Andrews University Seminary Studies 1 (1963) 152-66.

               Copyright © 1963 Andrews University Press, cited with permission;

                                 digitally prepared for use at Gordon College]  





                                S. DOUGLAS WATERHOUSE

                                       Ann Arbor, Michigan


            It is today difficult to imagine the Holy Land as "a heritage

most beauteous of all nations" (Jer 3:19).1 After viewing

nature's more richly verdant landscapes, as are to be found,

for example, within the temperate zones of Europe or North

America, the heritage of ancient Israel seems poor indeed!

Covered with degraded vegetation and brush, or consisting

simply of bare rocks, denuded hillsides and exposed gullies,

modern-day Palestine-Syria2 seems far removed from what

Bible writers designated as a Promised Land. This is particu-

larly true during the dry summer months when it appears as

if all vegetation has been obliterated. The hillcountry, with

its conspicuously bare, limestone outcropping, then seemingly

emerges as the bleak skeleton of a barren land. True, the

dryness is only relative, but the ruins of proud cities which

flourished hundreds and thousands of years ago are to be seen

today where Bedouins of the desert live as nomadic tribes.

Could it be possible that this was the land described in the

Old Testament as "flowing with milk and honey?"3 Is it


            1 The Biblical texts used in this paper are taken from either the

RSV or the KJV.

            2 The bounds of ancient Canaan include all of Palestine west of the

Jordan, and extend up the Phoenician Coast at least as far north as

Ugarit and the Orontes valley. For recent discussions on the boundaries

of Canaan as given by extra-Biblical sources, cf. I. J. Gelb, "The

Early History of the West Semitic Peoples," JCS, XV (1961), 42;

John. C. L. Gibson, "Observations on Some Important Ethnic Terms

in the Pentateuch," JNES, XX (1961), 217-218; B. Mazar, "Geshur

and Maacah," JBL, LXXX (1961), 17-18.

            3 A proverbial expression for a land of plenty which is paralleled

in Canaanite (Ugaritic) literature in the passage: "The skies were rain-

ing fatness, the wadies were running with honey," Theodor H. Gaster,

Thespis (New York, 1950), p. 22; cf. James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient

Near Eastern Texts (2d edition; Princeton, N. J., 1955), p. 140 (here-

               A LAND OF MILK AND HONEY              153


possible that this was the country which boasted of inhabitants

as strong as oaks and as tall as cedars?4

            A perusal of the literature bearing on the history of this

region reveals that Palestine is but one in a series of Mediterra-

nean lands which in times past were reknown for their former

prosperous productivity, but which are today blighted by

want.5 One is left, nevertheless, to wonder how Biblical

Canaan compared with the real fertile areas of antiquity

--areas like the Nile Valley or ancient Babylonia.6 And if

there was a comparison--how did the land reach such a low

ebb as is evident today?

            It must be confessed that certain archaeological findings

have not enhanced the notion that Palestine was once a land

of fabulous natural endowments. Excavations, for example,

have produced a disproportionately small amount of gold

and silver in the Israelite strata when compared to contempo-


after ANET). Ancient religious philosophy was obsessed with finding

a means to prevent the corrosive influences of time and restore the

primeval, mythical golden age of plenty. The concept underlying the

Biblical description of the Promised Land likens Canaan to this golden

age when all was once prosperous; see Gaster, loc. cit.; Mircea Eliade,

Cosmos and History (New York, 1959). .

            4 Amos 2:9. The Old Testament speaks of the land as being so pro-

ductive that a single cluster of grapes was too large for one man to

carry (Num 13:23)!

            5 But note, for instance, the Israeli reclamation work which is now

succeeding in establishing a flourishing agricultural population in the

low-lying plains and valleys of Palestine.

            6 As a sample of the astounding productivity of these areas in ancient

times, see particularly the article of Waldo H. Dubberstein: "Compara-

tive Prices in Later Babylonia. (625-400 B.C.)," AJSL, LVI (1939),

20-43. He writes: "Mass production was. . . the style in later Babylonia

(625-400 B.C.). Contracts show as many as forty thousand bushels

grown on one tract. . . Barley, the most common grain in Babylonia,

(was produced on a scale rivaling grain production on present-day farms

and ranches. Nearly fifty thousand bushels of barley were measured

into Eanna, the temple of Ishtar of Uruk, from one piece of property. . .

