Dearly Departed on Mt. Carmel

Death is one of the hardest challenges for humanity.  One of the attributes which distinguished people from other animals is there care for and respect for their dearly departed.  Extensive funerary rites exist in most cultures around the globe and serve to focus the cultural, moral values of that society.  It wasn’t always so.  We don’t have evidence of concerted attempts to deal with death all through the history of homo sapiens.  The earliest evidence of a cemetery, a central location to bury all the dead of one group of people, is here in Israel in the Carmel mountains.

During the Natufian era, roughly between 13,000 – 10,000 BCE, humanity was going through a lot of changes.  Settling down, the beginnings of agriculture and the domestication of animals  as an organized method for procuring food as often noted as the main developments of this time.  Weaponry became developed into bow and arrow for hunting instead of the spear.

In the Rakefet Cave near Daliyat al-Carmel, on the Carmel mountiain ridge, a Natufian society now adds another facet to the story.  In the entrance room to the cave, researchers from Stanford University and the University of Haifa have uncovered a cemetery where about 30 individuals have been buried.  These individuals include men, women and children, mostly buried in singular or double burial niches.

natufian burial

Double Burian niche in Rakefet Cave:  a. actual photograph; b. artist’s rendition showing bed of flowers (green coloration remains in a.)

The niches were hewed into the bedrock and then lined with mud or primitive plaster.  Next came the flowers and spices.  Mint and sage impressions on the lining of the niche give us an indication of the sweet smelling farewell provided for the dearly departed Natufians.  Other flowering plant impressions were also found.  These scents would have made it more pleasant for the living.

Ceremonies surrounding burying the dead did not stop once you laid your dearly departed in his savory smelling final resting place.  People stayed around for at least a bit.  The presence of food and drink stuffs near the burials suggests that the rites associated with death including eating and drinking – kind of a send-off feast.  Animal bones scattered in the cemetery, with signs of intentional slaughter, show that their diet included  deer, fallow dear, wild boar, rabbits, desert cats, badgers, birds, turtles – typical food sources in the Natufian period.

Drink was also part of the funeral rites, apparently.  Only this year, the researchers found evidence in the cemetery of beer production in small craters.  Microscopic grain proteins were found along with signs of their crushing and fermentation.  Beer production in the Rakefet Cave from 13,000 years ago or so pushes back the date for the origin of this important drink by 5000 years (it had previously thought to have originated in the area of today’s Iran).

It’s interesting how closely many modern culture’s rites are to those practiced so long ago.  Embalming with sweet smelling scents, flowers at funerals, having a feast to memorialize the honor of a person are still practiced today all over the world.

According to Hans Christian Andersen, “Just living is not enough…one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”  You could also throw in some beer.

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A Great Miracle Happened (W)here – Eleasa

INCOMPLETE WORK

judah_maccabee

Judah Maccabeus

This series about the battles of Hanukkah is ending; today is the 8th and last day of the holiday and this will be the last battle of Judah Maccabeus.  Judah appeals to the Romans to enter into a pact with Judea to be their partners against the Greeks and to protect them.  This move angers Demetrius, the Seleucid emperor, who sends the largest army yet in the Judean conflict and the most experienced general, Bacchides to deal with the Jewish problem.

Judah has won battles in the south, west, and north of Jerusalem so Bacchides comes along an untried road – the Gilgal-Jericho-Beit El road on the east.  Unlike before previous battles, Bacchides encounters resistance from the villagers living on this road.  With a heavy hand, the Greek general kills them and clears a road for his troops to the area of Beit El.

It is difficult to write these words this year after the terror attack last night, the 8th night of Hanukkah, on the roads in this same area.  On the road outside of the Jewish village of Ofra, 9 Jews, including a pregnant woman, were fired at by those who would deny the story of Judah Maccabeus and Jewish presence throughout history in this place.  May God guard and heal them.

