Oil Soon to be Discovered in Israel
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1981
Edited by David Sielaff, May 2007
Dateline: Jerusalem, Israel (February 1981). 1
There can hardly be a doubt that the nation of Israel is sitting astride great quantities of petroleum. It is there waiting to be found! There are several reasons for believing this. For one, prophecies in the Bible show that Israel is destined to become a powerful force in the Middle East before the establishment of the Millennium (Zechariah chapters 11–14). In order to do this, the nation has to greatly increase its economic position. This will occur! In fact, Jerusalem is prophesied to be a major capital of the world just before Christ’s Second Advent. The discovery of oil in Israel could help the fulfillment of these prophecies.
There are also physical reasons to believe that oil is in this area. The Bible said the land was full of iron and brass (Deuteronomy 8:9). This was to help make Israel powerful among the nations. “He made him ride on the high places of the earth” (Deuteronomy 32:13). It said also “he made him suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.” This last reference is normally interpreted as applying to olive trees that were found on the rocky landscapes. True, it could have that meaning, but the word “oil” in Hebrew also means any kind of oily substance — be it animal, vegetable, or mineral. Interestingly, this verse could equally refer to oil that comes directly from rock. And what does our word petroleum mean? It means exactly that! It signifies oil from rock — or “rock oil.”
Up to now there has been little petroleum found here in the Holy Land, but the ancient sources going back to the time of Christ (and earlier) suggest that it is there. Strabo the Greek geographer who lived during the time of the early years of Christ said that near the area of Masada (on the western edge of the Dead Sea) liquid pitch could be observed dropping out of the rocks. 2 Not only that, he said that from the Dead Sea itself vapors arose that ignited very easily. Strabo referred to the traditional story of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed by fire, and even in his day the evidences of that conflagration were still to be seen.
There were formerly “slime pits” all around the Dead Sea region (Genesis 14:10). This shows the presence of hydrocarbons — the substance of petroleum. And even as late as the time of Christ, fires were often seen in the area. “This country is full of fire” (Strabo, Geography, Book XVI, 2, 44). In early days it was commonly reported by travelers to the Dead Sea that smoke and fires could be seen coming from the midst of the lake at various times, but in the last two hundred years this phenomenon has not been witnessed (M’Clintock & Strong, Cyclopaedia, vol. 1, p. 474). It may be that some blockage of the fissures could be preventing the escape of these underground hydrocarbons. A major earthquake in the region might possibly restore them to their active stage once again.
It is also remarkable that some of the same words that the ancient authors Strabo and Pliny used to describe southern Babylonia (and the gases and oil that were there) are the same ones they associated with the area of the Dead Sea. It could well be that drilling in that region (especially in the northern parts) could discover that oil. There is, however, a difficulty with that location. It is in disputed territory — a part of the occupied West Bank. It would be politically (at the present) almost impossible to use the oil even if it were found in that area. This is why no attempt to discover petroleum in that region has been made, to our knowledge. 3
But just today, I bought the newspaper The Jerusalem Post for February 19, 1981 (read it at the end of this article). It had an article about the theories of a former head of the geology department at Hebrew University. Professor Raphael Freund, who died about a year ago, said that vast quantities of oil are just waiting to be found here in Israel. He has designated two areas where petroleum is likely to be discovered. (Only the Israeli government and some close colleagues of Professor Freund know where these areas are that he selected.) The reason the oil has not yet been located, according to Freund, is because scientists have been using wrong discovery techniques. But the oil is there! And he said it would be found within the boundaries of Israel as they existed before the 1967 war. If oil is discovered in those undisputed areas, it could mean a real boon to the economy of Israel. They could well be independent of other nations for energy supplies in the next few years. 4
Of course, the Israeli government is not disclosing the two regions suggested by Professor Freund, but the Bible and other ancient sources could show the likely places where petroleum might be found.
