Ein Gedi PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Article Index
Ein Gedi
The Bigger Picture
Chalcolithic Temple

ein-gedi-narrow-chute.jpgAfter driving through stark desert with the Dead Sea on our east, we come to a burst of lush vegetation. Coneys (hyrax) sun themselves on rocks or nibble in the branches. Wild goats (ibex) feed on the grass or scale sheer cliffs. Birds are everywhere.

This is Ein Gedi, "the spring of the goat." There are in fact four springs. They break out of the rock about 600 feet above us, creating an intense upsurge of life amid the barren. In the course of the ages, as the Dead Sea Transform opened and deepened, the falling water of these springs eroded the limestone and dolomite of the cliff that stretches along the Dead Sea, eating back into it and forming canyons.

Since we are deep in the rift, it is hot. The combination of water, heat and alluvial soil has here transformed the desert into a hint of paradise. It is the kind of transformation that Isaiah and Ezekiel foresaw.

The Holy Land, we recall, is the only land bridge joining Africa, Asia and Europe. For the storks and other birds that migrate north and south each year, the Syro-African rift is the main passageway. Having desert behind and before them, they will surely make a stop at Ein Gedi, dropping off seeds in their excrement. Seeds from Sudan, the Mediterranean, Iraq and Iran all find a home here, making a tryst of continents. In the pictures on this page, we shall identify a few of these plants: the jujube or "Sisyphus" tree from Africa (Ein Gedi's acacias, moringas, and Sodom apples are also from there), maidenhair fern from the Mediterranean region, and giant reeds from the area of the Euphrates.

A more ancient migrant from the south was the balsam shrub, whose perfume made Ein Gedi (as well as Jericho) famous throughout the ancient world. Its effect was fabulous. The Rabbinical Midrash to the Book of Lamentations, for example, tells how the "sinful daughters of Zion" (no connection to photo) would use balsam: "She would place the balsam between her heel and her shoe and when she saw a band of young men, she pressed upon it so that the perfume seeped through them like snake poison." (Lamentations Rabbah 4:18). More about balsam...

The Song of Songs mentions Ein Gedi in connection with another plant as well: "My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of Ein Gedi." (1:14)

A short hike to a waterfall and back 

Most tour groups that visit Ein Gedi, including NET's, do so on a day that includes Masada, Qumran and a float in the Dead Sea. Our time here is limited, therefore, to about an hour and a half. This is enough for a leisurely hike along the David River (Nahal David). That is a very small portion, however, of all there is to see and do. Ideally, one would like two full days. Let us start with the usual hike, then move through links to more ambitious possibilities.

Soon after entering the nature reserve, we spot some caves across from us on the north side of the riverbed. Inside were found the remains of wooden coffins, decorated with inlays in the form of circles, rosettes and pomegranates They date from the early first century BC, when the Hasmoneans ruled the land. (The access to them has since been eroded away.)

We would like to find an older and deeper cave:

It happened, when Saul was returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of En Gedi.”   Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men on the rocks of the wild goats.  He came to the sheep pens by the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were abiding in the innermost parts of the cave. More...

The closest we can come to a cave at Ein Gedi that is old enough and deep enough to fit this account is the Cave of the Cistern or Pool, which is much higher up in the canyon. This cave, however, is difficult to reach and would have been so, too, in David's day: a good hideout, but hardly a convenient WC. Limited in time and strength, we can tell the story opposite these later burial caves, using one of them as an aid to the imagination.

At the end of the account in 1 Samuel 24, we read that David went from Ein Gedi to "the stronghold" or fortress, which in Hebrew is ha-metzudah, perhaps a reference to the natural fortress, ten miles south of here, that later came to be called Masada.

And now we start our hike:


In the distance, at the last vegetation, we can just make out the pretty little waterfall toward which we are heading.


In the hot months, it is good to take a break at a water chute:


Refreshed, we continue through the lush vegetation toward a pretty little waterfall:


We then arrive at the waterfall. It is so pretty that no picture will do it justice (and so we refrain from posting one here). In winter, on the return, we may be observed by ibex:


After wending our way back, it is time for a little break: