Water (מַ֫יִם, H4784; ὕδωρ, G5623), a liquid compound of hydrogen and oxygen (H2O) which is convertible by heat to steam and by removal of heat (cold) to ice. Most water is derived directly from the ocean by evaporation. It condenses to form clouds and is precipitated, as rain, snow or hail, on the earth’s surface where it either runs into rivers, lakes, etc. or sinks into the ground. Here some is used by plant life as an essential support, but much forms underground water which may reappear in springs, be brought to the surface from wells, or return to the sea.
Naturally occurring waters contain impurities in varying degrees. During the process of evaporation, the salts in the ocean are left behind but rain water acquires traces of ammonium salts and various gasses from the air. In mountainous districts lake and river water is relatively pure, but running water progressively dissolves salts and picks up suspended mineral or vegetable matter. Where the surface drainage pattern ends in an inland lake, such as the Dead Sea, the proportion of salts in the water progressively increases as evaporation takes place. Underground waters are generally clear and free from suspended matter having been filtered by the rock strata (aquifers) through which they flow. However, during their passage through rock strata they may dissolve considerable quantities of mineral salts, particularly in limestone regions where solution caves (q.v.) are formed. Some mineral salts, particularly magnesian salts, make the water unfit for consumption by humans or animals; in many cases such water has a bitter taste. Other underground water contains little dissolved material (cf.
The availability of water has been at the heart of the constant conflict, throughout the history of the Near East, of the tillers of ground and keepers of sheep (cf.
Not only inland water but also the adjacent seas have been important. Much of the rain precipitated on the Holy Lands is water evaporated from the , a mass of water which played an important role in trade (e.g. the Phoenicians) and transport (
Rainfall, evaporation, run-off and infiltration
The prevailing westerly winds (
A large proportion of the rain evaporates with humidities on the East bank of the
The catchments for underground water as well as underground water conditions, including emergence as springs and supply in wells, are almost entirely dependent upon geological factors. These include the porosity and permeability of strata, the location of strata that form aquifers, the juxtaposition of aquifers and aquicludes (formations that do not transmit water), the inclination of the strata and the existence of structural features such as folds and faults. Much of the water that infiltrates the soil and surface rocks seeps downward to a zone where the rocks are saturated with water. The upper surface of this saturated zone is called the water table and its height at any place is given by the level at which water stands in a well there.
There are two main groups of underground water in the Holy Lands, these being the underground water in the permeable sections of the folded and faulted hill regions and that in the sediments of the main plains. In the hilly country, such as much of Judea, Samaria and Galilee, underground water is generally at a considerable depth below the surface, but the water table undulates. Where it meets the surface in the valley districts between the higher terrain, ground water emerges as springs (
In some cases underground water may travel for tens of m. before emerging as springs. This is the case for the relatively few and important watering places in the Southern Desert between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. The water mainly infiltrates sandstone aquifers below wadis during periodic floods and then travels large distances underground.
The nature of the aquifers varies from place to place dependent upon the regional geology. However, the main sources of water on the Coastal Plain of Pal. are sandstones overlying clay beds, while the main sources of underground water in both Israel and Jordan are limestone bands in the Judean Limestone (stones, q.v.). The interbedded marls act as aquicludes preventing further downward migration of the ground water and forcing it to issue as springs. In southern Syria basalt lava flows are good aquifers and from them issue the springs that feed the Yarmuk River. In the southern desert, between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, sandstones act as aquifers for the little water available, e.g. the Ram Spring, while at Petra a shale acts as an impermeable bed giving rise to a small spring.
Jordan drainage system
The Jordan River, its tributaries, Lake Tiberias and the Dead Sea constitute the major surface drainage system of the Holy Lands. The Jordan River has two main sources. One is near Banias (Caesarea-Philippi;
Lake Tiberias, which is twelve m. long and up to seven m. across, also exists because of the damming of the Jordan River by volcanic rock while there are hot springs containing chlorides and sulphides near its shores. Its Old Testament name, Sea of Kinneret or Chinnereth results from its harplike shape.
The Jordan River S of Lake Tiberias becomes muddy and twists for more than 180 m. along its valley floor in traversing the 60 m. to the Dead Sea, with the base dropping only 900 ft. in that distance. In flood it fills its flood plain but in the summer it is less than 100 ft. wide and three feet deep in some places, and it has been known to have been blocked by rockfalls near Adam about twenty-four m. N of its entrance into the Dead Sea. This is prob. related to the earthquake (q.v.) activity which is common along the length of the rift valley in which the river flows and would account for the dry passage of the Israelites under Joshua (
The Dead Sea, also referred to as the “Salt Sea” (
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(1) The Greek philosophers believed water to be the original substance and that all things were made from it. The Koran states, "From water we have made all things." In the story of the creation (
(2) Because of the scarcity of water in Palestine it is especially appreciated by the people there. They love to go and sit by a stream of running water. Men long for a taste of the water of their native village (
(3) The rainfall is the only source of supply of water for Palestine. The moisture is carried up from the sea in clouds and falls on the hills as rain or snow. This supplies the springs and fountains. The rivers are mostly small and have little or no water in summer. For the most part springs supply the villages, but in case this is not sufficient, cisterns are used. Most of the rain falls on the western slopes of the mountains, and most of the springs are found there. The limestone in many places does not hold the water, so wells are not very common, though there are many references to them in the Bible.
(4) Cisterns are usually on the surface of the ground and vary greatly in size. Jerusalem has always had to depend for the most part on water stored in this way, and carried to the city in aqueducts. A large number of cisterns have been found and partially explored under the temple-area itself. The water stored in the cisterns is surface water, and is a great menace to the health of the people. During the long, dry summer the water gets less and less, and becomes so stagnant and filthy that it is not fit to drink. In a few instances the cisterns or pools are sufficiently large to supply water for limited irrigation.
(5) During the summer when there is no rain, vegetation is greatly helped by the heavy dews. A considerable amount of irrigation is carried on in the country where there is sufficient water in the fountains and springs for the purpose. There was doubtless much more of it in the Roman period. Most of the fruit trees require water during the summer.
(6) Many particular wells or pools are mentioned in the Bible, as: Beersheba (
(8) The lack of water caused great suffering (
See also FOUNew TestamentAIN; PIT; POOL; SPRING; WELL.