Let me tell you a story that is found in a historical document written about a hundred years before the birth of Christ. It is in what is known as the Apocrypha — in 2 Maccabees 1:18–36. It is most informative. Though parts of the account are a little garbled, a reasonable story can be made out of it.
It concerns a letter that was written by the Jews in Jerusalem to Jews who were living in Alexandria, Egypt. It relates that their ancestors at the time of the Babylonian captivity (586 B.C.) were told by Jeremiah the prophet to hide some of the “fire” of the altar before the destruction of the temple. This hiding was supposed, in some manner, to preserve the “fire” for use on a future altar in a rebuilt temple. Jeremiah instructed some of the priests to take portions of the holy “fire” and hide them in a safe (and secret) place. They searched out and finally found a hollow cavern that went rather deeply into the earth. It was a very deep, but dry well of some kind. They put the “fire” at the bottom of the pit and then closed up the entrance so that no one would know its whereabouts.
Many years later, after the Babylonian captivity was over, Nehemiah (who knew of the account) ordered the priests of his time to rescue the “fire” and bring it again to the new temple. When the priests got to the place and uncovered the entrance, they lowered themselves into the bottom parts. There was, however, no “fire” to be found. Instead, they discovered something of a thick watery substance. They brought out some and took it to Nehemiah. Nehemiah put wood on the altar and then soaked the wood with this thick liquid. When the morning sun came out, the heat caught hold of the liquid (this is what the text says) and it was set alight into a violent blaze. They also put the watery substance on the stones surrounding the altar; a great fire immediately erupted there as well.
Now, what would we moderns call this liquid? Nehemiah named it “nephthar” — meaning purification — but he said most people called it “nephi” (naphtha). This was the ancient name for petroleum. The truth is, those priests who went to the bottom of that deep hollow cavern had discovered oil! And, that oil continued to seep upwards for a long time afterwards with much revenue derived from its use. The King of Persia even had the area enclosed by walls and established it as a holy temple — a place sacred to the Persian religion. Fire played a major part in their worship.
Where was this cavern that gave forth those great quantities of highly flammable “water”? No one can pinpoint the area with accuracy. A later tradition said it was the EnRogel spring a few yards south and east of Jerusalem. But this could not possibly be right. That spring is a fresh water source, and in no way does the account in 2 Maccabees fit that location. A better clue is to know the direction towards which the priests went in order to hide the “fire” of the altar. The record suggests they hid it when they were on their journey towards Persia and Babylon from Jerusalem.
In Jeremiah chapter 39 it says that the captives of Jerusalem, including Jeremiah himself (who was also a priest), were sent northward along the road from Jerusalem to Ramah. From there they could then have gone east to the Jordan, or west to the Sharon plains and the international highway between Egypt and Babylon, or straight on north towards Shechem. No one knows which way they went. However, we might have a little more help in locating the region where the priests hid the “fire.” It may have been near Mount Carmel.
Look at the account of Elijah on Mount Carmel when he confronted the false prophets. Remember how the prophets of Baal cried from morning to late afternoon asking for Baal to consume the animals on their altar but nothing happened (1 Kings chapter 18). Then, Elijah came along, built an altar, put the wood and sacrifices on it, dug a trench around its base, and three times took quantities of water and poured it over the wood on the altar and in the trench around. The Bible then says that fire came down from heaven and consumed the wood, the sacrifices, and even caused the water around the altar to be set alight.
This was a miracle! There is no doubt that this is what the author of Kings was trying to show. But the scene is so similar to that of Nehemiah when he placed the “thick water” (the original language called Nehemiah’s petroleum “water”) on the altar. Elijah also had some water drawn from a nearby source. And from our modern experience with petroleum (which can appear as “thick water”), the story of Elijah’s encounter with a blazing fire on his altar could easily he understood today. If one of us in the twentieth century built an altar, put wood and animal sacrifices on it, dug a trench around its base and put three barrels of petroleum over the altar and in a trench, what do you suppose would happen to that “water” if a flint spark were someway applied to it? You would have exactly the phenomenon described in I Kings chapter 18!
