Good Samaritan, Bad Samaritan

 

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“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him…” (Luke 10:30-34)

This is the story told by Yeshua in the New Testament known as the parable of “The Good Samaritan”.

Samaritans still live today in the area called Samaria (Shomron in Hebrew). When asked, the Samaritans say that they are the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel that were sent to exile by the Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. Few of them remained in the land and formed the people that today are known as “Samaritans”.

In the New Testament, the Samaritans are mentioned several times, but nothing refers to who they are and what is their origin.

from the New Testament, we learn some interesting facts about them:

So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

….12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”…

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” (John 4:1-20)

Four facts we can learn from this short story:

  1. Samaritans lived in Shechem and were the main residents there in the 1st century AD
  2. They considered themselves as the sons of Israel (Jacob)
  3. Jews and Samaritans did not see themselves as one people
  4. Samaritans worshiped on mount Gerizim and not in Jerusalem

All those points are still valid today: The Samaritans reside in Shechem, they see themselves as sons of Israel, they do not see themselves as Jews and they claim that mount Gerizim is where the God of Israel commanded to worship.

And in fact, the Samaritans follow the laws from the Torah like the Jews. They celebrate the feasts like the Jews. In the picture below you see Samaritans celebrating Pesach on mount Gerizim.

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What does the Bible say?

In the Bible, there is one hint that supports what the Samaritans say about themselves being descendants of Israel:

In the book of Jeremiah, after the people of Judah had been sent to exile by the Babylonian (150 years after the people of the kingdom of Israel had been exiled by Assyria), The Babylonian nominated a new leader that is not from the seed of the kings: Gedaliah the son of Ahikam.

In Jeremiah 40-41 we read about the assassination of Gedaliah by his foe: Ishmael son of Nethaniah. After Ishmael killed Gedaliah we read the following:

And it happened, on the second day after he had killed Gedaliah, when as yet no one knew it, that certain men came from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, eighty men with their beards shaved and their clothes torn, having cut themselves, with offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the house of the Lord. (Jeremiah 41:4-5)

There were people living in the cities of the previous kingdom of Israel, and they came to sacrifice in the Temple. Who are those people? Jews? remaining of the Israelites? Foreigners? the auther does not tell us. But we know for sure that people lving in the cities of Samaria came to the Temple in Jerusalem many years after the exile of Samaria.

(Samaria – Shomron: In the old testament it is used as he name of a city, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. In the time of second Temple and in the New Testament and even today, Samaria refers to the mountains north of Judea).

Proselytes by Lions

In later Jewish texts, the Samaritans are referred as “Men of Cuth” and “Proselytes of Lions”.

This is based on what we read in II Kings 17. The text describes what was done in the land of the kingdom of Israel after the exile of Israel:

24 Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities. 25 And it was so, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they did not fear the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, “The nations whom you have removed and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the rituals of the God of the land; therefore He has sent lions among them, and indeed, they are killing them because they do not know the rituals of the God of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, “Send there one of the priests whom you brought from there; let him go and dwell there, and let him teach them the rituals of the God of the land.” 28 Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord

29 However every nation continued to make gods of its own, and put them in the shrines on the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities where they dwelt…

34 To this day they continue practicing the former rituals; they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances, or the law and commandment which the Lord had commanded the children of Jacob, whom He named Israel

According to what is written here, Those who call themselves Samaritan are not from the seed of the sons of Israel, but rather people from the empire of Assyria that were moved to Israel and learned partially how to worship the God of Israel – without much success!

The Jews and the Samaritans became political foes in the time of the return to Zion from Babylon.

The Samaritans sent a letter to the Persian king asking him not to let the Jews to build a Temple:

From Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions—representatives of the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the people of Persia and Erech and Babylon and Shushan, the Dehavites, the Elamites, 10 and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnapper took captive and settled in the cities of Samaria and the remainder beyond the River—and so forth.

11 To King Artaxerxes from your servants, the men of the region beyond the River, and so forth:

12 Let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem, and are building the rebellious and evil city, and are finishing its walls and repairing the foundations. 13 Let it now be known to the king that, if this city is built and the walls completed, they will not pay tax, tribute, or custom, and the king’s treasury will be diminished. (Ezra 4:9-13)

Later on, When Nehemiah also comes to Zion and wants to build a wall around the city of Jerusalem, we read about some people from the country that want to stop him.

But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews. And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?”

Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.” (Nehemiah 4:1-3)

 

Where is the place to worship?

Back to the Samaritan woman at the well:

Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” (John 4:20)

How did it come that the Samaritan claim Mount Gerizim to be the place to worship? Where did they take if from? If they are indeed the sons of Israel, and they read the Torah, Where does it say so?

