Mark Wilson March 14th, 2012
MITZPE RAMON–Three times we cross Nahal Zin (or Wadi Zin) on our way to Makhtesh Gadol from Mitzpe Ramon. Nahal Zin is an intermittent stream, meaning it is dry most of the time, but during the rainy season can have a considerable flow, even to the point of flooding. I’ve always seen it bone dry. Nahal Zin is 120 kilometers long with impressive canyons in its upper region and meandering channels in its lower parts. It is the largest wadi that begins in the Negev.
The significance of Nahal Zin is that it is the defining feature of the “Wilderness of Zin” from biblical times. There is still some dispute about its location among biblical enthusiasts, but experts agree that it is essentially the northern portion of the Negev. The passions among the amateurs have much to do with the historicity of the Exodus events. This region was explored by T.E. Lawrence just before he became Lawrence of Arabia.
Google map image of Wadi Zin near Avdat. The red asterisks mark where it crosses Highway 40.
The Wilderness of Zin was on the southern border of Judah and is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible. Here are three:
“So they went up, and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, to the entrance of Hamath.” (Numbers 13:21)
“The children of Israel, even the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.” (Numbers 20:1)
“The lot for the tribe of the children of Judah according to their families was to the border of Edom, even to the wilderness of Zin southward, at the uttermost part of the south.” (Joshua 15:1)
During our work in the Negev we do not usually see much of biblical relevance, so living and working in the Wilderness of Zin reminds us of just how deep the human history here runs.