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Site Report: En Gedi

by Miriam Todd

En-Gedi is a major oasis located along the western edge of the Dead Sea about 35 miles southeast of Jerusalem with a “perennial spring that glows from a height of 200m above the Dead Sea.” The name En-Gedi means “place of the young goat.” Biblical and extra biblical sources describe this as a place producing fine dates, medicinal plants (Song of Solomon 1:14), and balsam, an important plant used for perfumes. En-Gedi was included along a trade route, which extended from the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, turned south and ended north in Jerusalem.

The spring at En-Gedi became a prized location. Genesis 14:7 tells us “En-Gedi was inhabited by Amorites in the time of Abraham and was subjugated by Chedorlaomer,” the king of Elam. In 2 Chronicles 20:2, we are told that Jehoshaphat faced enemies of Moabites and Ammonites already gathering at En-Gedi, named Hazazon-tamar. Eventually, En-Gedi became a part of Judah and this noted wilderness land is the place where David fled from Saul. Nearby, David found Saul in a cave and cut off part of his robe (1 Sam 23:29). Moreover, “during the reign of Jehoshaphat, Moabites, Ammonites, and others gathered at En-gedi to attack Judah (2 Chron 20:1-2).

Notably, “En-Gedi is most often mentioned in sources from the Second Temple and the Roman Byzantine periods.” Writing until his death in 79 CE, Pliny’s most famous work entitled Natural History “refers to En-Gedi’s destruction during the first revolt against Rome.” What is more, letters in the city “Nahal Hever in the Judean Desert, state that preceding the Bar-Kokhba Revolt [against Rome from 132-135 CE], En-Gedi was a Jewish village that had become the property of the Emperor with a Roman garrison was stationed there. Church father, Eusebius [in the 3rd century] later describes En-Gedi as a very large Jewish village.” Excavation by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the 1950s reveals that “the settlement must have been administered by a central authority that dealt with the construction of terraces, aqueducts, and the network of strongholds and watchtowers…The aqueducts lead from the spring to reservoirs in the plain [built during the] Hellenistic to the Byzantine periods [enabling] an efficient system of agriculture and advanced techniques for collecting water for irrigation.” Without this irrigation system, En-Gedi may not have survived as a productive center for balsam, perfume, and dates or have become a prominent city with commerce and wealth along the Dead Sea.

Drinkard, Jr., Joel F. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England, eds. Holman Reference: Nashville, 2003.
Stern, Ephraim, ed. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1993.

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