Well, The Torah does not say where is the place to worship. Only later in 2 Samuel, God made his covenant with David and Jerusalem is chosen.

but in the five books of the Torah, the place to worship is yet to be defined, or it can be understood that this place can move from place to place.

In many places in Deuteronomy, we read:

“the place where the Lord your God chooses, to put His name for His dwelling place”

Deu 12:5, Deu 12:11, Deu 12:14, Deu 14:23, Deu 15:2 and many more.

After the sons of Israel had entered the land, the Ark moved from place to place: Jericho, Mount Ebal, Shilo, Bethel, Kirjath Jearim and finally Jerusalem.

We also know that the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel did not want their people to go to Jerusalem. Jeroboam sanctified Bethel to stop the Israelites on their way to Jerusalem.

So the Samaritans, who do not accept the legacy of David’s seed, and who do not read any the books of the Bible after the first 5 books of the Torah, do not accept Jerusalem as the place that God chose.

The first Altar that Joshua build was on mount Ebal, opposite to mount Gerizim. Mount Ebal was the mountain of the curse, whereas mount Gerizim was the mountain of blessing. But the Samaritans do not read the book of Joshua either.

They claim that mount Moriah and the mountain of the first altar of Joshua is mount Gerizim.

picture: Mount Gerizim

Footnote

Samaritan people are today about 800 people world wide. Half of them live in a neighbourhood on top of mount Gerizim and half of them in the city of Holon in Israel.

 

Foxes and Jackals

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As shown in another post, the identification of animals and plants in the Bible may not always be straightforward. While translating the Bible to different languages in different countries, there was a need to use names that are known in the country of the translator, and this could sometimes lead to wrong interpretations. In some cases, there is still lack of consensus about what the original meaning was.

In this post, I would like to examine, what is the animal that is called “fox” in the Bible, and who is the “jackal”.

The Fox

Fox, in Hebrew: “Shu’al” (שׁוּעָל) is mentioned few times in different books in the Bible.

Then Samson went and caught three hundred foxes; and he took torches, turned the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. (Judges 15:4)

The red fox that is quite common in Israel, and certainly in the area where Samson was living, has a long beautiful tail. Therefore the identification of the animal seems easy.

But what would you say about the following verse:

Catch us the foxes, The little foxes that spoil the vines (Song of Solomon 2:15)

Foxes that spoil the vines?

In the famous fable of Aesop, a fox wanted to eat grapes that were too high to reach. He therefore remarked that those grapes weren’t ripe yet.

Fox do not eat fruits. Period. Why is it then that we read about this characteristic of the fox as a grape eater?

 

The Jackal

The Jackal mentioned in the Bible more times than fox and always in plural: “Tanim”, in Hebrew: (תַּנִּים)

In the Bible, the attribute of the Jackal is living in the desert and desolate areas.

But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness. (Malachi 1:3)

But You have severely broken us in the place of jackals, And covered us with the shadow of death. (Psalms 44:19)

I am a brother of jackals, And a companion of ostriches. (Job: 30:29)

I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a den of jackals. I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant. (Jeremiah 9:11)

This jackal of the Bible, does not seem to be the jackal we know today: The Jackal is known as an animal that lives close to humans and not in the desert.

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Who is who?

Some Bible researches came to a conclusion that, again, there was misinterpretation in the translation of the names into European languages.

The common agreement today is, that Jackal in the Bible (“Tanim”) is not the jackal we know today but rather som bird that lives in the desert.

The fox, on the other hand, can relate sometimes to today’s fox and in other cases to the  jackal that we know today.

This makes sense, as the fox is an animal that eats only small animals and has a long tail, whereas the jackal is known to be omnivore – meaning that it can devour small animals but also eat fruits.

Archeology comes to our aid

Recently, in a new excavation in the north of Israel, a mosaic from the Byzantine time was found with scenes from the stories of Samson.

Foxes appear in one of those scenes that resemble the fox that we know today. See at the bottom of the picture below:

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King Solomon’s Mines

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The story of King Solomon’s Mines is a fiction from the 19th century written by H. Rider Haggard. The book was inspired by the discovery of ancient copper mines in the south of the Aravah in “Timna” close to the Red Sea.

The Bible does not mention mines that Solomon have built. So the idea of referring those ancient mines to King Solomon came from three places in the Bible:

a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. (Deuteronomy 8:9)

From this verse in Deuteronomy we learn that there were mines of iron and copper in Canaan before the sons of Israel conquered it.

… King Solomon also built a fleet of ships at Ezion Geber, which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom (1 Kings 9:26)

The verse above tells that Solomon had ships in the Red Sea. So the copper mines near the Red Sea, could have been one of the resources of the wealth of the Israel in his time.

