Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Most rivers in the Bible lands dry up during the rainless summer, but not the Nile. Heavy rains and melting snow feed the tributaries that form the Nile River. The torrent of water reaches Egypt during the late summer and it overflows the banks, leaving a fresh layer of fertile moist soil along its banks.
The Holy Land is so small that a soaring eagle can see almost all it at once on a clear day. From Dan to Beersheba is little more than 150 miles, roughly the same distance as from New York City to Albany. From east to west, the Holy Land is even narrower. At its widest point, a hundred miles lie between the Mediterranean coast and the Arabian Desert on the east. The land in which such great events took place is only a little larger than the state of New Jersey and smaller than Belgium.
The Holy Lands position at the crossroads of three continents makes it a meeting ground for species of plant and animals of different origins. Almost every kind of bird, for example, that inhabits northern Africa, southern Europe, and western Asia has been seen at one time or another in the Bible Lands. The fauna comes from as far away as Central Asia (the horse), equatorial Africa (the crocodile), and western Europe (the stork).
The great variety of deserts, mountains, forests, grasslands, lakes, and seashores provide nearly every possible habitat in which plants and animals can find the exact living conditions they need. About 2,500 species of trees and shrubs and annual and perennial plants grow in the Holy Land; Egypt, although much larger, has only 1,500. About 700 species of mammals, birds, and reptiles are found in the Holy Land.
The contrasts in the landscape are remarkable. Mount Hermon rises to 9,400 feet, and its summit is artic in climate. A little over a hundred miles away, at the Dead Sea, the climate is tropical. In the same glance you can see snow-capped mountains and sun-baked deserts. Alongside cultivated fields are stark deserts that afford scarcely enough pasture for flocks.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho drops three thousand feet in only fifteen miles, and while fruit is growing on the farms around Jericho, it may be snowing in Jerusalem. The varied animals and plants, the many different landscapes, the abrupt changes in climate─all these realities were observed by the bible's writers. And they put them to use to illustrate spiritual teachings.
The Jordan Valley is part of the Great Rift that extends from Turkey deep into Africa for four thousand miles. The Great Rift is the deepest chasm on the face of the globe. Unlike the Grand Canyon, which was formed by the process of erosion, great swells and cracking of the earth's crust caused huge blocks of land to collapse, leaving deep valleys that were flooded. In the Holy Land this formed the Jordan River, Lake Huleh, the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea.
The shore of the Dead Sea is the lowest place on the land surface of the earth. This sea is also the saltiest body of water in the world, and nine times saltier than the oceans! It is so salty that it is impossible for a human swimmer to sink in it. During the Roman siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, a Roman commander sentenced some prisoners to death by having them thrown in from a hill, but they did not drown, Several times they were pulled out and tossed in again, yet each time they bobbed to the surface. The commander was impressed by this seeming miracle, since he did not understand its cause, and he pardoned the prisoners.
Ancient Hebrew had an unlimited supply of salt. They formed brine pits called "salt-pans" along the Dead Sea's flat coastal area. The sun evaporated the water in the pits, leaving behind an abundant supply of mineral salts.
Salt was the chief economic product of the ancient world, and the Hebrews used it in a variety if ways: for flavoring foods, preserving fish, curing meat, and pickling olives and vegetables. Infants were rubbed in salt to insure good health before swaddling. Salt was also believed to have been an antidote for tooth decay. Salt was an ingredient in the sacred anointing oil and ritual sacrifices symbolizing God's perpetual covenant with Israel (Numbers 18:19).
by Bonnie Calhoun