel (Senecio vernalis), and Heron's bill (Erodium gruinum), growing alongside Saharo-Arabian species like Aaronsohnia (Aronsohnia faktorovskyi) and toadflax (Linaria haelava).

Our gratitude to the Authority for Nature reserves and National Parks for their permission to use the text from their folder for our "Live" site.
The pictures by Pinhas Baraq
 {C}

The Department for Jewish Zionist Education
The Pedagogic Center
Director: Dr. Motti Friedman
Web Site Manager: Esther Carciente
Updated: Wednesday 4th May, 2005.

 

 

 

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04 May 2005 / 25 Nisan 5765 0