Column: A visit to the Negev


Today, during our last stop in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we come to the Negev, a rocky desert and semi-desert region that has several connections to the Hebrew Scriptures, which Christians call the Old Testament.

The Negev, lying between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Jordan in southern Israel, includes about 55 percent of the land of the State of Israel, but only about 8 percent of its people, about one-fourth of whom are Bedouins. Near the southern end of the Negev is the Wilderness of Zin, which scholars believe is the biblical Kadesh Barnea, where Moses struck a rock to get water for his parched followers and their animals. Bedouins have long known that porous rocks in the area absorb water, which can be released by striking the rock.

Arad, on the eastern edge of the Negev, is where the Bible says the Canaanite king of Arad barred Moses from entering the Promised Land, leading God to promise that the Israelites would be allowed to destroy the Canaanites and their cities when they eventually entered near Jericho. In about 1,200 B.C., the Israelites built a fortress at Arad near the original Canaanite city.

In 1962, archeologists unearthed a temple within the fortress, dating to the time of King Solomon and built to honor Yahweh, the invisible God of the Israelites. Unlike other temples to Yahweh, this one also included a shrine to what many scholars believe was Asherah, a Canaanite goddess. Beersheba, today a city of about 20,000 that is the administrative capital of the Negev, marked the southern boundary of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon. South of Beersheba is Makhtesh Ramon, a 1,500-feet-deep crater created by geologic forces that is the largest of its kind in the world. Wildlife in the Negev includes the ibex, a once-endangered wild goat.


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