This week we would like to take you on an adventure that we were privileged to experience last week. A while back we received an invitation from some friends, to spend two days with them after Shavuot in the Negev desert by the Egyptian border. The place just happens to be in one of the main areas where our forefathers set up camp, after leaving Egypt. Today there are a number of Israeli settlements in that locale, one of which is called by the region's ancient name, Kadesh - Barnea.
We gathered in a local charming and simple guest facility, something of a Bedouin desert inn with a Mexican touch, spread out accommodations and a herd of camels for neighbors. After an evening of songs of praise under the starlit skies, tea and coffee by the fire pit, cheerful hilarity and exchanges with other guests, our little group headed to the one room bungalow to find our mats and sleeping bags. We tried to arrange the mats in such a way that our feet would not be too close to someone else's nose. During the night the stillness was intercepted occasionally by the sounds of sleepers, from all around. At one point Rimona was hushing what she thought was a cat, only to find out that someone was coming back in, after using the outdoor toilet. The early morning is such a beautiful time in the desert that most were up for a walk, or sat outside by the camp fire drinking a cup of sugar with either tea or coffee in it, reading scriptures and praising the Creator. Soon it was time for the buffet style breakfast of salads, cheeses, bread and eggs. As we all set around on floor mats, Bedouin style, we discussed the coming jeep tour.
The desert is always fascinating, and at times may even disclose some of its secrets to the observant (or fortunate) visitor. Our friend, tour guide and driver, Eyal, moved to this region with his family about four years earlier. He had been doing quite a bit of researching and investigating of the biblical significance of the area. Investing time, zeal, and arduous efforts Eyal has become party to some of the desert's most precious mysteries, especially concerning biblical events that have taken place there.
The eight of us (plus our guide/driver) settled into the vehicle that was to carry us to an unknown destiny across gorges, hills, and river beds. After an interesting and rather rough journey, which to our surprise unveiled much of the desert's hidden beauty of green, yellow and purple flora, we finally arrived at our destination.
Eyal had kept us in suspense until we were actually standing at the spot, where our eyes fell on a semi circular shallow basin-like structure, about the size of a two man tent and surrounded by rocks that had been piled up to form a wall. In the middle of the floor was a small pillar. The archeologists who uncovered this back in the 1970's were astonished to find these small structures all over the area. After giving us some general background about archeology, and especially about the prevailing dating system, Eyal expounded on the stony structures, surrounding us. Archeology, it appears, does not favor the bible as a source of facts and information, to put it mildly. Thus, according to the experts, a very large group of nomads had stayed for a while in that area and then disappeared. But because of an obsolete, but still venerated dating system, the archeologists will not even consider the Israelites as a possibility, but at the same time are not able to agree as to whom those nomads were, and their possible motive for camping in that arid part of the world. To our eyes, however, it was obvious that this was the campsite of the Israelites, and that the structures we were viewing were what the bible calls "succas", or temporary shelters. The middle pillar evidently held the roof, which was made up of branches, or possibly skins or cloths of some kind.
Bones of kosher animals were also found in the area, as well as stone mortars and pestles, although without as much as a seed, grain, cereal or shell, which always accompany such findings. As puzzling as that fact is to the intellectual researchers, to the bible believer it is crystal clear, namely that these stone mills were used to grind the manna. Given its special nature, this substance would not have left any remains.
After walking through this area, Eyal took us to another site, where we viewed large piles of rocks, about four feet high and six feet in diameter. The archeologists who uncovered these constructions concluded that they were graves, all empty except for an occasional tooth or small bone. Interestingly, a permanent graveyard, which was excavated in the hills north of Jericho, seems to have held the answer to the mystery of the empty tombs in this part of the Negev. The tombs that were discovered in the latter site, contrary to the earlier ones, were full of bones but it was obvious that these bones were transported from somewhere else. Additionally, no idols were found in those graves, which indicated that the buried originated from a culture and religion different from the local one of the time.
Having seen so closely our forefathers' homes and resting places, and the evidence of the exactness and veracity of the biblical record, was most inspiring and up building. It made history truly His Story, and not a mere series of past events, a Story that is couched in eternity which we can experience in our own 'here and now'.