Friday, October 30, 2015

Mount Halak on the Southern Border of Canaan/Judah

by Chris McKinny

Many visitors to Israel have visited the Nahal Zin and hiked into Ein Avdat. While witnessing the canyon's spectacular views and wildlife, visitors will probably be informed that Nahal Zin was the southern border of the promised land (and thereby Canaan and the tribe of Judah) based on a connection between the large, continuous canyon (Arabic - Wadi el-Marra) and the southern boundary descriptions in the Bible (Num. 34:4; Josh. 15:3).

Ein Avdat -

The identification of Wadi el-Marra with part of the Wilderness of Zin seems to be very plausible, even if the name "Nahal Zin" is a modern construction. Essentially, the identification of Wadi el-Marra with the southern boundary is based on the following two pieces of evidence: 1.) Wadi el-Marra is the only natural topographic boundary in the region and 2.) it is located between the Ascent of Akkrabim and Kadesh-barnea (Ein el-Qudeirat), which fits the biblical description. However, there is an additional piece of evidence that seems to make this identification even more secure - the location of Mount Halak at Jebel Halaq. Update - see here for Musil's description of Jebel Halaq (German).

Southern Boundary Markers of Canaan/Judah on Karte Von Arabia Petraea (A. Musil 1906)

This identification was made over a century ago by Alois Musil in his Karte Von Arabia Petraea who was told that the northern cliff face of Wadi el-Marra (i.e. Nahal Zin) was called Jebel Halaq by the local population. Since "jebel" means "mountain" in Arabic and the second part of the name is identical to the biblical place name, this identification was generally accepted. However, since the early cartographic projects did not cover the Negev Highlands (e.g., the Survey of Western Palestine, Van De Velde's Map) most are unaware of this connection and its implications for biblical geography. Mount Halak is mentioned twice in the book of Joshua, in both cases it is within a north-south boundary description describing the territory that Joshua conquered.
“So Joshua took all that land, the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. And he captured all their kings and struck them and put them to death. Joshua made war a long time with all those kings.” (Josh. 11:16–18 ESV) 
“And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, that rises toward Seir” (Joshua 12:7 ESV)

Aerial view of Nahal Zin with view of Mount Halak (Jebel Halaq), photo by Bill Schlegel

Jebel Halaq faces towards southern Jordan and the mountains of Edom (i.e. Mt. Seir), which matches the passages from Joshua. When we add Mount Halak (Jebel Halaq) to the accepted identifications of Tamar (En-Hazeva), the Ascent of Akkrabim (Roman road west of Tamar rising to Mamshit), and Kadesh-barnea (Ein el-Qudeirat), it is clear that the various boundary descriptions were describing the same border, which they demarcated using various topographical features (oases, mountains, and natural roads). 

For those who visit the Nahal Zin/Ein Avdat, Mount Halak (Jebel Halaq) can be seen either on the bus ride down to the hike or at the Ben-Gurion tomb, which overlooks the Nahal Zin. Be sure to look that way next time you make it down there!

Ben-Gurion tombs with Nahal Zin and Mount Halak in background

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