On a personal note, a member of my own family was fired at by terrorists during Hanukkah several years ago as she stood on the road in this area waiting for a ride.  She is, thank God, expecting her first child now.

Judah Maccabeus encamps with 3000 of his best fighters in Eleasa, which is identified as being near el-Bira of today.  He is surprised by the appearance of the Greek army because of their novel advance route.  The Jewish fighters become frightened when they see the Greek army approaching with an army of 20,000 men and 2,000 horsemen; and most of Judah’s army ran away into the hills, leaving only 800 to fight against the Greeks.  Judah encourages the ones who remain to stay and fight.  This pep talk given by Judah, in contrast to his encouraging words before other battles, contains no reference to divine assistance or the religious significance of the fight.  Instead, it focuses on Judah’s personal honor; winning wars has changed him.

The Jews again attack the commander’s unit, as they did in the previous battle against Nicanor.  This time, however, they walk into a trap set for them by the Greeks.  Bacchides’ army retreat slightly, drawing the Jews after them.  The Greek cavalry closes in on either side and seal the fate of Judah Maccabeus’ army.

Now, it is Judah Maccabeus who meets his death.  His brothers, Jonathan and Simon, in the chaos of war, remove his body and bury him in the family plot in Modi’in.  The remaining Jewish soldiers flee with the loss of their general.

The hero of the Hanukkah story, Judah Maccabeus is mourned by his supporters quietly.  Judah’s brothers go into hiding; and it will be another 18 years, after many more wars and negotiations and ruthless murders, before the Jews will achieve sovereignty under Simon and his descendants.

“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”  Pirkei Avot 2:21

It is us, through the ages, celebrating Hanukkah, the holiday mandated by Judah, who mourn him eternally and openly and draw strength from the stories of his acts.  But in the end, Hanukkah is not about remembering what was, but about working toward what can be.

Happy Hanukkah to one and all!

A Great Miracle Happened (W)here? – Adasa

JEWISH AMERICAN OR AMERICAN JEW?

With recent tragedies in Jewish communities around the world, this question of Jewish identity is very current.  These same themes were relevant in Judea of 2200 years ago as well.  The Jews in Judea at the time of Judah Maccabeus’ wars were going through a crisis of identity.  How much Greek culture should they adopt?  How did their allegiance to the Greeks mesh with their faith?

We see in earlier battles that Greek armies used Judean roads, marching past Judean towns – even Modiin, Judah Maccabeus’ hometown – with passive approval by the resident Jewish population.  Even after the re-dedication of the Temple, Jewish sympathizers to the Greek government return to serve there in the capacity of priests.  The events leading up to, and in the aftermath of the 7th battle, the Battle of Adasa, will change Jewish Judean’s outlook towards the Greeks.

General Nicanor, incensed at his loss at Capharsalma, threatens to burn down the Temple unless the priests hand over Judah Maccabeus.  He wanted to flex his political muscle and show the populace the price for shunning the Greek laws and ways.  This was probably shocking to the priests in the Temple who had supported the Greek government.

In order to finish the Judean resistance once and for all, the Seleucid government arranged for reinforcements to join Nicanor.  Nicanor, himself, went to meet them at Beit Horon, once again using this main road and ensuring that it was open for these extra troops.  Judah went and set up his camp in the open plain of Adasa, confident from his previous victory.  There are many theories as to where exactly Adasa is and there is no clear obvious choice.  Because of the centrality of the Beit Horon Ascent in the narrative, the battle most likely occurred close to Jerusalem, where the terrain opens up and there is sufficient plain to wage a proper battle.

Nicanor attacked and was killed in the course of the battle.  When Nicanor’s troops saw him dead, the Greeks soldiers became afraid and fled back down the road towards the coastal plain.

