Evidence for Global Climate Change in the Bible?

desert

When Joshua entered the land of Canaan, did he meet the same land with the same climate that we know today?

 The descendants of Joseph came to Joshua and asked, “Why have you given us only one portion of land as our homeland when the Lord has blessed us with so many people?”  Joshua replied, “If there are so many of you, and if the hill country of Ephraim is not large enough for you, clear out land for yourselves in the forest where the Perizzites and Rephaites live.” (Joshua 17:14-15)

When the sons of Joseph are about to conquer their inheritance in the land of Canaan, it seems that the land is covered with forests so they cannot cultivate the land. Where are those forests today?

Then the people went out into the field against Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. The people of Israel were defeated there before the servants of David, and the slaughter there that day was great, 20,000 men. For the battle there was spread over the whole countryside, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured. (2 Samuel 18:6-8)

When Absalom stirred a rebellion against David, his father, they end up fighting in the forest of Ephraim. later on Absalom was caught by his hair in a big terebinth tree in that forest. Certainly a thick forest!

Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. (2 Kings 2:23-24)

In the story above, Elisha went from the Jordan valley up to the mountains of Bethel. What interests us in this story is the fact that there were bears living in the woods at that area. Today this area is semi-arid.

The land of Israel in the time of the Bible and today

The three stories above, and many others, leads the reader of the Bible to think that the land of Israel is covered with thick forest where numerous beasts live.

When the American author Mark Twain visited the holy land 150 years ago, he was therefore quite surprised to see just the opposite:

“….. A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route…. hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

(The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim’s Progress, Mark Twain 1867)

How can we explain the difference between what Mark Twain describes and what the Bible tells about the nature of the land?

The Human intervention theory

In the turn of the 20th century, the Ottomans that were the rulers of the whole middle east, started a project of building the Hejaz Railway – a railway for a train that would go from Damascus to Medina. One branch line from this railway went all the way to Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea.

When using a steam locomotive for a train, one needs a lot of wood for burning and generating the steam. It is evident that the Ottomans cut a lot of the woods in the country for the train to operate.

The theory of human intervention claims that because of the railway and also because of overgrazing of the goats of local shepherds, the woods declined dramatically in the end of the 19 century.

As much as the decline of forest in the end of the 19 century is evident, it cannot explain what Mark Twain told us about the land in the middle of the 19 century.

First, when he visited the land in 1867, the Hejaz railway was only a plan. But moreover, the population of the land was scarce. As Twain himself describes: “a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route”. so ‘overgrazing’ does not sound like the real story here.

The Global Climate Change theory

According to this theory, the climate in the time of the bible was different than it is today, and the land of Israel got much more rain compared to our days at that time of Joshua and the kingdoms of Judea and Israel.

There are climatologists that try to show climate changes according to geological evidence. For example: this site.

Do we have any evidence showing that there was more rain in israel in ancient times?

Evidence from the Negev (desert of southern Israel)

In the arid mountains of the Negev, we can find very old terebinth trees of the species: Mt. Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica)

terebinth

What is interesting about this kind of tree is that it is very common throughout other areas of Israel that are not a desert. But in the mountains of the Negev, this is the only tree that can be found, and most of the individual trees are very old and are estimated to be hundred years old.

This fact led the scholars of botany to believe that those trees were abundant in the Negev a few hundred years ago, or even thousands of years, and the Negev was not so arid as it is today. during the last hundreds of years the Negev became what it is today, and only very old trees remained as living fossils.

Summary

Regardless of what you think about global warming and climate changes, it is quite clear that the land of Israel had more woods and probably more rain in the time of the Bible. The Negev in the time of the Bible was probably wetter and Israel had real natural forests which are rare today.

The weak is strong, the small is wise

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Four things are small on the earth, But they are exceedingly wise:
The ants are not a strong people, But they prepare their food in the summer;
The shephanim are not mighty people, Yet they make their houses in the rocks;
The locusts have no king, Yet all of them go out in ranks;
The lizard you may grasp with the hands, Yet it is in kings’ palaces.

(Proverbs 30:24-28)

The writer of this chapter 30 in Proverbs calls himself Agur the son of Jakeh. We do not know much about him. But he tells us some amazing things about our God and the world he created.

The four verses above describe four small animals that astonish the writer. Those animal, although small, are exceptionally wise.

As mentioned in a previous post and another post, the English translation may have had difficulties in identifying the animal species properly.

Let’s check what are those animals and why the writer chose them as examples:

Ants

This one is the easiest. There is no doubt that the Hebrew word “נְּמָלִים” (Nemalim) means ants. Another Biblical reference describing how diligent the ants are:

Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise (Proverbs 6:6)

ants-750x400

Shephanim (Hyrax)

This animal is common in mountains throughout all of Israel. Its scientific name is Procavia capensis, and also known as Rock Hyrax.

The Shephanim – in Hebrew: שָּׁפָן, is easy to identify as it appears as one of four animals that are not “Kosher” because of their external and internal properties:

the shaphan, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you (Leviticus 11:5)

In our chapter we learn that the Shephanim (Hyrax) liveד in the rocks, just like in Psalms:

The cliffs are a refuge for the shephanim. (Psalms 104:18)

שפן סלעים

locusts

Locust is known in the Bible as one of the 10 Plagues of Egypt.

According to its taxonomy, locust is just a grasshopper. But under certain circumstances, the locusts change to form swarm that are extremely hazardous to crops.

In our chapter, the writer is amazed from the fact that such a small insect without a leader or king becomes a big harm to humans.

madagascar-locust-IMG_1294

Lizard

There is a disagreement among interpreters whether the animal mentioned in this verse is a gecko or a spider. In Hebrew Smamit – שְׂמָמִית

In any case, it is a small animal that can walk on walls and is found in the most magnificent palaces. It enters to places where most people are not allowed, and makes it its own home.

letaa

Summary

The four verses in our chapter tell us how magnificent is our Lord when he created such small and vulnerable animals, and yet they are so strong in this world.

This whole chapter is about the wonder of our world and how it leads us to know the providence of the Lord. The speaker introduce himself as a stupid man that knows nothing, but the wonders of the world teach him a lesson.

Who has ascended into heaven and descended?
Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name or His son’s name?
Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:4)