Glimpses of great flocks and herds are given. . . A temple income list

of wool shows over ten thousand pounds of sheep wool and several

hundred pounds of goat 'wool' being weighed in, etc. (Ibid., pp.


154                             DOUGLAS WATERHOUSE


rary strata of Syria, Egypt, or Mesopotamia.7 Although

gold and silver have not been so meager in the earlier Canaanite

levels, the question persists as to whether or not Canaan

deserves its lustrous fame as a bounteous land of wealth.8

Some have even suggested that the Biblical outlook was

colored from the standpoint of a nomadic desert people

inured to the waste lands prior to their entry into Canaan.9

The purpose of this article is especially directed to deal with

this claim.

            Climatic theorists, the most notable of which was Ellsworth

Huntington, puzzled by the formerly productive but now

arid landscape of Syro-Palestine, explained the apparent

desiccation of the land as due to drastic recurring climatic cycles

--a notion which was freely drawn upon in explaining the

fall and rise of past civilizations.10 There is, however, no real

evidence to support those who attribute the present com-

parative poverty of the Mediterranean area to either cyclic

changes in rainfall and temperature or to a gradual change in

climate.11 After all, it was no climatic change that turned

Oklahoma into a dust-bowl in half a century!


            7 W. F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (Revised edition;

Pelican Book, 196o), p. 252 (hereafter AP).

            8 It is, of course, a well-known archaeological fact that Canaan

enjoyed a material wealth unmatched by later Israelite strata. Cf.

James L. Kelso, "Excavations at Bethel," BA, XIX (1956), 39-40.

            9 Cf., for example, Cyrus H. Gordon, Introduction to Old Testament

Times (Ventnor, N. J., 1953), pp. 131-132.

            10 Ellsworth Huntington, Palestine and its Transformation (Boston,

1911). For a scholarly appraisal of Huntington's climatic theories, see

A. T. Olmstead, "Climatic Changes in the Nearest East, " Bulletin of

the American Geographical Society, XLIV (1912), 432-440; Albright,

From the Stone Age to Christianity (2d edition; Baltimore, 1946),

pp. 71-74; Denis Baly, The Geography of the Bible (New York, 1957),

pp. 70-74.

            11 Baly leans toward the view that though there was no different

climatic regime during the Biblical period from the present, the balance

of that regime has varied from time to time. In a logical argument,

Baly points out that any slight variation of the climate at all must in

some way affect the position of the marginal frontierland lying between

the desert and the sown; Baly; loc. cit. F. S. Bodenheimer follows the

same thought: "We do not suppose that any important fluctuations

                 A LAND OF MILK AND HONEY              155


            Happily for the historical investigator, Palestine offers the

most complete and continuous picture of human history that

is at present available in any part of the world.  Past theories,

built to explain the obviously drastic changes (dealt with

more fully below), which Palestine has experienced throughout

its long history, have had to face an ever relentless increase

of knowledge. It was for some years assumed, for example,

that the prehistoric fauna of the Eastern Mediterranean

littoral reflected a real cold-period of "glacial age" Europe.

Such fossil flora (found in Lebanon) as beech, hazel, elm and

large-leaved oak were taken as indicators of a northern

boreal invasion caused by a southward moving cold front.

Subsequent discovery, however, has revealed that these

same plants, far from having any bearing on historical

interpretation, are still thriving today in North Syria and

Anatolia!12 Similarly, a supposed "faunal break"--an extinc-

tion of certain biotypes--was taken as one of the main

evidences for distinguishing between "the Upper and Lower

Levaloiso-Mousterian levels" in Palestine. More recent

investigation, however, has demonstrated that such "warm"

species, as the hippopotamus, did not disappear by a sudden,

prehistoric shift in climate but survived in Palestine way into

historical times.13 The case against climatic changes, even in

the remote past, has therefore been strengthened.14


of temperature occurred since the mesolithic era. But even relatively

small changes in the field of precipitations, slight increases of rain

from 100 to 200 mm per annum, combined with a greater stability

of annual and seasonal rain distribution, must have had far-reaching

consequences, changing wide areas and patches of desert into steppes

and savannas, permitting passage and penetration of animals from the

east, west and south." Animal and Man in Bible Lands (Leiden, 1960),

p. 129.