Judah Maccabee trumpets jerusalem

Judah Maccabeus, also the trumpeters and Jerusalem Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, woodcut 1860

Judah Maccabeus sounded trumpet blasts and the Jews came out of the villages along the road and killed the Greek troops during their retreat.  Only a few days or weeks prior, these same villagers had given the troops safe passage on this same road.  Now, their Jewish identities came out strongly against the Greeks.  This series of events shows how the Jews struggled with this conflict.

Judah Maccabeus took Nicanor’s head and hand and tacked them to the wall of Jerusalem facing the Temple.  Was this to serve as a warning to the Greeks that this would be their fate when speaking and raising their hand against the Temple?  Or was it a sign to the Jews in the Temple to be wary and guard their Judaism against outside influences?

The day of the Battle of Adasa, the 13th of the Hebrew month of Adar, is declared as a joyous holiday by Judah Maccabeus to be celebrated every year.  Why would this battle deserve a holiday and not the other battles?  Judah Maccabeus declares two holidays surrounding his campaigns: one on Kislev 25 – Hanukkah – and one to celebrate the victory of Adasa on Adar 13 – the Day of Nicanor.  Hanukkah recalls the restoration of the Temple service.  The Day of Nicanor is a change in mindset.  After being tricked into complacency by the lure of Greek culture, the Jews see the Greeks for what they are – anti-Semites  – and recommit to their Judaism.

A Great Miracle Happened (W)here? – Capharsalma

THE TRAP

After the turmoil in the Seleucid government settles down, focus is again returned to Judea.  The new emperor, Demetrius I, who lied and cheated his way out of a Roman prison to kill his cousin, Antiochus V, and claim the throne, takes a new tactic to beating the Jews.  He sends Bacchides, a friend of Antiochus IV to lure Judah Maccabeus into a trap he has set in the countryside north of Jerusalem.  This location, Beit Zait, was probably chosen because it was familiar to Judah because it was on the edge of the hill country where the first battle was fought.  Bacchides holds out an olive branch to Judah offering to “discourse with him about a league of Friendship and Peace”.

Some of those faithful to Judah went to Beit Zeit.  Judah, however, had his suspicions because Bacchides brought with him a large army.  This wariness turned out to be justified as at the “peace talks” the Greek army slew 60 of Judah’s supporters.

el jib 1862

Area of Battle of Capharsalma and Beit Horon Ascent, 1862

Demetrius then sends Nicanor, a Greek general (maybe even the same one from the Battle of Emmaus), to conquer and destroy Judah and those who refused to become Hellenized.  The battle took place in Capharsalma, whose location is not specifically deducible from the text.  Most researchers today place it near Gibeon.  Suggestions are that one of Nicanor’s main motivations was to secure the road between Jerusalem and the coastal plain – the Beit Horon Ascent so placing Capharsalma near Gibeon is logical.  Also, the name is preserved in the Arabic name for a ruin near Gibeon called Khirbet Selma.

Nicanor was routed by Judah Maccabeus and forced back to the citadel – the Hakra – in the city of David.

This battle takes up only a few verses in the sources, most of the narrative describing the increasingly complicated political situation in the Seleucid empire and in Judea as factions continue to move farther apart.  What had started as a desire to lure Judah Maccabeus into a trap and kill him, ended with a defeat and retreat.

“Knowing where the trap is – that’s the first step in evading it.”  Frank Herbert, Dune

A Great Miracle Happened (W)here? – Beit Zecharia

FAILURE AND LOSS

The fifth battle, the Battle of Beit Zecharia, is one that Judah Maccabeus does not win.  It took place between Beit Tzur and Jerusalem in the area of today’s Gush Etzion, but the political and religious picture stretches from Jerusalem to Antioch.

Upon seizing the Temple Mount after the Battle of Beit Tzur, Judah Maccabeus fortified it so that Jews could come and worship there.  Overlooking the entrance path to the Temple, however, stood the Greek Hakra fortress upon which stood soldiers who harassed Jews on their way to the Temple.  In the power vacuum left by the death of Antiochus IV, Judah sought to take control of this important station in Jerusalem.

