The High places

EZEKIEL 6 English Bible readers are often bewildered by the regular references to the "high places" of Israel. The Hebrew word for "high place"is bamah (lit.,"height").The term refers to local, open-air shrines that were frequently described as being located on a hill but could in reality have been found anywhere, including a city, gate or valley (Jer 7:31). Some surmise that a shrine was called a "high place" because of its location; others suggest that the name refers to its construction. Regardless, a bamah might have been either a shrine perched upon a hilltop, such as in Petra,' or an elevated platform like the mound of unhewn stones uncovered at Megiddo.

A typical high place consisted of a man-made platform or altar with associated buildings (iKi 12:31; 2Ki 17:29). It is likely that many high places were located in spots that had originally been sacred to the Canaanites—and that the conquering Israelites were supposed to have destroyed (Nu 33:52). In Israel's early history in Canaan, high places became venues for the offering of animal sacrifices and incense to Yahweh (1 Sa 9:12ff.).

The rationale offered was that people "were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the Low" (1Ki 3:2).4 It may be that Elijah chose Mount Carmel for his contest with the prophets of Baal (1Ki 18) because the site was sacred to both Israelites and pagans.

Gibeon was known as "the most important high place"(1Ki 3:4);5 although the ark was transferred by David from there to Jerusalem, the tabernacle and bronze altar remained at Gibeon (2Ch 1:3-5).6 Also, Gibeon was the place at which the prophet Samuel celebrated festivals and where Solomon received a vision from the Lord.

Once worship of the Lord had been centralized in Jerusalem, however, high places came to pose a threat to the purity of Israel's faith. When Israelites worshiped the Lord away from the temple and its priestly over-sight, they were at risk of being influenced by local, pagan cults and traditions. Prophets attacked high places for their syncretism: They were all too frequently locations at which the gods Molech, Chemosh and Asherah were worshiped, indiscriminately,along-side the God of Israel (1 Ki 11:7-8; 2Ki 23:13). High places were regarded as centers of apostasy because they competed with Jerusalem for Israel's devotion (2Ki 17:9-11).

In the historical narratives kings are routinely evaluated by whether or not they demolished these sanctuaries. Josiah's reforms dealt a powerful blow to the high places (2Ki 23:15-20); even so, attachment to them survived.These locations of temptation are cited specifically as a cause for God's judgment upon Judah (Eze 6:3-7).

Mourning for Tammuz

EZEKIEL 8 Among the pagan rituals the prophet Ezekiel was shown in Ezekiel 8 was a group of women "mourning for Tammuz" (v. 14). Numerous pagan religions feature a dying-and-rising god (such as Tammuz, Baal or Osiris), whose restoration comes about partly through the aid of his consort (part-ner) goddess (Ishtar, Anat or Isis, respectively, for the previous examples). The myths of the dying gods are not all the same; each is distinctive, and the various versions of these myths are sometimes contradictory and difficult to unravel) Tammuz was sometimes regarded as a Mesopotamian version of the fertility god Baal but actually appears to have been a relatively minor shepherd god—who may or may not be thought to have returned from the dead.

It is clear that the cult of Tammuz was of very ancient origin, from Sumer. Even so, it persisted for millennia in the Near East and was especially popular, for unknown reasons, with women. One text from the Seleucid period (after 300 B.c.) contains a liturgy of the goddess Ishtar (also called Inanna),2 who was weeping over him.This text contains echoes of Sumerian lamentation from 2,000 years earlier. Indeed, the Tammuz cult still existed among Sabean women in the-tenth century A.D.! Although the women in Ezekiel 8 could have been professional mourners in the employ of the temple, it appears that they were ordinary people who had been swept up in a popular religious cult that had particularly strong appeal to women.

Temple Abandonment

EZEKIEL 10 The desecration or destruction of temples in the ancient Near East represented grave national and religious calamities. Temples were considered the abodes of deities who served as guardians of lands, peoples and nations, and elaborate temple liturgies were aimed at securing the presence of the deity. Conquering armies plundered temples as a demonstrable sign that the gods of the victors had triumphed over those of the vanquished (Isa 36:18-20; 37:12). Sacred objects were regularly transported and then installed in the sanctuary of the conquering deity. For example, when the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant from Israel, they placed it in the temple of their god, Dagon (1 Sa 5:1-5).

From the perspective of the vanquished, it appeared that the temple had been abandoned by the deity. This gave rise to a genre of ritual laments for temples and cities that had been destroyed. A significant example of this motif is found in the Sumerian lamentation over the destruction of Ur.