            12 Bodenehimer, op. cit., p. 18.

            13 Georg Haas, "On the Occurrence of Hippopotamus in the Iron

Age of the Coastal Area of Israel (Tell Qastleh)," BASOR, No. 132

(1953), 30-34.

            14 It is still generally held, however, that a past age of tropical

conditions prevailed when the land was "raw and damp and hot."

This condition is said to have been changed "at the beginning of the

156                 S. DOUGLAS WATERHOUSE


            Direct evidences against any drastic climatic changes are

not wanting. A type of terrestrial mollusc, sensitive to

variations in humidity, thrives today in the Beersheba

region much as it did when men first settled in that locality.11

Even in such an exotic milieu as that of the prehistoric cave

remains of Palestine, climatic forces seem to have been very

much like that of the present, e.g., the lack of fossilization

among the early vertebrate-remains from Geulah Cave B

(in the proximity of Mount Carmel) clearly indicate that

conditions of humidity did not change significantly (within

the cave) since the deposition of the bones there.16

            In past millennia rain was certainly more effective in

Palestine. Then there were forests and woodlands whose

roots would hold back the water and prevent the drying up

of springs.17 At the dawn of recorded history, when the Syro-

Palestinian littoral enjoyed a pristine state, this was especially

true. The land was then extremely lush.18 At a time prior


Mesolithic Natufian period" by the advent of a cooler, drier climate; cf.

Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (New York, 1957), pp. 2-3; Boden-

heimer, op. cit., p. 32; Haas, loc. cit.

            15 J. Perrot, "The Excavations at Tell Abu Matar, near Beersheba,"

IEJ, V (1955), 83, n. 10. The shell remains of Sphincterochila boissieri

Charp. are dated to the Ghassulean (Chalcolithic) era.

            16 The remains of the Geulah Caves are dated to the Levallois-

Mousterian, e.g., Middle Palaeolithicum. It is also of significance that

"this skeletal assemblage appears in situ and has not been washed in

hither," S. Angress, "The Vertebrate Remains from Geulah Cave B,"

IEJ, X (1960), 84-89. The biotype remains from the Abu Usba Cave

(dated to the Mesolithic-Natufian) point toward the same climatic

conditions then as found today, M. Stekelis and G. Haas, "The Abu

Usba Cave," IEJ, II (1952), 46.

            17 Baly, op. cit., p. 76.

            18 The modern Near East with the aridity of its present climate

hardly prepares one in imagining its early history when there were

many more rivers, much more vegetation, and a land replete with

various forms of animal life. A brief survey of conditions as they then

appeared is given in Henri Frankfort, The Birth of Civilization in the

Near East (Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956), pp. 26-29; 37-45. Speaking

of his approach to field research dealing with the prehistory of western

Asia, Robert J. Braidwood expresses doubts on the feasibility of being

able to find data from that early a period in Palestine: "I would not

                A LAND OF MILK AND HONEY              157


to that of the Egyptian. Fifth Dynasty (e.g., prior to about

2400 B.C.),19 Syro-Palestine was purportedly clothed with

greenery; an abundance of herbage supported what must

have been a veritable parkland teeming with wild life.

Scholarly research has make it possible to catch a snatching

glimpse of that primeval setting. Although rain was distribut-

ed, in all likelihood, in a manner similar to that of today,20

permanent, sizable rivers were not uncommon.21 Along the

coastal low country, open grassy plains and perennial pools

existed inland from the dune belt.22 Houses (Chalcolithic)

were of necessity raised on piles above what was evidently

an extremely marshy land.23 A glimpse is also afforded of the

Jordan Valley which is seen in tropical abundance "well

watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land

of Egypt" (Gn 13:10).24 Archaeological investigations have

not only made it reasonably certain that at that time many

more lateral streams flowed in the Jordan than there are

today, but also that it was intensively developed, in spite

of its present summer heat and mosquito-breeding swamps.25

This primeval picture did not last long into historical times.