… All these articles which Huram made for King Solomon for the house of the Lord were of burnished bronze. 46 In the plain of Jordan the king had them cast in clay molds, between Succoth and Zaretan. 47 And Solomon did not weigh all the articles, because there were so many; the weight of the bronze was not determined. (1 Kings 7:45-47)

 

From the verses above we learn that great amount of bronze was cast in Israel in the Jordan valley. Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin.

When ancient mines were found in Timna, they were immediately referred to King Solomon. Nelson Glueck, The first archaeologist that excavated Timna, attributed the site to King Solomon and named it “King Solomon’s mines”.

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Archeological finding refute relation to Solomon

For thirty years, it was well agreed that those copper mines were built by King Solomon, until the year of 1969.

In this year, the Israeli archaeologist Benno Rothenberg found an Egyptian temple in Timna, that was dated to 200-300 years before the time of Solomon.

More research and excavations revealed the techniques that were used in the site, and more Egyptian references.

When you visit in the site today, you can learn all about copper mining in ancient times and about the Egyptian dominance in this area.

It was well agreed among all scholars that the site was abandoned before the time of David and Solomon and therefore cannot be referred to them.

For the last 50 years, there is a movement of archeologist that try to refute the historical validity of what is written in the Bible.

It is such a strong approach in the academy, that almost every site that was identified with a Biblical story only 70 years ago is now considered incorrect.

Yigael Yadin, the famous Israeli archaeologist who was also the Chief of Staff of the IDF, excavated many sites in Israel and found in them evidence to the correctness of the Bible. From late 60’s of the last century the fashion changed and all his findings were being refuted one after the other.

 

Recent findings change the picture again

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In 2009 another archeological expedition arrived to Timna led by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef from Tel Aviv University.  This group wanted to date the site and find out who were the people that were working in it.

In 2012 they concluded their work with new evidences that change everything that was known before.  See the article in: A New Chronological Framework for Iron Age Copper Production at Timna (Israel)

They were able to find organic material that they could date using  radiocarbon dating method. The organic samples include small pieces of cloth, ropes, and other textiles, various types of uncharred seeds (olive pits, grape and date seeds, pistachio, and more), and wood, including small twigs of acacia trees.

The extreme dry and hot climate of Timna, helped preserving this organic materials for thousands of years. Just like the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The examination let to the conclusion that most of the mining that was done in Timna took place after the Egyptians already left the place and is dated to the 10th century B.C.

Dr. Ben-Yosef also suggest that local Edomite tribes were living in the area and developed the skill of mining.

This brings now the new theory about the place: In the time of King Solomon (10th century B.C.) The Edomites were mining copper in Timna. The Israelites under King Solomon could be in political control over this place just as written in the Bible.

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Solomon’s Pillars in Timna

 

Enigma: Who were the people living in the ancient Jewish village of Susya?

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The village known as Susya is found a few miles south of the city of Hebron. The site was excavated first after the six-days war and an ancient synagogue was found. Between the years of 1984-1987 more thorough excavations were held and many interesting facts were discovered in the village and in the synagogue.

We know that the synagogue of Susya is one of four that were found in the area, all dated to the Byzantine period and early Arab period: from 3rd century to 9th century AD.

We know of many synagogues from that period in the north of Israel, mostly in the Galilee and Golan Heights. But the one in Susya is so unique, that it raises many questions about the people that were living in that village.

The findings of Susya

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The Synagogue

The synagogue of Susya and the other three synagogues in the area are very distinct.

First the plan of the building: Almost all synagogues in the north of the country have a rectangle shape with a Basilica plan. They are built on a North-South axis, and the people were praying to the south toward the direction of Jerusalem.

In the four synagogues in the area of Susya, the people were praying toward the north, which is the direction of Jerusalem, but the Synagogue of Susya itself is built as a rectangle with East-West axis. Although it has a basilica plan, it does not have two rows of columns that are very typical to synagogues or churches built in the Byzantine period.

As this is very unique, we cannot tell for sure what is the reason for this different plan. Some scholars believe that this is due to the different culture among the Jews in south of Judea that were remote from the Jews of the Galilee.

In almost all synagogues in the country from the Byzantine period, there are dedication inscriptions that mention the name of people that contributed the to building. The inscriptions are generally written in Aramaic or Greek. In Susya we see some inscriptions that are written in Hebrew, which is rare.

Ritual baths

More than 40 Mikva’s (Jewish ritual baths)  were found in the small village of Susya. This is very unique in the Byzantine period: In the Second Temple period we know of many Mikva’s in Jerusalem and also in Qumran. But in the Byzantine period there is no other example of so many Mikva’s as in Susya.