Lysias used Judah’s advance to flex his muscles and try to reassert his power in the larger Seleucid Empire.  He amassed a huge army including elephants (the tanks of the day) to march against Jerusalem via the southern watershed route – Route 60 of today between Hebron and Jerusalem.  The Greeks attacked the fortifications of Beit Tzur along that route.

When Judah heard of the threat to Beit Tzur, he brought his troops to a staging area between Jerusalem and Beit Tzur known as Beit Zecharia.  There, they were surprised by Lysias.  Judah’s brother, Elazar Avaran, seeking to become famous, attacked the largest elephant, mistakenly assuming it carried the king.  He killed the elephant and its riders and the elephant fell on Elazar crushing him to death.  The town of Elazar south of Jerusalem is named for him and is located in the approximate place of the battle itself.

elazar avaran death elephant - 15th century

Death of Elazar Avaran, 15th century monastic drawing – note that the artist obviously never saw an elephant

The shock of the loss of one of Judah’s brothers sent the remaining Jewish troops scurrying into the hills.  With the path open, the Greek troops turned to try to wrest the Temple Mount from Judah Maccabeus’ faithful Jews guarding it.

Just at that fateful moment, the focus zooms out to the larger Greek political scene with Philip, a contender to Antiochus’ throne, returning to Antioch.  In order to protect his status in the royal court, Lysias wants to leave Judea but he realizes that he must not leave this situation without some closure.  He makes a pact with the Jews that they should be able to “live by their [Jewish] laws as they did before”. I Maccabees 6:59  This was more than acceptable to the Jews as the denial of their Jewish expression had been one of the main causes for the war in the first place.

In a style reminiscent of Pharaoh’s going back on his word to Moses, Lysias changes his mind when he realizes how powerful the Jews are, and orders his troops to breach the fortifications around the Temple Mount.

The massive high which came as a result of re-dedicating the Temple after the 4th battle, the Battle of Beit Tzur, is dashed to the ground by the defeat in the Battle of Beit Zecharia, the death of Elazar, and the threat that the Temple will once again fall into Hellenist hands.

When we light Hanukkah candles, we focus on the light, on the good.  But in the Hanukkah story and in life, the light, the victory can only be fully appreciated if we also understand the failure and the loss.

The fifth day of Hanukkah is the anniversary of my father’s death.  Roger Arner Erskine 1935-2015.  May his memory be for a blessing.

A Great Miracle Happened (W)here – Beit Tzur

NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM

After the routing in the Battle of Emmaus, Lysias himself comes to wage war against Judah Maccabeus.  He also changes tactics and decides to come against Judah from the southern watershed route.  This battle, the Battle of Beit Tzur, is given very little mention in the sources, but it the most oft remembered battle today since it gives its name to the piyyut sung when lighting the Hanukkiah – Maoz Tzur.  Beit Tzur is near the present day community of Karmei Tzur in the area of Hebron south of Jerusalem.

beit tzur 1925

Ruins of Beit Tzur – 1925

Judah beats back the Greeks again and Lysias retreats to the capital in Antioch.  After the battle, Judah builds a tower and fortifies Beit Tzur against future Greek incursions.

Suggestions are made that Lysias, who was the protector of King Antiochus IV’s son and heir, returned to Antioch not just because of his defeat at Beit Tzur but also because of the death of the king.  Lysias needed to be in the capital to ensure smooth transfer of power.  The vacuum left by Antiochus IV”s death would surely be filled and only by being present could Lysias make sure things would go his way.

Lysias’ leaving Judea also created a vacuum.  In this politically weak time, Judah was able to leave the battlefield and march to Jerusalem, recapturing the Temple Mount and purifying the Temple.  Many more words are spent describing the re-dedication than are spent on the battle itself.  Both Josephus and I Maccabees set the date of re-dedication (hanukkah in Hebrew) at Kislev 25, and both describe the 8 days of ceremonies.  Judah Maccabeus stipulates that this is the event that should be continually observed and remembered each year.  Josephus, who normally writes “factually”, here gives us his opinion.

