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I write as a Christian from Jerusalem, Israel about Biblical subjects.

I am particularly interested in the subjects of children, families, women's issues, corporal punishment, science and nature as these subjects relate to the Holy Scriptures.

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With every good wish - Samuel Martin

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

And He was with the beasts (Mark 1:13)

“And He was with the beasts.” (Mark 1:13) 

Comment: This artistic representation of the Jordan river taken in the Jerusalem Natural History Museum really caught my eye. I give it here in comparison to the current picture of the same river. Really a stark difference several thousands of years makes.

It is important to note that the animal life found in Israel today is different than what it used to be. Some species have left the area permanently. If you look at the picture above on the left it is an artistic representation of what is known as the ‘Sudanian penetration zone,’ which used to characterize the region right around the Jordan river up to and including an area just north of the Dead Sea. Pockets of this zone can be found all around the Dead Sea and the area around the Dead Sea’s northern end and extending in pockets 30-40 miles north of the Dead Sea itself.  

This Sudanian Penetration Zone is pretty self explanatory. It means that the geography in the Holy Land has elements of “Sudanian penetration”, that is: you have areas here that look like Sudan! To further clarify, what we are talking about here are basically jungles!

And what kinds of animals inhabited these Sudanian penetration zones in Israel in the ancient times? Lions (extinct in Israel), Cheetahs (extinct in Israel), Bears (extinct in Israel), Leopards, (rare), Gazelles (rare), Oryx (extinct in Israel), Fallow deer (reintroduced in a few places in the North of Israel), and Hyena (rare).

Note that the lion we are talking about here is a smaller variety than the African one, but it is still a lion nonetheless. Jeremiah talks about the “canebrake on the banks of the Jordan, the ‘pride’ of the river, was their favorite haunt. (Jeremiah 49:14; 50;44) and in this reedy covert (Lamentations 3;19) they were to be found at a comparatively recent period, as we learn from a passage of Johannes Phocas, who travelled in Palestine towards the end of the 12th century.” (CBTEL, vol. V, pg. 447)

This presents a very interesting type of environment of the Jordan river area in ancient times and the wild nature of the area. One certainly had to watch their step in this region due to the wild animals living there. Here is what I said previously which I have now added some new information to in light of these new ideas.

The 40 days in the wilderness at the very beginning of Christ’s ministry is to me a fascinating story. When I picture Christ following that event, I am reminded of seeing people who have just come off hunger strikes (like Gandhi) being carried by other people as they barely can hold themselves up. This is how I see our Lord following the 40 days in the wilderness. Talk about a trial. Can one imagine going without food for 40 days? Really unfathomable to me.

There is though this little statement in the first chapter of Mark, which interests me greatly. It says: “And He was with the beasts.” (Mark 1:13) We also have the added statement just following this that angels ministered to Him.

Now, when I consider the whole trial that Christ went through and I also consider the region where He was at the time, the whole idea of the animals that might have been present take on some interesting possibilities.

I had pointed out some time back about the recent sightings of leopards in the region of Ein Gedi (you can find nice photos on Google Images). Yes. Today, in the most inhospitable region of Ein Gedi, which is right on the shore of the Dead Sea in the Judean Wilderness, we have leopards present and one can only imagine how frightening it might be to be out in the wilderness alone facing such animals. This region in and around Ein Gedi in ancient times was one of those pockets of what they called Sudanian Penetration Zone once again.

We read some 150 times in the Bible about lions and according to our sources, lions were present here in the Holy Land up until about 600 years ago. Once again, imagine being alone at night in the desert wondering if a lion might be about. And this not just for one night, but 40 in a row! Pretty amazing.

Then, we have to consider scorpions. Remember I Kings 12:11? Yes. Scorpions were well known in Biblical times and one location in the Bible appears to be called “Scorpion pass.” (Numbers 34:1-5 – where the Hebrew word “ak-rawb” [scorpion] is used of a place at the southern end of the Dead Sea).

Snakes also are quite common here and dangerous. We have to take care walking out away from our houses and we find on occasion snakes coming quite near our homes and we have killed a couple here and there and these snakes are poisonous with a capital “P.” The vipers come in all shapes and sizes and some of them are no longer than your hand, but they are nonetheless quite deadly. There are in fact eight species of poisonous snakes here in the Holy Land.

Were these exposures to dangerous animals a part of the trial of Christ? Did God send His angels to minister to Christ and protect him from harm from these dangerous animals? Is what Christ went through something similar to what Daniel endured in the lions den and that is why we have this reference in Mark 1:13 to the beasts? These are speculations and we are not certain from the Biblical texts what exactly happened. One thing is for sure though; those 40 days in the wilderness were a serious trial in an environment that was a lot more wild than it is today, which helps all of us who go through our daily hard circumstances of life to remember that we have a Savior who understands us. He knows hardship, difficulties, pain, being too hot or cold, being hungry or thirsty or being very sick (Matt.8:16,17) or even to be in an inhospitable environment with dangerous animals around. Thank God for this wonderful reminder in the Gospel.

The above referenced painting is from the St. Gerasimos monastery in the Judaean desert. It is located very near the Jordan river and the traditional site of the baptism of Christ. It was positioned very near the Sudanian Penetration Zone, which we are here discussing and lions were a feature of the region. St. Gerasimos here pictured lived in the fifth century and is believed to have had a lion who was his lifelong companion named Jordan. Photo:http://orthodoxwiki.org/Gerasimos_of_the_Jordan

The lion is such a common theme in and around Jericho. Here is another representation from the Coptic Church in Jericho taken in January 2013.

1 comment:

Louise said...

Thanks for this article Sam. It often difficult for me to picture life as it was in Biblical times ... the culture, the environment. Every little bit of info puts it a little more into perspective.