Glimpses of Israel - Kadesh Barnea Region

by Joseph Hunting

To the modern tourist, the south country beyond Beersheba is a vast, arid wilderness which time and progress seem to have bypassed. The only evidence of life in a landscape similar to that recently flashed on television screens from the moon is an occasional camel or Bedouin shepherd. It seems incredible that this desert once supported the vast herds and flocks of the Patriarchs and the later civilizations of the Nabateans, a race of hardy desert dwellers who subdued and farmed this region 3,500 years ago.

In 1960, Professor Evenari of the Weizmann Institute of Science led a team to Avdat in the heart of the Negev to redevelop the Nabatean system of water-harvesting, using no modern equipment or power-driven vehicles. Professor Evenari used camels and primitive instruments to conduct his experiments. At that time Israel was experiencing the most severe drought in living memory. Yet, in spite of less than usual rainfall in an area which produces only 3 to 5 inches annually in normal times, the experiments proved highly successful, demonstrating that the Nabateans had conquered their environment by means of ingenious water channels designed to trap and conserve every drop of precious water.

After the Nabateans, the Romans built a massive fortress and temples to their gods at Avdat. Following the Roman occupation of Judaea, Avdat became part of the silent wilderness that cradled the infant Hebrew race until the rebirth of Israel in 1948.