“They were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for 8 days.  And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights.  I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.”  Antiquities 12:324-5

There is no mention in these early sources of any sort of miracle involving oil, which is a much later tradition.  Going by the text, there is a perfectly good miracle here – God created a vacuum – and Judah Maccabeus stepped in to fill it by reaffirming the centrality of Judaism.  That’s a miracle worth celebrating and learning from now.  May we all be blessed to fill vacuums by re-dedicating ourselves to those values which are truly important.  Happy Hanukkah!

A Great Miracle Happened (W)here? – Emmaus

DAVID VS. GOLIATH

When we arrive at the third battle, there is a paradigm shift.  Josephus and I Maccabees, which gave only a few sentences to the first two battles, dedicate long passages to describing the third battle, the Battle of Emmaus.  The first change is in the direct involvement of Antiochus IV whose anti-Semitic decrees ignited the revolt in the first place.  He intends to participate personally but gets called to more urgent matters in the east, appointing Lysias, Antiochus’ right-hand man and his son’s tutor.  Lysias assigns the job of stamping out Judah Maccabeus and his zealots to Generals Nicanor and Gorgias and between 20,000-47,000 troops.

They decide not to be lured into the hills or to ascend to Beit Horon but to fight Judah on their own terms in an open plain.  They encamp near Emmaus, near both supply lines from the coastal plain and their allies there.  They attract lots of people to their camp who expect to profit from selling Jews as slaves after the expected rout.

ayalon valley

Ayalon Valley from Park Canada

When you stand on the overlook in Park Canada (you can write me for directions) after driving past the spring which was obviously important to an army of thousands, you can see the entire battle site.

Judah encamped by Mitzpeh, thought by most to be the site of today’s Nebi Samuel.  The description in I Maccabees reflects biblical language and surely conjured connections to biblical heroes for those reading the book when it first came out.  The Greek generals saw Judah’s fires on the hilltop and decide to surprise the Jewish troops at night.  Most of the Greek army stays at Emmaus, but 6000 soldiers under the command of Gorgias start sneaking up the ascent under the cover of darkness.

You can follow their path by driving up Route 443 to Nebi Samuel.

A night surprise attack is such a good idea that  Judah has it as well and, leaving the fires burning as a decoy, his troops leave Mitzpeh to attack the Greek troops using the back way – down the Kiryat Yearim ridge.

From Nebi Samuel, descent back to Park Canada on Route 1, the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.

Gorgias arrives in Mitzpeh to find it empty.  His troops start searching the hills for Judah Maccabeus and his supporters.

When Judah gets to Emmaus, he surprises the remaining troops under Nicanor, who all retreat towards their allies on the coastal plain.  Judah does not follow them into hostile territory, instead setting their camp on fire and waiting for Gorgias to return.

Gorgias sees the fires in the camp below and knows there is trouble.  He avoids confrontation and retreats to the coastal plain as well.

From here on out, Judah Maccabeus is seen as a force to be reckoned with and not a minor nuisance.  We see here Judah behaving as David when he stood before Goliath, able to assess a situation and think out of the box to achieve victory.

A Great Miracle Happened (W)here? – Beit Horon Ascent

MAKE ME FAMOUS

The second battle of Judah Maccabeus which occurred less than a year after the first battle is spearheaded by an ambitious fellow – Seron. He sees the ragtag group of Jewish fighters and has a thought. It is interesting when reading texts to see the motivation behind people’s actions. We sometimes encounter lists of reasons for people’s actions – people are complicated and often have more than one reason for their actions. According to I Maccabees, Seron decides to attack Judah and his troops in order to: 1. Become famous – make for myself a name, 2. Be awarded with a “kingdom”, 3. Fight against Judah Maccabeus.