The prophets used similar language to explain the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (La 2:7; cf. Eze 10). Biblical laments assert that the Lord had abandoned his sanctuary because Israel had first abandoned her God.

The idea of temple abandonment occurs as well with respect to the second temple. Second Maccabees, an Apocryphal book, reports that the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes plundered the sanctuary of Jerusalem,an act that should have brought down divine judgment upon his head.2 The text explains that such desecration was possible because God had temporarily abandoned the sanctuary on account of the sins of his people (2Mc 5:17). Other sources suggest that God abandoned the temple just prior to its destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus described a sound like that of a great multitude from within the sanctuary, announcing the departure of God's presence (Jewish Wars, 6.5.3).3 Second Baruch, a Jewish apocalyptic text written sometime after A.D. 70, narrates a visionary account of the angel of the Lord descending into the Most Holy Place, removing the sacred vessels and proclaiming:"Enter enemies and come adversaries because he who guarded the house has abandoned it" (2Bar 6:7 —9; 8:2).

Exile and Genocide in the Ancient Near East

EZEKIEL 21 Although nations in the ancient Near East were almost continuously at war—and many of these wars had no long-term effects—sometimes a nation or city did suffer a calamitous defeat. Such a conquest could lead to the near eradication of the defeated people. The scenario often began with the destruction of a conquered city, including the razing of its walls.This was followed by a looting of the palace or local seat of government affairs. The religious artifacts of the defeated city were typically carried off and its temple demolished., The deportation of the survivors into exile then began. In some cases only royalty, government officials and well-educated members of society were initially deported. If the conquered territory remained rebellious, however, additional mass deportations of the general populace were undertaken. Some-times the conquering power would resettle the area with outsiders in order to ensure that the cultural heritage of the conquered territory was effectively eliminated.

Historical annals demonstrate that Assyrian kings attempted to deal with unruly populations through massive deportations. When a rebellious city was defeated, its nobility, skilled workers and soldiers were resettled closer to the Assyrian heartland, where they could be more easily controlled. The remaining population was less likely to have the military and economic means to re-volt again. The practice of deportation became increasingly popular among later kings. Sargon it (the king most likely responsible for the deportation of the Israelites in 721 B.c.), counted over 239,000 deportees, while Sennacherib (who unsuccessfully besieged Jerusalem in 701 B.c.), listed over 469,000 exiles during his reign.

Exiles were often treated with extreme cruelty. Assyrian reliefs depict long lines of captives being led away hound and naked. Sometimes, however, captives fared well and were able to rise to positions of authority (e.g., Daniel, Nehemiah, Esther). Personal names in Assyrian inscriptions indicate that some Israelites did rise to leadership positions within the Assyrian administration. At times deliberate genocide—the attempt to completely destroy a nation or ethnic group—was carried out. Information concerning genocide in the ancient world is somewhat limited, but the Bible testifies to two basic forms: paranoid infanticide, or the mass murder of infants due to suspicious fear (e.g., Ex 1), and ethnic targeting, the singling out of a race of people for annihilation (e.g., Est 3).

Sexuality and Religion in the Sumerian Hymns to Ishtar

EZEKIEL 23 The sexual imagery employed by Ezekiel to demonstrate the apostasy of Israel and Judah is quite explicit. Equating the lovers of Oholah (Samaria) and Oholibah (Jerusalem) with the foreign nations of Egypt and Assyria, Ezekiel made use of Hosea's image of Israel and Judah as prostituting women.The link the prophets established between sexuality and pagan-ism could hardly have surprised the Israelites; they saw the evidence all around them and knew that from ancient times many of the gods of the nations were known to have highly erotic characteristics.

The Sumerian goddess Inanna, who later merged with the Akkadian goddess Ishtar,1 was the preeminent goddess among the Mesopotamians, In the mythology of Inanna/Ishtar, she is associated with prostitution.2 The explicit nature of Ezekiel 23 is

in many ways evocative of Mesopotamian texts that praise Ishtar. In one of these texts Ishtar meets her lover, Dumuzi (Tammuz). Referring to her sexual parts as "a well-watered field,"she asks,"Who will plow it?" The answer is that"Dumuzi will plow it for you."Another text praises Inanna's breasts as"a fertile field." Many of these texts may have been associated with a ritual involving sacred prostitution. Such rites were performed with regularity on the assumption that doing so would evoke the goddess's blessing. Although we cannot be certain of the extent to which Ezekiel may have been thinking of lnanna / Ishtar in his caustic portrayal of Jerusalem and Samaria, it is interesting to note the sexually explicit parallels between Ezekiel 23 and the numerous hymns to this Mesopotamian deity.