Toward the end of the third millennium B.C., there was a

marked desiccation in the amount of available moisture.26


lay much of a bet on the lush Syro-Palestinian littoral: I've a hunch

it was too lush," "Jericho and its Setting in the Near Eastern History,"

Antiquity, XXXI (1957), 80.

            19 Cf. John.A: Wilson, The Culture of Ancient Egypt (Chicago, 1956),

p. 20, S. Yeivin, Tel Gath, IEJ, XI (1961), 191, Kathleen M.

Kenyon, Digging Up Jericho (New York, 1957), pp. 184-185.

            20 Stekelis and Haas, loc. cit.

            21 Dorothy A. E. Garrod, "The Stone Age of Palestine," Antiquity,

VIII (1934), 146.

            22 Stekelis and Haas, loc. cit.

            23 Albright, AP, p. 68.

            24 Both Biblical and extra-Biblical sources attest the former beauty

and productiveness of the Jordan-enriched plains; see Albright, "The

Jordan Valley in the Bronze Age," AASOR, VI (1926), 13-74; Lucetta

Mowry, "Settlements in the Jericho Valley During the Roman

Period (63 B.C.-A.D. 34)," BA, XV (1952), 26-42.

            25 Albright, AP, p. 69; AASOR, VI (1926), 67-68.

            26 See above, n. 19.


158                             S. DOUGLAS WATERHOUSE


In the environs of ancient Jericho a major drop in water level

occurred concomitantly with a severe erosion which removed

at least three feet of the overlying, soft, limestone rock.

Consequently, underground tombs of Jericho, built prior

to the Egyptian Sixth Dynasty, were left roofless.27 At the

same time, settlements may have been abandoned along the

Mediterranean coastal plain.28 Presumably, with the drying

up of the marshes, the Philistian-Sharon coastal inhabitants

were affected by the growing shortage of water.

            An increase in population and a decrease in forests and top

soil were evidently already joining hands with the corrosive

influence of passing time! The trend toward contemporary

conditions of aridity, however, was never again to bite so

deeply into Palestine's water level.29

            As Canaan moved more clearly into the Old Testament

world, its natural endowments were far from abated. Dense

woodlands covered districts which are now largely, or even

entirely, bereft of tree growth. Today, meager remnants of

these once extensive forests are found in the Judean and

upper Galilean hill country. While the Carmel ridge and the

Transjordan section of the ‘Ajlun are still substantially

wooded, even these regions are poor reminders of the towering

thickets of tree growth found in former centuries. The Meri-ka-

Re texts of the Egyptian Ninth or Tenth Dynasties (cir.

2100 B.C.) speak of southern Palestine as troubled by water

and made inaccessible by many trees.30 Interestingly, in the


            27 Kenyon, loc. cit.

            28 Cf. Yeivin, op. cit., p. 191.

            29 Since the second millennium B.C. the water-level of Palestine has

remained roughly the same as it is today; Albright, AP, pp. 250-251;

w. C. Lowdermilk, Palestine: Land of Promise (New York, 1944),

pp. 63-64. That boundary between the desert and the sown has remain-

ed the same since Biblical times is shown by archaeological investiga-

tion and such Biblical passages as 2 Ki 3:9 where Transjordan is seen

with the same dry, climatic conditions as is found there today. Cf.

Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (2d edition; Baltimore,

1946), p. 100.

            30 Sir Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford, 1961), p. 37.

An Egyptian literary text from the second half of the thirteenth

                        A LAND OF MILK AND HONEY              159


environs of the Judean hill country, there existed a large

coniferous forest of pine and cypress where now there is

scarcely a tree substantial enough to be used for the building

of houses or furniture!31

            If one considers the fuel requirements of the early metallur-

gical industries and the considerable amount of trees utilized

for the walls and houses of such ancient cities as that of

Jericho,32 wood must have really been abundant! The formerly

rich supply of timber, a stately legacy of pre-Israelite Canaan,

was to wane rapidly with the coming of the Hebrews.33

By the twelfth century B.C., the coniferous forest had largely

disappeared from the hillcountry,34 and by Solomon's reign,

in the tenth century B.C., Hiram, king of Tyre, had to be

called upon to supply wood for the building of the temple in

Jerusalem (1 Ki 5:6-18)!

