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

Ein Gedi: The Bigger Picture

Ein Gedi includes Tell Goren, whose oldest stratum dates from the late 7th century BC, the time of King Josiah (and the prophet Jeremiah). The finds from this level include pieces of vessels like those shown in Egyptian reliefs depicting the manufacture of perfume. The jars in the reliefs were used to collect liquid from pressed flowers. Other finds suggest commerce with Phoenicia, the great maritime trading empire of the day. We may infer, therefore, that already at the time of Ein Gedi's founding, its citizens were busy making the famous perfume called balsam, which the Phoenicians likely bought up and traded throughout the Mediterranean world.

In founding Ein Gedi, Josiah had not only commerce in mind, but defense as well. The Middle East was in turmoil during the last quarter of the 7th century BC. Under pressure of the Babylonians and the Medes, the Assyrian empire crumbled. Egypt, for its part, was preoccupied (at first) with internal problems, so that Josiah could take advantage of the vacuum to expand his realm. He encircled the Judean heartland with fortress cities, including Ein Gedi. Its specific task would have been to defend against potential Edomite attacks from the south and east. The Ein Gedi oasis was a likely target, because roads led from it across the small Judean desert to Hebron and Jerusalem.  From the time of Josiah we find, therefore, not only the small city beside the oasis, but also a military lookout on the plateau high above:


You can see the relationships by enlarging the map on the left. Note that Ein Gedi lies opposite the opening of the Arnon River on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. The gorge of the Arnon marked the northern border of Moab much of the time, as well as the southern border for Israelite settlement in Transjordan. The Dead Sea was not a barrier. We know that Ein Gedi had a harbor at the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt (its leader refers, in a letter, to a ship here), and there is no reason to rule out maritime traffic in earlier periods. We should think of Ein Gedi, then, as a point of contact between Judah and Transjordan.

Here is a view of the setting from the opposite angle, followed by a close-up of the same:


Note that the Judean lookout from Josiah's time was positioned to observe threats from the east and the south, while protecting the road from the oasis (below, left) to Hebron and the rest of Judah. In the Roman period, however, the  threats did not come from the east or south. The need was rather to defend the balsam plantations against raids by tribes from the desert to the west. The military outpost was therefore placed away from the edge, beside the road. (Keel, p. 438.)

This is the road that David, escaping from the central highlands, would have taken with Saul on his heels. Across the chasm is a cave some 30 meters deep. It is the only cave at Ein Gedi deep enough to fit the Biblical account, although access to it is difficult. The cistern just inside its entrance has led archaeologists to call it the "Cave of the Pool." It was briefly inhabited in the Chalcolithic period, and again at the time when Josiah founded the small city below. Most of the finds, however, date from the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt. The rebels that hid from the Romans here did not share, apparently, the gruesome fate of their colleagues who used the caves in riverbeds a few miles to the south. At least there are no signs of Roman intrusion.  (Source: (Keel,  pp. 438-39.)