The Downfall of Tyre

EZEKIEL 26 The Phoenician city of Tyre, in modern Lebanon, was an important commercial center located on the Mediterranean coast. It consisted of both a mainland city and an island city one half mile (.32 km) offshore, both well fortified.

Tyre was occupied by the middle of the third millennium B.C. It is first mentioned in the records of the Syrian city of Ebla ("Map 1") and again in the Egyptian execration texts of the eighteenth century B.C.,' it also appears in the Amarna Letters and in the Ugaritic texts.The city suffered from the invasions of the Sea Peoples around 1200 B.C. but became highly prosperous during the Iron I, Age. It sent its ships all over the world during the early first millennium and was instrumental in founding the city of Carthage in northern Africa ("Map 14") in the ninth century B.C. Hiram of Tyre provided workmen and cedar trees for the construction of David's palace in Jerusalem (2Sa 5:11) and also supplied cedars (1 Ki 5:1-12) and craftsmen (1Ki 7:13-47) for Solomon's temple.

Ahab, king of the northern kingdom of Israel from approximately 874 to 853 B.C., married a princess from Tyre, the infamous Baal worshiper Jezebel (1Ki 16:31-32). Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal I, who seized the throne of Tyre in 887 B.C. and ruled there for 32 years. He had been a priest of Astarte, and Jezebel appears to have shared his devo-tion to the fertility gods of Canaan. This was a high point in Tyre's history;thus it is not surprising from a political point of view that the Israelite house of Omri desired to be on good terms with the Tyrians and so arranged the marriage between his son Ahab and Jezebel.

During the seventh century ex. Tyre struggled to remain independent of Assyria. It was defeated at Ashkelon ("Map 7") when, with the support of Tirhakah of Egypt, it sought to resist Esarhaddon of Assyria. Ezekiel wrote his prophecy against Tyre during the eleventh year of Jehoiakim's captivity (586 B.c.), predicting that Nebuchadnezzar would march against the city (Eze 26). Nebuchadnezzar did indeed turn his attention to the affluent city of Tyre following his destruction of Jerusalem and proceeded to besiege the city for 13 years,from 585 to 572 B.C. The Babylonians succeeded in capturing the mainland city but were unable, without a navy, to defeat the island fortress.Tyre was exhausted by the long struggle, however, and with the rise of the Persian Empire came under the domination of the Persians.

The next major event of Tyre's history occurred when Alexander the Great invaded the Persian Empire in 332 B.C. Probably be-cause the city served as a center for the Persian fleet, Alexander attacked Tyre. Not wishing to undergo a long siege, as had Nebuchadnezzar before him, Alexander constructed a causeway (200-300 yards wide) from the mainland to the island fortress. Pulling down the buildings on the mainland, he repurposed the stones, timber and debris to build the causeway. Ezekiel had stated with respect to Tyre that God would "scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock" (Eze 26:4) and "throw [her] stones, timber and rubble into the sea" (v.12).Tyre was literally scraped bare like a rock. Today the famed causeway is an isthmus as a result of encroaching sand.

With the death of Alexander, Tyre fell under the influence of the Greek kingdoms (first the Ptolemies of Egypt and then the Seleucids of Syria). She began to emerge again as an important trade city during the Seleucid period and once again exerted considerable influence over the Jewish state. By the time the Romans had assumed control of the eastern Mediterranean,Tyre was a major city of the region and a transportation center (see Ac 21:3-7).The region of Tyre and Sidon served as something of a retreat area for Jesus and his disciples (Mt 15:21), and people flocked from Tyre to hear his message (Mk 3:8).


EZEKIEL 27 As one of the few natural harbors on the coastline of the Levant (Syria-Palestine), Byblos (also called Gebal; see "Map 1" and "Map 5") was an important trade and religious center in antiquity. First settled during the sixth millennium B.c., this ancient port city was located at the foot of Mount Lebanon and had access to the abundant cedar groves of the western flank of the range.

Lumber for building materials was especially in demand in Egypt. Oils and resins from the trees were used' for mummification, as well as for cosmetic and medicinal purposes. The shipping of lumber followed sea lanes along the coast between Byblos and the Nile delta. In return, Byblos received commodities such as metals, papyrus reed and perfumes. With its import of Egyptian papyrus reed, the city became famous for the manufacturing of paper and rope during the Iron Age., This economic partnership with Egypt began during the late fourth through the early third millenniums B.c.and reached its high point during the Old Kingdom (c. 2700-2100 B.c.) and Middle Kingdom (c. 1990-1786 B.c.) periods. The city's economic network was not limited to Egypt, however.Trade extended to the Mediterranean, the southern Levant, Syria, Mesopotamia and even into Anatolia and modern-day Iran.

