Wadi Mujib near Dhiban, looking southwest
|Nearest city||Dead Sea|
|Area||212 square kilometres (81.9 sq mi)|
|Governing body||Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature|
Wadi Mujib, historically known as Arnon, is a gorge in Jordan which enters the Dead Sea at 410 metres (1,350 ft) below sea level. The Mujib Reserve of Wadi Mujib is located in the mountainous landscape to the east of the Dead Sea, approximately 90 km south of Amman. The 220-square-kilometre (85 sq mi) reserve was created in 1987 by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature and is regionally and internationally important, particularly for the bird life that the reserve supports. It extends to the Kerak and Madaba mountains to the north and south, reaching 900 metres (3,000 ft) above sea level in some places. This 1,300-metre (4,300 ft) variation in elevation, combined with the valley's year round water flow from seven tributaries, means that Wadi Mujib enjoys a magnificent biodiversity that is still being explored and documented today. Over 300 species of plants, 10 species of carnivores and numerous species of permanent and migratory birds have been recorded until this date. Some of the remote mountain and valley areas are difficult to reach, and thus offer safe havens for rare species of cats, goats and other mountain animals.
Geography of Mujib
During the last Ice Age the water level of the Dead Sea reached 180 metres (590 ft) below sea level, about 230 metres (750 ft) higher than it is today. It flooded the lower areas of the canyons along its banks, which became bays and begun to accumulate sediments. As the climatic conditions changed, about 20,000 years ago, the water level of the lake dropped, leaving the re-emergent canyons blocked with lake marl. Most canyons managed to cut through their plugged outlets and to resume their lower courses. However, Wadi Mujib, the biblical Arnon River, abandoned its former outlet by breaking through a cleft in the sandstone. This narrow cleft became the bottleneck of an enormously large drainage basin with a huge discharge. During the years the cleft was scoured deeper and the gorge of Wadi Mujib was formed.
The Mujib reserve consists of mountainous, rocky, and sparsely vegetated desert (up to 800 m), with cliffs, gorges and deep wadis cutting through plateaus. Perennial, spring-fed streams flow down the wadis to the shores of the Dead Sea which lies 400 metres (1,300 ft) below sea-level.
The slopes of the mountainous land are very sparsely vegetated, with a steppe-type vegetation on plateaus. Groundwater seepage does occur in places along the Dead Sea shore, for example at the hot springs of Zara, which support a luxuriant thicket of Acacia, Tamarix, Phoenix and Nerium, and a small marsh. The less severe slopes of the reserve are used by pastoralists for the grazing of sheep and goats.
The Jordanian military have a temporary camp in the south of the reserve.
The Arnon has always been an important boundary-line. Before the Hebrew period it separated, for a time at least, the Moabites from the Amorites (Num. 21:13, 26; Deut. 3:8; Judges 11:18). After the Hebrew settlement it divided, theoretically at least, Moab from the tribes of Reuben and Gad (Deut. 3:12, 16). But in fact Moab lay as much to the north as it did to the south of the Arnon. To the north, for example, were Aroer, Dibon, Medeba, and other Moabite towns. Even under Omri and Ahab, who held part of the Moabite territory, Israel did not hold sway farther south than Ataroth, about ten miles north of the Arnon. Mesha in his inscription (Moabite Stone, line 10) says that the Gadites (not the Reubenites) formerly occupied Ataroth, whence he in turn expelled the people of Israel. He mentions (line 26) his having constructed a road along the Arnon. The ancient importance of the river and of the towns in its vicinity is attested by the numerous ruins of bridges, forts, and buildings found upon or near it. Its fords are alluded to by Isaiah (16:2). Its "heights," crowned with the castles of chiefs, were also celebrated in verse (Num. 21:28).
Bird and Animal Life in Mujib
As well as resident birds, the reserve is strategically important as a safe stop-over for the huge number of birds which fly annually along the rift valley between Africa & northeast Europe. It is possible to see the following birds in Mujib:
- Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus)
- Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus)
- Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus)
- Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes)
- Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni)
- Sooty Falcon (Falco concolor)
- Sand Partridge (Ammoperdix heyi)
- Hume's Owl (Strix butleri)
- Hooded Wheatear (Oenanthe monacha)
- Blackstart (Cercomela melanura)
- Arabian Babbler (Turdoides squamiceps)
- Striolated Bunting (Emberiza striolata)
- Trumpeter Finch (Bucanetes githagineus)
- Dead Sea Sparrow (Passer moabiticus)
- Tristram's Starling (Onychognathus tristramii)
Many carnivores also inhabit the various vegetation zones in Mujib, such as the striped hyena and the Syrian wolf. One of the most important animals in Mujib is the Nubian ibex, a large mountain goat which became threatened as a result of over-hunting.
In Rabbinical literature
The Haggadah tells the following story of a miracle witnessed at the Arnon, which seems to be alluded to in the Bible (Num. 21:14,15). While the Israelites were crossing the deep Arnon valley on the way to the promised land, the Amorites hid in the caves, intending to attack the unsuspecting travelers. But the Ark of the Covenant, which preceded the Israelites, caused the heights to sink and the valley to rise. As a result, the concealed Amorites were crushed in the caves and the Israelites saved from their planned attack. The miracle would have been unnoticed by the Israelites, had not God caused the well which accompanied them to throw up portions of the corpses. At this point the Israelites sang the Song of the Well (Num. 21:17 ff.). In commemoration of this miracle, the Rabbis decided that a special benediction should be uttered upon seeing the Arnon (Ber. 54a ff. Num. R. 19:25; Tan., Ḥuḳḳat., 20.).
This, however, is most likely a later legend based on the following raw materials:
- Num. 21:13 compares the crossing of the Arnon to that of the Red Sea, perhaps implying that the Arnon split for the Israelite passage, like the Red Sea and later the Jordan (Josh. 3:16,17).
- The Song of the Well recalls the victory song over the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Ex. 15). (However, textually, the Song of the Well seems to refer to a miracle in which the Israelites receive water to drink, rather than a victory over the Amorites.)
- Amorite corpses rising up in the well of Be'er are reminiscent of the Egyptians washing ashore the Red Sea (Ex. 14:30).
Arnon as Israeli family name
In contemporary Israel, "Arnon" is a fairly common family name. It is one of a series of family names derived from Biblical geographic locations and which did not exist among Jews before the advent of Zionism. This, like other names of the kind, was often adopted by immigrants bearing a non-Hebrew family name, especially if the original name bore some similarity to "Arnon" (for example, "Ehrenberg"). Hence, Israelis named "Arnon" are not necessarily related to each other.
- The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, Jordan
- Flora and Fauna of Wadi Mujib
- Bird Life of Wadi Mujib