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Written by Stephen Langfur
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Ein Gedi
The Bigger Picture
Chalcolithic Temple

Ein Gedi: A Hike to the Chalcolithic Temple

There are many possible hikes at Ein Gedi. For example, there is a one through the Arugot riverbed to a hidden waterfall. This is rather like the hike along the David River on a bigger scale. Above the David waterfall are the "sliding ponds" of the Dry Canyon, and, one level below it, the Cave of the Lovers (dodim). One can also hike up to the Judean military lookout on the upper plateau for a magnificent panorama. Or to the higher summit of Har Ishai just north of the David.

A starting point for many of these hikes is the Chalcolithic  temple on the first plateau above the David waterfall. It can be approached from the fall, but it is best to save the most beautiful part for the end: that is, to start from Tell Goren near the mouth of the Arugot River. On our way to the tell from the main road, we can make a brief departure to the ruins of an ancient synagogue. It belonged to the village that thrived here from the 3d century AD until the 6th. A lengthy mosaic inscription includes a curse against "anyone who reveals the secret of the city," perhaps the secret of balsam production. (For pictures of the finds from the synagogue, see this site and go to the bottom of the page.)

The plan of the hike: From Tell Goren we shall ascend by foot to the Ein Gedi Spring, then to the temple, and then (if we do not wish to hike further, or if we have only 2.5 hours) we shall descend via the Shulamit Spring to the waterfall, leaving the reserve by way of the David River.

From the tell we follow a jeep track northward, but soon after the start of its southward back-switch, we find a footpath leading north and up to the vegetation.

The spring of Ein Gedi forms a pool, around which we can sit and read the Song of Songs. It is a favorite hangout for coneys and ibex. A little to the north, on a higher rise, we find the remains of a Chalcolithic temple. Those who built it here, about 5000 years ago, chose a magnificent position:

This temple dates from the end of the period, around 3100 BC, and bears a close resemblance to one at Megiddo. It is something of a mystery on two counts. First, no trace of a Chalcolithic settlement has been found at Ein Gedi, nor indeed in the region. Second, the archaeologists saw no signs of destruction or plunder, but they found no ritual implements. 

The solution to this riddle may have been found in a cave in the Mishmar Riverbed, five miles to the south. Here in 1961, archaeologists discovered, wrapped in a mat, 436 copper objects. The copper was mixed with arsenic (probably imported from northern Turkey), which made it easier to pour into molds (Mazar  74).
ibex-at-en-gedi-72-21tb.jpgThe implements, on view at the Israel Museum, include crowns, mace heads, vessels, hollow rods for use in procession, and ornamented weapons. The objects are sometimes decorated with representations of male ibex. These wild goats would have gathered at the oasis especially during the summer months, when there was less to eat and drink in the surrounding desert. We may imagine that people came here at this season to hunt, asking the deity housed in the temple to bring the ibex to them. They would fetch the ritual implements from the cave in the Mishmar Riverbed, do their dancing and hunting, return the implements and go back to wherever they had come from (the desert, perhaps, or their settlement in Beersheva, or their major center at Teleilat Ghassul in Transjordan east of Jericho).

The spring water gives rise to the oasis and hence, in a sense, to the ibex. This water was central, apparently, to the cult in the temple. In the middle of the courtyard we can see the remains of a ceremonial basin. One of the gates is directed toward the Shulamit spring, and beside it are the remains of a canal which apparently led to the basin. The other gate is directed toward the Ein Gedi spring.



The main sanctuary is a broad room, about 20 meters long and 5 across. In the semicircular construction, the archaeologists found  animal bones, pottery shards, and ashes, as well as a base of imported limestone. There were benches for offerings and more than 20 round pits, on either end, containing the ashes of these.

From the Chalcolithic temple one can find trails leading in several directions: to the Shulamit spring and down a flight of steps to the David waterfall and the exit; to the Cave of the Lovers (Dodim); to the Dry Canyon; and to the upper plateau with the Judean military lookout, affording a grand view. Be sure to leave enough time, for the Nature Reserve is strict about its closing hours.