During the Iron Age (1200-586 B.c.) Tyre and Sidon's economic domination eclipsed their counterpart to the north.3 Byblos was reduced to functioning as a supplier of lumber and craftsmanship.When Solomon commissioned his building projects in partnership with Hiram of Tyre, stonecutters from Byblos were subcontracted for ashlar masonry (cf. 1Ki 5:18;6:7).

The great empires of the first millennium B.C. took notice of Byblos's value as a supplier of lumber. In their ruthless campaigns into the region later known as Palestine, the Assyrians and Babylonians exacted tribute from Byblos in the form of timber. The Persian and Roman Empires later secured the area as a source of supplies for maintaining their powerful navies.

Classical and postclassical building activities at the site virtually destroyed crucial occupational layers, including the Late Bronze and iron Age levels. However, rich artifactual deposits and temple architecture provide a window into the character of Byblos as a religious center and a repository of Phoenician religious traditions. Enclosed within a fortification wall, the acropolis contained several religious buildings:

    • The Balaat Gebal temple, dedicated to the goddess"Lady of Byblos,"was first erected around 3100 B.C., and a royal inscription from Byblos provides evidence that a temple to Balaat was still present during the fifth century B.C.

    • The Obelisk temple complex (early second millennium B.c.) contained over 26 votive pillars within its precinct.Similar religious pillars would later be prohibited for the worship of Yahweh (cf. Dt. 12:3 —4).

    • Excavators discovered an abundance of votive offerings in the form of golden axes, seals,amulets,figurines and inscribed offerings.These were placed into jars within temple foundations or in sacred rooms. A Middle Bronze Age royal necropolis also attests to the affluence of the city. We know from documentary sources that in Roman times the city retained its status as a pilgrim center for the cult of Adonis.

Gradual deforestation and the closing of pagan temples (late fourth century A.D.) probably contributed to Byblos's ultimate decline.


EZEKIEL 30 For much of Egyptian history, Thebes was the leading city of southern Egypt.1 Located on the eastern bank of the Nile some 450 miles (726 km) south of Cairo, Thebes was the center of worship for the god Amon, "king of the gods." The city reached its zenith between 1500 and 1000 B.C., when it functioned as the center of a vast empire and ranked as one of the wealthiest and most famous cities in the ancient world. Ancient Thebes, located at modern Luxor and Karnak, comprises the largest collection of antiquities in the world, covering an area of 16 to 18 square miles (26 to 29 sq km). The magnificent temple of Amon, located on the eastern bank of the Nile at Karnak, is the largest temple ever constructed and, until modern times, held the distinction of being the largest columned building in the world. Its magnificent columns, 34 feet (10 m) in circumference, soar to a height of 69 feet (21 m).

Pharaohs recorded their achievements on the temple walls. One of these inscriptions, the Bubastite Portal, constitutes Pharaoh Sheshonk's (Biblical Shishak's) record of his campaign against Judah and Israel in 925 B.C. and can be compared with 1 Kings 14:25-26 and 2 Chronicles 12:2-9.2 On the western side of the Nile is the royal necropolis, including numerous mortuary temples and tombs of the kings and queens of the New Kingdom (Eighteenth—Twentieth Dynasties, c. 1570-1070 B.C.). Here may be found, for example, the beautiful mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut (c.1479 —1457 B.c.) and the famous tomb of Tutankhamen (c. 1336 —1327). Another important mortuary temple is that of Rameses III (c. 1184-- 1153 B.c.). This pharaoh recorded on its walls his 1176 B.C. victory over the Sea Peoples, among whom were the Philistines, who settled on the southwestern coast of the region now known as Palestine. Although the New Kingdom pharaohs were the major builders of Thebes and Karnak, other pharaohs also sought to contribute to their glory. The Twenty-sixth (Nubian) Dynasty sought to

revive classical Egyptian culture and further enhanced the splendor of the temple of Amon at Karnak in the late eighth century B.C.