Menorah

Menorahs were found in Susya in many forms: Engraved on stones, on mosaic in the floor of the Synagogue and one very special: a real Menorah that was probably used for ritual ceremonies in the Synagogue and that imitates the menorah of the Temple that was already destroyed at that time.

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What do scholars say about the people of Susya

What can we tell about the people of Susya?

We know that at the time they lived there, the center of the Jewish life in the country was in the north – The Galilee. So they were probably separated, not completely, but far enough to have their own customs. This can explain the writing in Hebrew, and the different plan of the synagogue.

So what is the issue of the Mikvahs? more than 40 of them? and the Menorahs?

So this may have been a community of very devoted people.

Some scholars suggest that they saw themselves as priests, and maybe referred to the Cohen and the Zadok families of priests.

We cannot be really sure. When you find a unique archeological finding that is not known in any other locations, it is really hard to conclude about the meaning of it.

Yet another theory

There was another inscription that was found on the floor of the synagogue of Susya that may suggest another solution.

The inscription is a short Aramaic verse that look like a simple dedication inscription.

The translation to English is:

… be mentioned for good the comforter Yeshua the witness …

There are several interesting things about this short sentence:

One, the name Yeshua. This was probably a common name in that time, but it is also the name of Jesus from Nazareth.

Second: The adjectives “Comforter”. It is not common to call a person that contributed to a building “comforter”. We do not see this in other places.

And third, the word “witness” that can be better translated to “the one who testifies”. Again, not a word you expect to describe a person that gave money.

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One idea that some people came with is that the people living in Susya were in fact Jews that believed that Yeshua was the Messiah of Israel.

It is not unlikely that there were Jews believing in Yeshua living in the country in that period, as those were Jews from Israel that started the movement of Christianity in the first place.

We probably will not be able to prove one or the other theories about the people of ancient Susya, but we can come to the place and enjoy its beauty and the remarkable findings there.

Why is Israel the world leader of Irrigation and Seawater Desalination?

Since it was founded, Israel always held a position of a world leader in modern irrigation.

Theodor Herzl who was the “Visionary of the state” of Israel, wrote in his book: Altneuland (Old-new land) about his vision of using the water from the Jordan river to irrigate the desert.

This idea was implemented in the Israeli National Water Carrier project many years later. The National water carrier is a national project of taking water from the Sea of Galilee and use the water in the desert of the Negev. This project was one of the factors that led to the six days war.

Simcha Blass, An Israeli engineer, was the one that invented the plastic drip irrigation. Today it is used all over the world, and not so many know that it was invented in Israel.

For many years, Israel is an exporter of leading irrigation systems that include drip irrigation, sprinklers, water filters, pipes and many more.

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in the last decade, Israel became also the world leader in seawater desalination.

There are 5 different desalination facilities in the Mediterranean shore of Israel and one in the Red Sea shore. As for today, 75% of the drinking water in the taps come from desalinated water.

From a country that was always in shortage of natural water resources, it now exports water to its neighbours countries and help them build desalination facilities.

Why Israel from all countries?

I want to suggest two reasons to this question and they are both from the Bible:

‘A land for which the Lord your God cares’

First reason: The Blessing:

For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; 11 but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven12 a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.

13 ‘And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. 15 And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled.’ 16 “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, 17 lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you. (Deuteronomy 11:10-17)

When the sons of Israel are about to enter the land of Canaan, The Lord tells them that this country is different than the county from which they came.

It is completely dependent on the grace of the Lord and His eyes are always on it.

Rain and water is the most important resource in this land and they will need to rely completely on the Lord in order to be sufficient with water.

The blessing of the water in Israel, which is not a country rich with rain, is the blessing of The Lord.

I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
(Genesis 12:2)

‘Rivers in the Desert’

Second reason: The Prophecies:

There will be on every high mountain
And on every high hill
Rivers and streams of waters (Isaiah 30:25)

The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them,
And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose (Isaiah 35:1)

For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert.
The parched ground shall become a pool,
And the thirsty land springs of water; (Isaiah 15:6-7)

“The poor and needy seek water, but there is none,
Their tongues fail for thirst.
I, the Lord, will hear them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers in desolate heights,
And fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
And the dry land springs of water.
19 I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree,
The myrtle and the oil tree;
I will set in the desert the cypress tree and the pine
And the box tree together,
20 That they may see and know,
And consider and understand together,
That the hand of the Lord has done this,
And the Holy One of Israel has created it. (Isaiah 41:17-20)

I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

He turns a wilderness into pools of water,
And dry land into watersprings. (Psalms 107:35)

So many prophecies about water in the desert!

 

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…and the days are coming, says the Lord

Evidence for Global Climate Change in the Bible?

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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.

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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)