The spring of En Gedi.
(David's cave of refuge from king Saul)

The "En" in the place name En Gedi (alt. Engedi) is a word meaning "spring" or "fountain." The full name means "Spring of the kid" or "Fountain of the young goat." Truly En Gedi is all about its spring, as apart from it this area would be a barren ravine in the Judean dessert like so many others.

Looking up the En Gedi ravine toward the spring.

Zoomed in enough to see the water fall at the spring.
Notice the line of people!

Zoomed in even further. Gives perspective of the size of the
water fall at the spring. Notice people in lower foreground.

Perhaps the oldest name for this location is Hazezon-Tamar (alt. Hazazon-tamar) as found in the account of Abraham and Lot prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah were located on the south eastern side of the Dead Sea, while En Gedi is about midway up the western side of the Dead Sea.

Genesis 14:7 Then they [Kedorlaomer and allied kings] turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazazon Tamar. (NIV)

A later reference in the Bible ties the ancient name together with the current one.

2 Chronicles 20:2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, "A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar" (that is, En Gedi). (NIV)

The name Hazazon Tamar was also a name with meaning, as is typical of the Hebrew language. It is perhaps a direct translation of what the Amorites, who then inhabited the area, called this place. This title means "pruning of the palm" or "dividing the date-palm." While not unique to this area in historical times, En Gedi was certainly known for having date-palms. If the second possible meaning of the name was taken more generally, the waters flowing from the spring of En Gedi certainly divided the palms growing on each bank.

Historical references to the date palms of En Gedi include:

Ecclesiasticus 24:14 I grew tall like a palm tree in En-gedi, and like rosebushes in Jericho; (NRSV Apocrypha book also known as The Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach)

Josephus: 2. About the same time the Moabites and Ammonites made an expedition against Jehoshaphat, ,and took with them a great body of Arabians, and pitched their camp at Engedi, a city that is situate at the lake Asphaltiris [the Dead Sea], and distant three hundred furlongs from Jerusalem. In that place grows the best kind of palm trees, and the opobalsamum. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, from Chapter 1 - Concerning Jehoshaphat Again; How He Constituted Judges And, By God's Assistance Overcame His Enemies)

A view of the Dead Sea and the new date-palm plantations in the plain
outside the mouth of the En Gedi ravine


A view to the right of the photo above.

The plant life and water in the area also makes it a refuge for a number of animals and birds. To this day there are ibex (wild goats) and rock hyrax (conies or rock badger), both which were mentioned in the Bible.

Psalms 104:18 The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys. (NIV)

These rock badgers blend in with the landscape often looking like a rock until they move. When cornered they can quickly climb a tree as well. Rock hyrax feed on plants some of which are poisonous. Although they are mammals their body temperature is not constant, changing according to the ambient temperature. Because of this it is possible to see them sunbathing on top of rocks in colder mornings.

A rock badger high up on a ledge in the En Gedi ravine.
Photo was taken with 400 mm zoom equavalent and then cropped 50%!

The hyrax hiding in a thicket of trees having been chased there.

A rock badger staying motionless to avoid detection.

The ibex, or wild desert goat, are graceful creatures that can nimbly climb the incredibly steep sides of the En Gedi ravine. Unless moving, or grazing down in the valley near underbrush and grasses they are incredibly hard to spot.

The spring at En Gedi is the only water source for miles around. An ibex coming to this spring would be a close image to that conveyed by the Psalmist in chapter 42. These graceful animals will come and drink even when there are people nearby when they are thirsty.

Ps 42:1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. (NIV)

Ibex grazing near the stream bed.*
Note the pipeline in the background which now diverts most of the water.

Ibex in the hills*

Ibex near the stream bed.*

The spring, itself, pours out of the limestone cliff high up towards the top of the plateau which rises about 2000 feet above the Dead Sea. The pool of the spring is about 1350 feet below. The water is quite warm with published estimates being 80-83 F. The water used to flow all the way from its pool down to the Dead Sea, but the water is now diverted and full utilized before leaving the ravine. (You can even purchase En Gedi bottled water in Israel!).

The waterfall at the spring and the roof of the large cave near it.

The pool at the base of the waterfall.

Another view of the pool at the base of the waterfall.

En Gedi is recorded as being within the original boundaries of the territory of Judah.