Nahum 3:8-10 vividly describes the Assyrian attack on Thebes that took place around 663 B.C., and the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel both wrote words of condemnation against the city, a center of paganism. Jeremiah, in about 600 B.C., declared that God would punish Amon of Thebes, the pharaoh and the gods of Egypt:They would be given into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Jer 46:25 —26; cf. Eze 30:10 — 19).3 A fragmentary clay tablet attests to an attack upon Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar in approximately 569 B.C. The Persians also sacked the city under Cambyses (c. 525 B.c.) and Artaxerxes III (c. 342).4 During the Ptolemaic period, Thebes was the focal point for Egyptian resistance to Ptolemaic (Greek) rule,' and three separate rebellions were suppressed. By the Roman period the glory of Thebes come to an end.

Trees of Ancient Israel

EZEKIEL 31 Trees in ancient Israel, including its many native species of oak, pine and terebinth, as well as imported cedars from Lebanon, were precious natural resources highly valued for their use in construction and manufacturing, food production, environmental protection (such as erosion prevention) and the production of oils, perfumes, spices, rope and other by-products. Besides their great commercial value, some were prized for their symbolic significance, particularly because of their awe-inspiring size and strength and the sense of permanence they evoked. For example, some oak species in the region reach heights of over 80 feet (24 m) and live as long as 300 years.

The majestic cedar grows upwards of 115 feet (35 m) and may live as long as 500 years, or 121/2 generations!, It is no wonder, therefore, that the oak and terebinth were often associated with the divine presence and marked important sites of worship, especially for the patriarchs (Ge 13:18; 18:1).2In fact,the trees themselves were often considered sacred objects of worship. They were sometimes planted beside altars in Canaanite temple courtyards and were associated with El's consort (partner),the goddess Asherah (cf. Dt 7:5; 2Ki 17:16).3 The powerful cedar was also frequently planted in palace and temple gardens, symbolizing both king and deity in its grandeur and life-giving benefit to the land (see Ps 104:16; Isa 51:3; Eze 28:13; 31:8-9). Consequently, it became the ideal symbol for great rulers and their empires, such as the Assyrian Empire, which once cast its shadow over Israel and the rest of the ancient Near East, reaching its apex in the early seventh century B.C. The imposing Assyrian Empire, however, was itself felled abruptly within a few years' time (Eze 31).

Shepherding in the Ancient World

EZEKIEL 34 The keeping of sheep was widespread in the ancient world from earliest history; shepherding was practiced from Mesopotamia to the Roman world. Sheep provided meat, wool, milk and cheese. Shepherds sometimes practiced transhumance (seasonal movement of livestock between lowland pastures and mountains) and lived as nomads, but often they did not. Shepherds lead their sheep to pasture and water, protected them from wild animals,' kept a careful count of them and gave special attention to those needing help, such as ewes about to lamb. At night, the shepherd often stayed with the sheep, sometimes settling them in simple enclosures or even in caves. In a shepherding family, both boys and girls could be

required to work with the flock (e.g., Rachel in Ge 29:6 and David in 1Sa 16:11). A shepherd's life could be arduous, requiring long hours outdoors.

On the other hand, shepherding was often idealized, as in the pastoral poetry of Greece and Rome (e.g., Virgil's ten eclogues: poetry in which sheep converse with each other). Shepherds apparently spent a good deal of their idle time creating music and poetry while watching the sheep graze; the shield of Achilles featured an image of two piping shepherds (Homer's iliad,18.525), and David's career as the psalmist of Israel began among sheep and other shepherds.

In the ancient world the shepherd was a standard metaphor for a ruler. The Mesopotamian lawgivers Lipit-Ishtar of Isin and Hammurabi of Babylon were both called "shepherds,"and the crook held by the pharaoh may have represented the shepherd's staff. In Babylonian mythology Marduk was said to be a shepherd of the gods, while in the Old Testament God is referred to as the shepherd both of Israel (Ps 80:1) and of the faithful believer (Ps 23). At the same time, God expected the kings of Israel to function as shepherds of his people (2Sa 5:2) and harshly condemned those who abused that authority (Eze 34).Jesus, in fulfillment of verses 11-16, proclaimed himself to be the good shepherd (Jn 10:1-18).

The Temple Scroll

EZEKIEL 41 Arriving at Ezekiel 41, many modern readers come to believe they are facing a portion of Scripture that is nearly pointless and certainly tedious. In addition, we may be confused by the fact that the description of the temple and its rituals given here is unlike anything we have heretofore seen in the law or elsewhere. A famous text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, illustrates just how significant the issues of temple and ritual were to ancient Jews. It also shows that the Jews were open to the possibility of a new vision of the ritual of the temple. This critical text is known as the Temple Scroll.

