Old Testament

Elisha's Spring (Jericho)


Rising at the base of Tell es-Sultan (OT Jericho), Palestine, is a spring. It is a source of life in the moon-like landscape of the Lower Jordan Valley. Today, the water is used chiefly for agricultural purposes, but in antiquity it provided drinking water for those living in this parched oasis.

The great prophets Elijah and Elisha passed through here. In the case of the latter, a story is told that involves Jericho’s spring. It is found in 2 Kings 2:19-22 and it goes like this:

“The people of the city (of Jericho) said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.” 

“Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.

Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’” And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.”

It is another head-scratching example of Elisha’s wonder-working power.

The phrase “Elisha’s Spring” or “The Prophet’s Spring” is still used today to describe this copious flow. You can see the spring house if you look east from the top of the mound. It is a elongated building with a red tiled roof just across the road.

Climbing Jericho.jpg

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Stuff in the Bible that no one told you about

Colorful fruit dangle from this date palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera). Dates have been a staple for food and fuel for the imagination in Bible Lands for thousands of years. This tree in this photograph is growing in the Palestinian oasis of Jericho, a place nicknamed "the city of date-palms" (Deut 34:3).

A vocabulary family for this species is found in the Hebrew Bible. It includes tamar, a personal name and the general word for a date-palm tree. 'Eskol or sansinnah suggests fruit or a fruit-cluster. A kippah may refer to a palm frond.

My mind drifts back to a snippet from that romantic poem hidden deep in the Old Testament, The Song of Songs (or as we call it in the classroom, "The Very Best Song"!).

Mah yaphit umah-na'amt 'ahavah bta'anugim; Zot komatek damtah l'tamar, veshadayik l'ashkoloth; 'Amarti e'eleh v'tamar 'ohazah b'sansinnav.

"What beauty and how pleasant, O Love for delights! You tower like a palm tree, your breasts are clusters. I say, 'Let me climb up the palm tree and seize its fruit!'" (Song 7:7-8).


To learn more about the archaeobotany of the date palm, see Margareta Tengberg's article on "Fruit Growing" in Vol. 1 of A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East. D.T. Potts, ed. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012): 181-200.


Can't quite peg it

Yeah, I said it.

The characteristic shape of a tell (tel or tall) rises through the shrubs. The ridge above is the northeastern face of Mt Carmel (Israel). This tell is known locally as Me'amer or el-Amar. No one is certain of its biblical identity, although Haroshet-haggoyim (Judges 4:2) has been proposed. If this identity is accepted (and it is questionable at best), this site represents the village of Sisera, the commander of Jabin (aka, "King Genius").

Winter blossom

An almond tree (Amygdalus communis) blossoms in the cool winter of Palestine. The author of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet) knew this cycle and used it as an illustration of old age (the winter season of life).

" . . . when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along" (12:5).