Thursday 7 March 2013

Wadi Hariton

Wadi Hariton

John Lian, Finansius, Luca, Clarence

The wadi again
Another extraordinary 'rusticatio' today, this time to Wadi Hariton (or Kharitoun), named after the famous St Chariton, founder of the first laura in Palestine.

Wadi Hariton is the most famous wadi in the Judean desert. It is 40 kms long, beginning from the Pools of Solomon in Bethlehem, and ending in a delta in the Dead Sea. Till the British Mandate, it had water all the year round. Herod the Great with the help of the Tenth Legion 'Fretensis' had constructed many aqueducts along the course.

We read from Is 35, Jer 2:2-3, and Hos 2:16-17 (I will bring her into the wilderness). The desert and the covenant, especially the matrimonial covenant, are very much connected in the thinking of Israel. This is not surprising, seeing that Israel was formed in the desert.

The Wadi has seen human life since the early Palaeolithic Age. The most important of the caves in this regard - dating back from 400,000 years - are the Erk al Ahmar, the Umm Qatafa, the Umm Qala, the Chresmastos, and the Labyrinth. Umm Qatafa was the place where the very earliest evidence of fire has been discovered. Human beings had already made flint weapons, and fire was produced by striking two flints. In other caves, evidence of art and sewing have also been found. In fact, the Neolithic period is divided into the pre-ceramic and the post-ceramic.

One of the highlights of the rusticatio was the visit to the Labyrinth. This cave is some 2000 metres long, but we did probably only about less than half, and even so at some points we had to literally crawl on our bellies - except for, that is, the chaps from North East India and Myanmar who seemed to just crawl through on their knees without any difficulty and without a spot of dust on their shirts.

The gundelia tournaforte is found in great abundance along its slopes. This plant is particularly important and famous because its flowers occur on the Shroud of Turin, and because the combination of gundelia and zigophyllum is to be found only in and around Jerusalem, and nowhere else in the whole world, so that the man of the Shroud was certainly buried in Jerusalem - all this according to the Jewish professor Avinoam D. The gundelia flowers only from February to May, and Jesus died in the early part of April, 7 April according to Vernet. We unfortunately were able to see only a few specimens that were beginning to flower. (The zigophyllum is a bush, about a metre high, covered with a thin down, a bush that can survive upto 250 years, and in conditions of great aridity. It is found in South East Israel, in the Negev and in Sinai. It therefore approaches Jerusalem from the West, while the gundelia approaches Jerusalem from the East. They meet, therefore, along the Jerusalem ridge.)

The personages associated with Wadi Hariton are David, the prophet Amos (his Tekoa is not the modern settlement on the hill, but 5 kms away to the south), and St Chariton.

St Chariton was from Iconium, converted to Christianity, and suffered persecution under the emperor Aurelian. He did not die, however, but was eventually released, under the emperor Tacitus. He was allowed to journey to Jerusalem. On the way, he was beset by robbers, who left him bound in their cave in the Wadi Phara. Here again he was saved, and decided to live a life of asceticism in the Robber's Cave. This became the first laura in Palestine. Eventually he founded a second one on the Mount of Temptation, the Douka, and a third one in Wadi Hariton, the Souka. He returned to Wadi Phara, died and was buried there. Chariton was a contemporary of St Anthony of the Desert. Laura means 'narrow way' - somewhat like the course of the wadi. The monks lived in caves, and met saturdays and sundays to celebrate the liturgy, to eat together (convivium), to hand over their work, and to receive material for more work. They produced ropes, baskets and carpets, which the one in charge of the economy sold in Bethlehem. 

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