            Of the wild life which in former times filled the land, an

amazing number show strong affinities to animal-forms

presently associated only with the African savanna country.

Lions once roamed in the forested sections of the land and


century B.C. describes Palestinian roads as being darkened with an

overgrowth of cypresses, oaks, and cedars; ANET, p. 477. On the

former forestation of Palestine see especially B. S. J. Isserlin, "Ancient

"Forests in Palestine: Some Archaeological Indication," PEQ,

LXXXVII (1955), 87-88; Siegfried H. Horn, Seventh-day Adventist

Bible Dictionary (Washington, D. C., 1960), pp. 804, 806.

            31 Albright, AASOR, IV (1942), 7-8, 20.

            32 Perrot, op. cit., p. 84; Kenyon, op. cit., pp. 183-184.

            33 Note, for example, that Joshua told the men of the Joseph tribes

to make room for themselves in Mt. Ephraim by clearing the forest

(Jos 17:15). In making the land habitable, the Hebrews undoubtedly

pushed back the forested areas to much smaller perimeters; see below,

note 34.

            34 Evidence from the excavations at Gibeah indicate the apparent

disappearance of pine and cypress in that locality sometime between

the thirteenth and the eleventh centuries B.C.; Albright, AASOR, IV

(1942), 7-8, 20. Originally, a very extensive coniferous forest may have

formed a more or less continuous belt from the heights of Lebanon

down through the entire length of the Palestinian hillcountry. The soil

and climate of the hillcountry is said to be "admirably adapted" to

this type of forest.

160                             S. DOUGLAS WATERHOUSE


had their lairs in rocky caves. An Egyptian literary document

dated from the second half of the thirteenth century B.C.

states that: “the soldier, when he goeth up to Retenu (Pales-

tine) hath no staff and no sandals. He knoweth not whether he

be dead or alive, by reason of the fierce lions." Another

document from the same period complains that Canaan has

more lions than panthers or hyenas!35 It may be recalled

that the Old Testament speaks of actual encounters with

lions--Samson tore a young lion “and he had nothing in his

hand" (Jugs 14:5-6); even the youthful David attacked

lions and bears and killed them (I Sa 17:34-36). Surprisingly,

the lion was still to be seen in Palestine as late as A.D. 1850.36

The hippopotamus was once found in the rivers of the coas-

tal plain, (until at least the fourth century B.C.), possibly in

the Jordan, and as far north as the Orontes River. Luxuriant

swamp flora, such as water lilies and papyrus, served as an

ideal habitat for these great beasts. Remnants of this flora

were still surviving as recently as a hundred years ago along

the upper Jordan and the coastal rivers.37 The Syro-Palesti-

man hippo is spoken of by Job as lying under “the lotus

plants. . . in the covert of the reeds and in the marsh. . . .

Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened; he is

confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth" (Job


            35 Bodenheimer, op. cit., p. 169; ANET, p. 477.

            36 Ludwig Kohler, Hebrew Man (Nashville, Tenn., 1953), p. 26.

Layard reports that in the 1840's lions were frequently caught "in the

Sinjar, [in Mesopotamia] and on the banks of the Kabour [Khabur] ...

by the Arabs." The lion, at that time, was still well known along the

Euphrates and lower Tigris rivers, Austen Henry Layard, Nineveh

and Its Remains (London, 1850), p. 48. .

            37 Haas, BASOR, No. 132 (1953), 30-34. Excavations at Tell Qasileh

near Tel-Aviv have unearthed hippopotamus remains from the 12th-

4th century B.C.; elsewhere, hippo remains are dated to the 13th-14th

century B.C. from Ras Shamra (Ugarit), and to about 1500 B.C. from

the Orontes River. Only prehistoric hippopotamus remains have so

far been dredged up from the Jordan, but it seems, very likely that

they persisted in this river way into historic times (cf. Job 40:23;

although behemoth is a general expression for beasts, Job undoubtedly

is here referring to the hippo).

