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What’s a Wadi?

by  Dr. John DeLancey

Israel’s geography is incredibly unique.  In this relatively small country (about the size of New Jersey), Israel has about a dozen different regions, all of which are different from the other.  These regions are characterized by either mountains, hills, passes, and valley.  Yet some of these regions (e.g. the Negev and the Judean Wilderness) have river beds called wadis. 

Wadi is an Arabic word that describes, generally speaking, a dry river bed.  The Hebrew word for the same phenomena is nahal.  The word occurs in the Bible 11 times (according to the translation. See Numbers 21:12Numbers 34:5Joshua 15:4,Joshua 15:471 Kings 8:65, 2 Kings 24:7, 2 Chronicles 7:8, Job 6:15, Isaiah 27:12, Ezekiel 47:19, and Ezekiel 48:28)  While other neighboring Middle Eastern countries also have wadis, these river beds can occasionally be filled with water, even though most wadis are located in arid or even desert regions.  When wadis rage with water, they can be quite dangerous.

Some of the most “known” wadis in Israel are the Wadi Qelt (between Jerusalem and Jericho), Wadi Engedi (along the Dead Sea), Wadi Kidron (also along the Dead Sea. The Kidron actually begins in Jerusalem and flows eastward), and Wadi Zin (located in the Negev).

Here is a dramatic video of a “flash flood” wadi flowing suddenly with runoff rain water. It is quite incredible!