With 66 columns preserved, the Temple Scroll (officially designated 11QTemple) is the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Its authorship is unknown, and proposed dates of composition range from the fifth century B.C. to the first century A.D.; there are good reasons, however, for dating it at some point within' the first century B.C.

This text is a reworking of various legal passages from Exodus 34 through Deuteronomy.The rewritten texts include instructions concerning the construction of a temple in Jerusalem, regulations for sacrifice and purity and Deuteronomic laws (laws relating to, or in the style of, the book of Deuteronomy). The scroll uses a distinctive type of rabbinical exegesis often called "midrashic" to reconcile difficulties in the Pentateuch and to create a new, unified law.

This rewritten Torah does not merely paraphrase or restate the canonical texts. On the contrary, the author made several

notable omissions and additions, conform-ing these more ancient laws to the ideas of his own community. The scroll radically revised the festival calendar by including several festivals that were not part of the earlier Biblical cycle of holy days. The instructions for the building of the temple, although containing similarities to Ezekiel's temple,differ from those found elsewhere in the Bible. Also intriguing is that the author changed Moses' words to the people from the third person to the first person.The result is that the revised instructions are plated-on the lips of God himself!

This style of Biblical interpretation has caused some scholars to suggest that the Qumran community members believed that the Temple Scroll had the same authority as the Old Testament canon itself.2 The Temple Scroll could in some sense be regarded as a new iteration or version of the law. It appears to envision a new temple and temple worship that would replace the current temple and serve as a kind of interim worship before the beginning of the Messianic Age. The Temple Scroll illustrates the fact that a great variety of failed religious viewpoints, some of which might rightly be called eccentric, had developed in Judaism during the intertestamental period.3 The Temple Scroll probably represents the viewpoint of an extremist minority.

On the other hand, it is important to realize that the layout, rituals and holy days of the temple were of vital concern to ancient Jews.These issues may seem tedious to modern readers, but this only serves to illustrate the difference between our world and theirs. Ritual laws of the day were a kind of code that served to communicate religious ideals among the ancient Jews.ln this sense the existence of texts such as the Temple Scroll is helpful when considering a passage such as Ezekiel 41-48. A new vision of the temple and its ritual signaled for Ezekiel's early readers a new era.The Qumran Temple Scroll communicated an eccentric and failed vision for the future of the people of God. Ezekiel, on the other hand, communicated the orthodox, canonical vision, but he did so within the same cultural world and using the same code as the Temple Scroll. Any credible interpretation of Ezekiel 41-48 must take into account the theological message ancient Israelites would have drawn from this (to us, mystifying) temple description.

The Geography of Ezekiel 47

EZEKIEL 47 The Great Rift Valley is an enormous depression roughly extending from north to south from Turkey to Lebanon and Syria,through the Galilee and Jordan Valleys, down to the Dead Sea and from there to the Gulf of Aqaba. The geologic depression continues in the form of the Gulf of Aqaba itself, creating a division between Arabia and the Sinai. From there it reappears on land in Africa and extends as far south as modern Mozambique.

In Palestine the depression created by the Great Rift Valley, known as the Arabah, runs from the Sea of Galilee to the Gulf of Aqaba (although at times the term Arabah is used to refer specifically to the desert valley extending from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba). Waters from the Sea of Galilee flow south via the Jordan and are joined by the waters of the Yarmuk and Jabbok Rivers, both of which flow into the Jordan, which in turn empties into the Dead Sea.Water leaves the Dead Sea only by evaporation; there is no natural exit to the sea. For this reason the Dead Sea (or "Salt Sea") has a high concentration of minerals, prohibiting survival of aquatic life and rendering this body of water in effect "dead."

In Ezekiel's vision waters from the temple, located in the western central mountain region, flow eastward into the Arabah and the Jordan River Valley. The water from there flows into the Dead Sea and freshens its waters. In the vision this creates an environment favorable to the growth of trees, plants and fish. Fishermen in this visualization would spread their nets for fishing from En Gedi (located at the center of the western Dead Sea shoreline; see "Map 4"), to En Eglaim, an as yet unidentified ancient location.

Biblical scholars differ regarding whether this vision is to be read symbolically or literally. If it is to have a literal fulfillment, some-thing must happen beyond what the text indicates. A simple infusion of fresh water would not in fact revive the Dead Sea, which already receives fresh water. The problem is that the water has no outlet. In favor of a more symbolic interpretation,Jesus may have been alluding to this passage in John 7:38.