                        A LAND OF MILK AND HONEY              161


40:15-23). Such a scene may presently only be paralleled in

equatorial Africa! Job also mentions the crocodile (41:1-10)

which up to the beginning of this century still survived in

Palestine (south of Haifa) in a limited coastal swamp area

(Nahr ez-Zerqa).38

            Strange as it may now seem, until at least the thirteenth

century B.C., elephant herds roamed within range of the

Orontes and possibly on the lake of Apamea, in central

Syria.39 The Jackal, spotted hyena, wart hog, Megaderma-bat

and even the rhino, were surprisingly all part of early, Syro-

Palestinian history and represent (with the animals enumerat-

ed above) the last survivors of a fauna which had once invaded

the country from the north and east-before reaching the

then Virgin African territories.40

            Historical sources illuminate not only the fact that Palesti-

ne's fauna has undergone continuous reduction and thinning

from human dawn until our own days,41 but also throw light

on how the ancients themselves esteemed the Eastern Medi-

terranean littoral. The "novel" of Sinuhe, dating from the

twentieth century B.C., describes the highland of Palestine-Syria

as a land of figs and vines, having more wine than water.

"Plentiful was its honey, abundant its oil and all fruits were


            38 Haas, op. cit., pp. 32-33; Bodenheimer, op. cit., p. 65.

            39 R. D. Barnett, A Catalogue of the Nimrud Ivories with other

Examples of Ancient Near Eastern Ivories in the British Museum,

(London, 1957), pp. 164-165; Bayard Dodge, "Elephants in the Bible

Lands," BA, XVIII (1955), 17-18. For the location of Niya see Sir

Alan Gardiner, Ancient Egyptian Onomastica (Oxford, 1947), I, 271.

            40 Thus Bodenheimer, op. cit., pp. 16-17. It would not be too sur-

prising if evidence should be forthcoming on the early existence in

Syro-Palestine of other members of the so-called "African fauna.”

Both from reliefs (Barnett, op. cit., p. 59, n. 10) and the Assyrian

annals (ANET, p. 297) it is known that Ashurbanipal (668-633 B.C.)

received monkeys and apes from Phoencia. The evidence, so far,

however, is not of a decisive nature and it is generally held that the

Canaanites regularly imported monkeys or apes for religious purposes,

Barnett op. cit., p. 108; W. C. McDermott, The Ape in Antiquity

(Baltimore, 1938), p. 23.

            41 Bodenheimer, op. cit., p. 29.

62                    S. DOUGLAS WATERHOUSE


on its trees. There was barley in it and wheat, and countless

cattle of all kinds." The daily fare, which the land offered,

was said to have been bread, wine, cooked meat and roast

fowl "over and above the wild game of the desert" and "milk

prepared in every way." As F. S. Bodenheimer has pointed

out, this was obviously a country of "milk and honey!"42

            Canaan's prosperous cities, fertile plains, rich mineral

wealth, natural resources, strategic harbors and vital trade

routes (linking the land of the Nile with Asia Minor and the

mighty empires of the Tigris and the Euphrates) continually

lured invaders. One of the most notable was the great Egyp-

tian conqueror Thutmose III (fifteenth century B.C.). With

the advent of his reign, long lists of Asiatic tribute and booty

appear on Egyptian steles and on temple walls. These lists

serve as a good indicator of Canaan's productivity. Quantities

of grain, oil and wines, fruits and other luscious things of the

land are listed. One year mentions that the kinglets of Canaan

rendered unto Pharaoh:  "30 horses, chariots wrought with

silver and gold, decorated with paintings, 90 man-servants,

40 maid-servants, gold." long-horned and dehorned cattle,

sacrificial bulls and asses.  Among the tribute of another

year are to be found: "45 bulls, 749 rams, therebinth resin,

823 jars of honey, ivory and carob wood."43 In a letter to a

later Pharaoh, a prince of central Syria is found echoing these

tribute lists: "When the troops and chariots of my lord came,

food, drink cattle. . . honey and oil, were brought forth for

the troops and chariots of my lord."44 Evidently, when Pha-

raoh's army penetrated into hither Asia, Canaan's bounty

was depended upon to sustain the intruders.

            If doubt still persists that Canaan was not a land flowing

with milk and honey, an effective answer is given in the

account of Thutmose's decisive victory over the famed fortress-


            42 Ibid., pp. 164-165; for the story of Sinuhe see ANET, pp. 18-22.

            43 Bodenheimer, op. cit., p. 166.

            44 S. A. B. Mercer, The Tell EI-Amarna Tablets (Toronto, 1939),

No. 55: 10-12.

