The Judean Wilderness occupies the area from the eastern slopes of the Judea Mountains down to the Great Rift Valley, and runs along the western shore of the Dead Sea.

Very little rain falls here, so there are very few plants or animals. Many deep wadis, formed by centuries of rain runoff, penetrate this wilderness. Because it borders fertile mountains ridges for more than fifty miles, villages like Bethlehem were able to support both shepherds and farmers. The shepherds lived on the desert’s fringes, while farmers worked the soil of the mountains.

Because the wilderness was so close to settled areas, it became a refuge for those who sought solitude or safety from the authorities. Here David hid from Saul (1 Sam. 24:1), and John the Baptist isolated himself from the religious practices of the day (Matt. 3). It was also here that the Essenes labored over their scrolls, and early Christians built monasteries, some of which still function today.


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