The Nahal Darga is the largest wadi in the northern Judean desert, and it
is one of the five largest in the entire Judean desert. It is 27 miles (43
km) long and drains about 89 sq. mi. (230 sq. km). The Nahal Darga is up to
650 feet (200 m) deep. Most wadis begin with an abrupt drop of 100 meters
(330 ft.), but this one drops in a series of short falls, each less than 10
meters (33 ft.). The water stays in small pools at the bottom of each fall
because the narrow shape of the canyon keeps sunlight from reaching it.
These pools are the most reliable source of water north of En Gedi.
In the Byzantine period, the Judean wilderness was flooded with monks
seeking seclusion. One book about this phenomenon is entitled The Desert
a City (by Derwas Chitty), which appropriately captures the situation.
At the height of the Byzantine period (the 6th century AD), there were
approximately 65 monasteries in the Judean desert. The average distance
between those on the wilderness plateau was 2-3 miles, and they were linked
by a network of trails.
Mar Saba Monastery
Mar Saba was founded by Sabas in the
year 483 and became the largest monastery in the Judean wilderness. Sabas started or participated in
the construction of ten monasteries, eight of them in the Judean desert.
Mar Saba was a laura-type monastery, which served as the center for
monks who lived separately throughout the week but gathered together on
weekends for communal prayer and mass. Most monasteries were abandoned
following the Muslim conquest, but Mar Saba was one of the few
monasteries that continued to survive. An earthquake destroyed much of
the monastery in 1834; a great deal of it had to be reconstructed.
The Bible describes the ancient use
of the camel mainly as a beast of burden for desert nomads. Although
there is some controversy as to when they came into use, they were known
to have been used in Oman in 2500 BC. They were also a good source of
milk, but could not be eaten. Camels can lose up to one-third of their
body weight in water and then replenish that loss within ten minutes.
Their humps (dromedaries/Arabian have only one), fibrous masses of
tissue and fat, serve as energy reserves used on long journeys across
Every spring, the wilderness
blossoms - for a short time. Then the sun comes out and everything
dries up. Isaiah 40:6-8 (NIV) “The voice said, ‘Cry out!’ And he
said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is
like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades,
because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are
grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God
Jerusalem east to Jericho (Homelands of the Bible) Details a journey
from Jerusalem to Jericho through a series of webpages. Provides a good
description of the wilderness and the sites encountered along the way. Click
on the "Continue" link at the bottom of each page to go through the
The Judean Desert (Micha Zilberman) Lists the sites located in the
Judean Wilderness and discusses some of the region's history.
Israel's desert leopards fight extinction (Reuters) An article
about the last of the leopards living in the Judean Wilderness.
West Bank: Mar Saba (The Great Mirror) A set of pictures taken at the
Mar Saba Monastery.
Mar Saba Monastery (Bethlehem Homepage) Describes the life of Saint
Sabas and how the monastery began.
Sabas: Founder's Typikon of the Sabas Monastery near Jerusalem
(Dumbarton Oaks Research Library) An excerpt from a work entitled Byzantine
Monastic Foundation Documents. Details the history of Mar Saba Monastery and
its monastic rules.