The language used “making a name for oneself” is the same language which is associated with the building of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4) and it foreshadows the destruction of Seron. Just as the Tower of Babel project will end in disaster, so too, Seron’s desire to make a name for himself is almost doomed from the start.

How does the battle play out? Seron does not want to meet Judah in the hill country as did Appolonius but instead decided to do battle on the main road from the coastal plain to Jerusalem – the Beit Horon Ascent. Interestingly, this road passes nearby the town of Modiin – Judah’s hometown. Apparently, Judah’s supporters are numbered and not all the Jews of Modiin agree with him – Hellenized Jews join forces with Seron as he passes through the hill country alongside the road.

We can imagine Judah Maccabeus and his faithful sitting in Upper Beit Horon (Beit Ur al-Fauqa of today) staring down Route 443 and seeing not only Greek soldiers, but also their neighbors coming up.

beit horon lookout

Maale Beit Horon lookout towards the coastal plain

How frightening that must have been. Judah’s troops turn to him and ask him, “How are we going to win against this force? We are few and they are many?” Judah gives them a pep talk stating that God is the one to determine the outcomes of wars, and it matters little how many soldiers there are.

Judah Maccabeus surprises the army of Seron and defeats them, forcing their retreat to the coastal plain. Seron’s memory passes, and we do not even know his fate after the battle. It is assumed that he died since we never hear of him again. It is ironic that the fame that Seron craved, didn’t come with a kingdom or a defeat of his enemy but rather with his own disappearance into anonymity. As Napoleon Bonaparte so succinctly said, “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”

A Great Miracle Happened (W)here – A General’s Battle

We celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah by lighting candles for 8 nights.  Why 8 nights?  Some say because of the miracle of the oil – one day’s worth of oil lasted 8 days.  This is actually a later tradition.  Some say the miracle was associated with the winning of the battles fought by Judah Maccabeus and the Jews against the Greeks.  But this didn’t happen in 8 days, rather the original Hanukkah – the recapture and re-dedication of the Temple and the restoration of Jewish rule took place over years. In this series, we focus on each of the 8 battles in the Hanukkah wars fought in the second century BCE.

The first battle is called the battle of Appolonius – interestingly the only battle named after the defeated Greek general and not the place in which the battle was fought. Maybe this is because the place of the battle is never specifically mentioned and there is much controversy over this detail.

So what do we know?

There are only a few verses in the Book of Maccabees and in Josephus which refer to this battle.  Josephus clearly states that Appolonius is the general of the Samaritan forces – so he comes from Samaria/Sebastia, today called Shomron (the city, not the area). Samaria, in the area of Shchem/Nablus was built during the First Temple period as one of the capital cities of the Northern Kingdom Israel. After the exile of the Israelites, Samaritans moved into the area. The Samaritan city of Samaria was destroyed by Alexander the Great and subsequently rebuilt as an important Greek military garrison and even the capital of the area. From here, Appolonius gathers an army against Judah Maccabee.

Juda-Maccabaeus

Judah Maccabeus

Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the world’s first anti-Semite, placed decrees against practicing Judaism. Spearheaded by his father’s, Matityahu’s, refusal to stray from Jewish practice, Judah Maccabeus has been encouraging the Jewish population of Judea to stand against the Greeks. Judah becomes the military leader who encourages Jews to stay firm in their worship of God, and not give in to the Hellenistic influences. Appolonius and the Greeks want to maintain their hegemony and squash this little rebellion. How dare the Jews resist Hellenism, the most civilized society in history?!?

Judah Maccabeus hears of Appolonius’ plans to attack them and decides to take matters in his own hands. He wants to meet the highly regimented Greek army in a place where they will not be easily able to fight in the traditional, stylized Greek manner – in the hills over the road from Sebastia to the heartland of Judea – Jerusalem. This is why researchers place the battle site near present-day Maale Levona with a bird’s eye view over Route 60, the spine route running the length of Israel’s central mountain range.