                        A LAND OF MILK AND HONEY              163


city of Megiddo. In striking contrast to the few dozen casual-

ties inflicted on the conquered and the 340 prisoners taken,

an enormous booty is listed consisting of 20,500 sheep,

2,041 horses, 2,000 goats, 1,929 cows, 191 foals, 6 stallions,

924 chariots and other precious objects!45 And this at an

age when such cities as Megiddo were small (18 acres) and

the population light (all Palestine may then not have had

more than 200,000 people).46

            Significantly, pharaonic monuments markedly differentiate

between the slight of built, slender Egyptians and the more

heavily constructed, inclined-to-be-corpulent Canaanite.47

An Egyptian text of the thirteenth century B.C. even speaks

of Canaanites having the height of "four or five cubits (from)

their noses to the heel" (or being around seven to nine feet

tall)!48 The Egyptian text is reminiscent of an Old Testament

passage written m the same vein: "All the people that we saw

in it (Canaan) are men of a great stature. And there we saw

the giants. . . and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers,

and so we were in their sight" (Num 13:33). A more apt

symbol may not be found of a country's fruitful prosperity

than inhabitants famed for their great stature and tremendous


            What has happened to change the country where people

once lived off the "fat of the land ?" How did its former

luster", coveted in antiquity, become so dim? Part of the


            45 Bodenheimer, op. cit., p. 165; ANET, p. 237. Thutmose III, in one

of his additions to the great temple of Karnak, illustrated the strange

plants and a number of animals he found in Palestine and Syria. These

illustrations, only a part of which are extant, form the oldest zoological

atlas from Palestine. Interestingly, "all species of wild animals [the

great majority are birds] represented in the Karnak temple are still

present in Palestine," Bodenheimer, op. cit., p. 168.

            46 The population estimate is that of Albright's; see Edward

F. Campbell, "The Amarna Letters and the Amarna Period," BA,

XXIII (1960), 21.

            47 George Steindorff and Keith C. Seele, When Egypt Ruled the East

(Chicago, 1957), p. 48.

            48 Papyrus Anastasi I; ANET, p. 477.

164                 S. DOUGLAS WATERHOUSE


answer is certainly to be found in studying the region's

climate. The effect of too little rain and too much sunshine

--where the weather is good, but the climate is bad49--has

caused the Palestine area to be less tolerant of abuse than tem-

perate areas are. Although the robber economy that destroys

forests and wastes the wealth of the soil has held sway in

almost every part of the world, it has been particularly

abusive in sub-tropical environments, such as that of the

Mediterranean. Particularly damaging is the absence of rain

during the long dry season, the excessive concentration of

rainfall in the torrential winter rains and the salinity of poorly

drained soils.50 In such an environment the misuse of the land

leads rapidly to extensive soil-destruction, which is difficult

to repair. Where in Roman times, the soil may have been

6 1/2 feet deep, there is now only rock surfaces.51 Cleared and

cultivated, terraced and wasted through the centuries, the


            49 The climate is being spoken of as "bad" in the historical sense.

The Mediterranean climate is characterized by cold, rainy winters

and long, dry summers, separated by short spring and autumn seasons

during which climatic conditions are extremely unpredictable. The

geographer speaks of southern California, and some parts of Chile

and South Africa as "Mediterranean." "The relative dryness of the

hill-country of Palestine joins with its elevation to make it one of the

most healthful regions of the Near and Middle East, as well as one of

the poorest areas occupied by a sedentary population. ..," Albright,

AP, p. 254. The problem of Palestine's climate is not lack of rain,

but the fact that practically all the rain falls in the colder half of the

year when it is of little use for vegetation, cf. below, note 50.

            50 Exploration has revealed that extraordinary care was taken in

antiquity for the conservation of water. "Innumerable dams, reservoirs,

and cisterns were constructed, in which the winter rain was collected

and from which a supply of water for the months of dryness was ob-

tained." G. Ernest Wright and Floyd V. Filson, editors, The West-

minster Historical Atlas to the Bible (Rev. ed.; Philadelphia, 1956), p. 64.

