Ein Gedi, Oasis in the Judean desert

“It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from Ein Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.” (Ezekiel 47:10)

Ein Gedi in Hebrew means Ein “spring”, Gedi “kid” (a young goat), transliterated means “Kid Spring” or “Spring of the Kid Goat”. It is the largest oasis spanning along the western shore of the Dead Sea and is set beside the Judean Desert located roughly 50KM southeast of Jerusalem, 16KM north of Masada. The Ein Gedi is only one of two fresh water springs on the Western shore of the Dead Sea with availability of land for agriculture and free flowing fresh water springs is what sustains this agriculture area. The Ein Gedi kibbutz was founded in the mid 1950’s and is set along the southern bank of the Nahal Arugot and when you visit Ein Gedi today the visitor will find it is a beautiful garden bursting with flower blossoms, offering luxurious spa treatments, a place where you can take a dip in the Dead Sea, where visitors can observe exotic animals and explore ancient synagogue ruins and can walk its Biblical canyons with rushing waterfalls just as David did. Today is given the name by Israel as “Ein Gedi country” with a nature reserve and National Park along with a field school for the Society of Preservation of Nature.

This Jewish town of Ein Gedi is the most famous for its secret known as the “Ein Gedi secret”: the processing of balsam. Ein Gedi is where the Jewish process of extracting the resinous juices from the balsam plant were developed, processed and kept a secret. This rare plant called the Balsam (Opobalsamum) was valued for both medicinal purposes and was used in perfumes. In ancient Greece and during the Roman Empire this mysterious resinous juice made of Balsam was a very valuable trade commodity. The history is in its name as well, for the word perfume in Hebrew is “Bosem” which is the root word for “Balsam”. Perfumes produced from Ein Gedi were oil-based unlike today’s perfumes which are alcohol-based. Balsam also was compounded for medicinal purposes therefore the name used most often called it the Balsam of Gilead which the Bible records as the “Balm of Gilead” found in Genesis 37:25, Jeremiah 8:22 and Jeremiah 46:11.

Ein Gedi also is the place where David hid from King Saul as confirmed in scripture.

“Now it happened, when Saul had returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, “Take note! David is in the Wilderness of En Gedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel, and went to seek David and his men on the Rocks of the Wild Goats. So he came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.)” (1 Samuel 24:1-3)

“Then David went up from there and dwelt in strongholds at En Gedi.” (1 Samuel 23:29)

“Now it happened, when Saul had returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, “Take note! David is in the Wilderness of En Gedi.” (1 Samuel 24:1)

An Ein Gedi synagogue was excavated and reveals beautiful mosaic flooring depicting peacocks eating grapes, and the words “Peace on Israel,” and 18 lines of some of what say, “anyone causing a controversy between a man and his fellows or who slanders his friends before the gentiles or steals the property of his friends, or anyone revealing the secret of the town to the gentiles…” And nearby was discovered, in a separate excavation, the “Cave of Treasure” in the Nahal Mishmar area. The findings of the cave are believed to be connected with this synagogue; yet the cave is approximately six miles south of En Gedi. In its hidden contents was a large collection of well-preserved pieces of copper artifacts.

This land area was allotted to the tribe of Judah and was famous in the time of Solomon (Joshua 15:62). It is well known that Solomon compared his lover to “a cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of En Gedi,” (Song 1:14) which is an indication of the beauty and fertility of the land around the oasis. Ein-Gedi is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Judean Desert. The four springs of Ein Gedi (David Spring, Shulamit Spring, Ein Gedi Spring and Ein Arugot) have allowed inhabitation of this site since the Chalcolithic period (a name for the time between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age 4,500 and 3,500 BC). The Bible reveals in the days of Lot “Hazazon Tamar” (Ein Gedi) is recorded in the “the war of the four kings of Mesopotamia against the five kings of the Jordan plain” in Genesis 14:7 and Joshua 15:61-62 (during 1700’s BC). To support this history, archaeological excavations have revealed a synagogue and workshops used in the perfume industry to distill products made from balsam. These discoveries support historical accounts from the seventh century BCE to the end of the Biblical period. The Jewish Talmud records that Jews have resided in the Ein Gedi since after the First Temple was destroyed and lived there during the Second Temple period 200 BCE with further accounts of the Jewish inhabitants from Josephus, along with letters written from local the commanding officers of 135 CA, when Bar Koch confirming Ein Gedi played a part in the war. All these discoveries and scriptural documentation shed light and support the fact that Ein Gedi was and is an important Jewish community inhabited during the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries and again today a thriving community.