Joshua 15:20; 15:61-62 This is the inheritance of the tribe of Judah, clan by clan: &ldots; 61 In the desert: Beth Arabah, Middin, Secacah, 62 Nibshan, the City of Salt and En Gedi - six towns and their villages. (NIV)

By the time of Solomon, in addition to the date-palms, vines were cultivated there. Production of wine would have greatly increased the value and fame of this region as it was relatively near to Jerusalem.

Song of Solomon 1:14 My lover is to me a cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of En Gedi. (NIV)

The hillsides and cliffs of the ravine are filled with natural caves. It was in these caves that (soon to be king) David took refuge from Saul. Caves would offer natural protection from enemies as well as refuge from the weather.

1 Samuel 23:29-24:11 And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi. 24:1 After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, "David is in the Desert of En Gedi ." 2 So Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. 3 He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. 4 The men said, "This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, 'I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.'" Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe. 5 Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 He said to his men, "The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD's anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD." 7 With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. 8 Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, "My lord the king!" When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 9 He said to Saul, "Why do you listen when men say, 'David is bent on harming you'? 10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, 'I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the LORD's anointed.' 11 See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. Now understand and recognize that I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. (NIV)

Looking up, from the stream bed, at some of the caves

Looking down from the plateau at one of the caves closer to the entrance of the ravine.

It is possible that the date-palm groves of En Gedi were destroyed partially or entirely by the Romans during the siege of Masada. Trees were brought from long distance away (with En Gedi being the nearest) for reinforcing the earthwork ramp. Some of these tree trunks are still visible in the ruins of the ramp, preserved by the dryness of the area. From the writings of the first century historian, Josephus, it is most certain that the Romans also used En Gedi as a source of water during the siege as it was the closest source of fresh water in the area.

He also pitched his camp in such an agreeable place as he had chosen for the siege, and at which place the rock belonging to the fortress did make the nearest approach to the neighboring mountain, which yet was a place of difficulty for getting plenty of provisions; for it was not only food that was to be brought from a great distance [to the army], and this with a great deal of pain to those Jews who were appointed for that purpose, but water was also to be brought to the camp, because the place afforded no fountain that was near it. (Josephus: Wars of the Jews, Chapter 8 - Concerning Masada And Those Sicarii Who Kept It; And How Silva Betook Himself To Form The Siege Of That Citadel.)

Smaller falls heading down toward the Dead Sea

The abundant brush and trees surrounding the stream.

By the time of Jerome only the vines of En Gedi are any longer mentioned.

Letter 108 - To Eustochium: And here, as she looked down upon the wide solitude and upon the country once belonging to Sodom and Gomorrah, to Admah and Zeboim, she beheld the balsam vines of Engedi and Zoar. By Zoar I mean that "heifer of three years old" which was formerly called Bela and in Syriac is rendered Zoar that is 'little.' (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, Volume 6. This, one of the longest of Jerome's letters, was written to console Eustochium for the loss of her mother who had recently died. Jerome relates the story of Paula in detail; speaking first of her high birth, marriage, and social success at Rome, and then narrating her conversion and subsequent life as a Christian ascetic. Much space is devoted to an account of her journey to the East which included a visit to Egypt and to the monasteries of Nitria as well as a tour of the most sacred spots in the Holy Land. The remainder of the letter describes her daily routine and studies at Bethlehem, and recounts the many virtues for which she was distinguished. It then concludes with a touching description of her death and burial and gives the epitaph placed upon her grave. The date of the letter is 404 AD)

From the middle ages until the modern state of Israel the not much is recorded regarding this location. Only in modern times are the date palms again thriving using modern drip technologies to water large plantations on the lower plain by the Dead Sea.

A final thought on En Gedi: In the future vision of Ezekiel, where a new river of water flows out of Jerusalem making even the salt waters of the Dead Sea capable of supporting fish, En Gedi is listed as one of the places where the fisherman will spread their nets. This presupposes that the Dead Sea would return to its historically higher levels filled these new fresh waters. Currently the Dead Sea is at an all time low, with the shores far away from the entrance to the En Gedi ravine.

Ezekiel 47:1-12 The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side. 3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in - a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, "Son of man, do you see this?" Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds - like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing." (NIV)

Another of the many pools below smaller falls.

Warm water and lots of shade at the largest of the pools.

The same fall and pool as the photo above

Just so peaceful I had to take another shot.


End Notes:

* All ibex images have unknown copyright. Originals have been modified/cropped/enhanced for use here. They are assumed to be public domain. If anyone knows otherwise please contact us.

This article and all other images in it are copyright 1999, 2003, 2005 by Brent MacDonald and Lion Tracks Ministries.