            51 Palestine-Syria, before erosion transformed it into a desert, was

well supplied with water. "One finds stone spring houses beside

springs which ceased to exist when the soil was removed by erosion.

In some instances there appears to have been perennial water in the

now dry streambeds. . . it is impossible to explain the use of certain

olive oil presses except on the assumption that the soil was then 6 1/2

feet deep over the present rock surface. . . Man-induced erosion of

the soil has in this region. . . swept 3 to 6 feet of the soil from the hill

           A LAND OF MILK AND HONEY              165


land is frequently left stony and sterile. Unfortunately, soil

wash is still continuing where there is any soil left.

            The present state of Palestine is also tied up with its past

political struggles. In the bitter Jewish insurrection which

terminated with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70,

thousands of Jews from all over Palestine were either killed

or scattered as slaves throughout the Roman empire. Slightly

more than sixty years later, a disaster took place in an even

more bitter rebellion which was cruelly and devastatingly

crushed. The result was a major disruption and a great

impoverishment of town and city life. Finally, there was the

Arab invasion of A.D. 630 which opened up the country to

nomadic Bedouin tribes of the desert. Speaking of these

intruders, Walter C. Lowdermilk writes:

            They pitch their black, batlike tents amidst ruins of the magnifi-

cence of the past and allow the terraces to break down and the soils to

wash away. They permit their goats to destroy and trample out the

former measures for conservation of the soil and water. . . The noma-

dic invaders and their goats worked hand in hand with erosion to

destroy the fertility of the lands. . . by fire and the axe they destroyed

the remaining forest as well as plantations of olives and vines.52

            The geographical changes which man and time have inflicted

upon Palestine is no more tellingly exemplified than by tracing

the history of the Dead Sea. Small in antiquity, situated in

what once must have been a beauteous vale,53 the Sea has

steadily risen, inundating and destroying--with its rising

waters--cities,54 roads,55 extensive tamarisks groves,56 mason-


lands," Lowdermilk, "Erosion at its Worst, and a Hundred Dead

Cities," Soil Conservation, V (1939), 160-162.

            52 Ibid., p. 162.

            53 Cf. Gen 13:10. In ancient times the whole Jordan Valley was

known for its great productivity. In Roman times the Jericho region

was famous for both its sweet wine and the fruit of its palm trees,

Mowry, op. cit., pp. 31-32; see above, note 24.

            54 Gen 14:3; cf. also F. G. Clapp, "The Site of Sodom and Go-

            morrah," AJA, XL (1936), 323-344.

            55 In Roman times a causeway connected the present peninsula of

El Lisan to the coast of Judah, near Masada. In fact, this crossing was

still possible to ford as late as 1846, Ibid., pp. 204-205.

            56 Many square miles of former tamarisk groves are now clearly

166                 S. DOUGLAS WATERHOUSE


ry,57 fresh-water springs,58 and even the recently (1886) visible

island of Rujm el-Bahr (which formerly stood near the nor-

thern head of the Sea).59 Although the factors which are

causing this "overflowing" are not as yet fully understood,60

a major cause is surely to be found in the disruption of former

irrigation, the denudation of the forests, the loss of moisture-

absorbing soil-cover, and the constant silting of erosion.

            The Biblical prediction that "the earth shall wax old as a

garment" (Is 51:6) has certainly been dramatically fulfilled

in the Holy Land!



visible under the sea water south of El Lisan, Albright, AASOR, VI

(1926), 14.

            57 The level of the Sea "has risen more than ten meters since masonry

construction of some kind were buried under it," Albright, BASOR,

No. 163 (1961), 51, n. 73.

            58 There are now a number of fresh water springs which are right on

the water's edge, Baly, op. cit., p. 203.

            59 Clapp, op. cit., p. 33.

            60 Why this peculiar "dead-end" Sea is rising still remains as enig-

ma. It is obviously caused by the combination of many reasons.

Albright suggests that the deposit of silt, and the influx of the salts

into a body of water which already contains them in saturated solution

naturally means that there is a constant and rapid deposition of

mineral crystals on the bottom," Albright, AASOR, VI (1926), 55-56.






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