The Judean army under Judah Maccabeus rout the Greek local garrison and Appolonius is killed. Not only is this victory a morale booster for the Judean ragtag army, it also provides them with much needed weapons. Judah Maccabeus himself kills Appolonius and takes his sword. The army gathers steam for its next battle which will occur in less than a year – the Battle of Beit Horon.

It’s worth a visit to see the remains of Sebastia/Shomron. Because of its proximity to Shchem, visits should be coordinated with the Shavei Shomron field school.

Spell of the Dead Sea

I just returned from a trip to the Dead Sea – one of my favorite places.  Like for many travelers, the Dead Sea has me in its spell.

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Sunrise over the Dead Sea

It wasn’t always called the Dead Sea, though. In the Bible, it is referred to as the Salt Sea. It is mentioned in the context of borders (Numbers 34:3,12; Joshua 15:2,5) and in the story involving the war of the 5 kings vs. the 4 kings (Genesis 14:3).

During the times of the Romans, the Salt Sea became known as the Asphalt Lake after one of the most lucrative products harvested from it. Asphalt blocks, sometimes as large as a bull, emerged from the cracks in the sea floor and floated to shore. The locals, especially those who lived in the area of Ein Gedi, a wealthy town on the coast which controlled the springs in the central area of the sea, collected these asphalt chunks and sold them to Egyptians who used the natural asphalt for mummification and anti-venom remedies. (The last asphalt block emerged above the waters in the 1970’s – this phenomenon has stopped today due to the falling level of the sea.)

Because of the lack of life within the sea, European translators of the Latin Bible in the late 4th century called it the Dead Sea. As the tales of the Dead Sea passed from one person to the other, the degree of fantasy grew. At some point, the legend developed that not only was there nothing living in the sea but also that one would die if he entered the sea – it was not only a Dead Sea but a Sea of Death. So strong was this belief that British Captain Charles Leonard Irby, who visited the Middle East between 1816 – 1818, traveled around the Dead Sea (not through) in order to avoid its evil powers.

The air of adventure caused Christopher Costigan, an Irish priest, to come to the area of the Dead Sea. He would prove for once and for all that the Sea of Death was a fallacy. He arrived in Beirut in August 1835 determined to survey the Dead Sea. There, he bought a boat and hired a Maltese sailor as Costigan had no sailing (or surveying) experience. He put his boat in the water on August 26 and successfully crossed the sea and slept on the eastern shore. The next day, August 27, he traveled 16 km to the south to the mouth of the Arnon Stream and spent the night anchored off of the el-Lisan peninsula. August 28 saw him landing on the point of land which would eventually bear his name.

August 29th he landed on the southern part of the sea at the ruins of Ein Bokek, which he identified with the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah. After the ecstasy of finding a Biblical site, on August 30 he became ill and could row no further. Two days of rowing (by the Maltese sailor) brought him to the northern shore of the Dead Sea on September 1st where he camped. The next day, September 2, his trusty Maltese seaman brought him to Jericho and went to find “any European” to come and help him. Rev. John Nicolayson from the Anglican mission responded to the call and brought him to Jerusalem on September 5. On September 7, 1835 Costigan died; he was 25 years old.

Twelve years later, a proven surveyor, Lt. Thomas Molyneux, took a similar route to Costigan’s at a similar time of the year. On September 3, 1847, Molyneux found a maximum depth of 1350 ft in the Dead Sea. On September 5, exhaustion forced him to abandon his survey and by October 30 he, too, was dead.

The next explorer, Lt. William Lynch from the US navy, arrived in Spring 1848. It was Lynch who provided the best modern map of the sea and its depths. He honored both Costigan and Molyneux by naming landmarks in the Dead Sea after them. He survived his journey on the Dead Sea and died in his own bed at a ripe old age (64) in 1865.

The spell of the Dead Sea had been broken.