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Masada Cistern

IMG_2196 copy While cisterns like those at Beit Guvrin could serve a household, others were built to store water for communities, like Herod the Great’s colossal cisterns atop Masada.  Living waters and wells are preferable, because the cistern catches and holds runoff from the rains.  This can grow rather unpleasant as all the filth of the land can wash in, creating the deep sludge in which Jeremiah found himself sinking in Jeremiah 38.

Meresha Cistern

IMG_3203 copy In the land of Israel, water is a precious commodity and there are three main sources: living water (springs and rivers), wells, and cisterns. Cisterns were especially common in the Shephelah, where the chalk allowed easy digging.  Some cisterns, like this one at Beit Guvrin (Mareshah) could belong to several families, while smaller ones may provide for a single household.

Negev Desert Cistern

4_Negev_DesertCistern The desert does not necessarily have to be deadly, if you know how to survive in it.  Water is of primary importance, and so wells and cisterns, or pits dug to catch water, are of primary importance.  The first-century Arabs of the Negev, the Nabateans, knew this, and built cisterns throughout the Southern Highlands.  Desert creatures like camels and wild donkeys still come to these cisterns for water today.

Beersheba Water System

4_Beersheba_Cistern Access to water was a primary concern in any Israelite city, but particularly so in the arid regions to the south and east.  Not only must the people ensure they had ample water to sustain them through the dry months between April and September, but also protect their supply from enemies during the age of siege warfare.  Water systems, such as this one at Beersheba, solved both problems.  These steps within the city walls lead down to a series of subterranean cisterns, which collected both ground water and overflow from the nearby wadi.