[Of course, it is biblically illegal to offer sacrifices today, but we all know precisely what would happen if petroleum were set alight on such an altar.]
Now, am I saying dogmatically that Elijah’s “water” was petroleum that could have come from some seepage (or from a cavern) near Mount Carmel? No, I am not! But Nehemiah’s “water” in 2 Maccabees was clearly petroleum (and his altar was set ablaze by it). Could the “water” that Elijah used be the same thing?
In both accounts the word “water” was described as the liquid being used. The ancients were not as scientifically accurate in their descriptions of things as we are today. That “water” could have been petroleum! Indeed, it could even be understood that Nehemiah’s cavern (which became a holy place of the Persians) was somewhere in the Mount Carmel range. The whole area around Carmel has over two thousand caves.
The eastern part is where the international highway from Egypt and Southern Palestine to Persia and Babylon had its location. The priests who hid the “fire” could have been going north on or near that road. In fact, this is the region near the place which the Book of Revelation calls Armageddon. Carmel was also anciently noted as being a holy area to many nations. It is well within reason that the Persians could have raised up a sanctuary over the well of oil somewhere near the spot.
Actually, one of the towns in the immediate area of Carmel was called in the time of Christ the name Acbatana — a simple variant of Ecbatana, one of the ancient capitals of Persia. Ecbatana was also a place where petroleum was found and where Persians had their holy temples. It may well be that Nehemiah’s source of petroleum was located somewhere in or near the Carmel range not far from the Valley of Megiddo or Armageddon.
It is well known that biblical prophecy shows the nations of the world gathering at Armageddon just before Christ’s Second Advent. Are there other reasons than geographical or military which make the area important for such armies to assemble? Strategic oil reserves could be discovered in the region.
There are other reasons to believe the importance of the area. The Carmel range of mountains (about thirty miles long from modern Haifa southeastwards to Jenin) represented the southern borders of the Israelite tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Issachar. Moses gave some very interesting prophecies about this area that were to take effect in later days. Notice the prophecy concerning Asher.
“And of Asher he said, ‘Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil. Your shoes shall be iron and brass; and as your days, so shall your strength be.’”
The tribe of Asher had Mount Carmel as its southern boundary. The tribe was located on the Mediterranean Sea and extended up to Lebanon. The prophecy said his feet were to be bathed in oil. This oil is normally interpreted as being olive oil. Fine, it could well be that. However, the word “oil” in Hebrew can mean any kind of fatty substance — animal, vegetable, or mineral. Moses could have been saying that the area where Asher had his feet — the region of the Carmel ridge — would produce some kind of oil that would make the area of Asher a great blessing to all Israel. Could this be a veiled hint that in the latter days, the region of the Carmel ridge could well bring forth “oil” in great abundance?
Coupled with this we have the blessing given to the other two tribes of Zebulun and Issachar. Look at it:
“And of Zebulun he said, ‘Rejoice Zebulun, in your going out; and, Issachar, in your tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain [probably, in this case, Mount Carmel]; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness [as Elijah did]: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand.”
Some have thought the “treasures hid in sand” to be glass. Maybe, but does one think of glass as bestowing treasures — great riches? Again, we admit this is interpretation of highly symbolic language, but this may be the very point that needs to be made. God could well be hiding his secrets in such symbolic language.
Could the area of Mount Carmel and the region near the Carmel ridge have great treasures that will come forth from the sands? Could it involve “oil out of the flinty rock?” The oil might well extend out into the coastal shelf west of Carmel. After all, those treasures, according to Moses, were also to come from the sea (Deuteronomy 33:19). Petroleum has been found in other coastal areas of the world. It may well be the same case in Palestine.
Of course, we may be wrong (because we realize that the interpretation of prophetic verses is speculative), but there seems enough evidence from history and prophecy that the region near Armageddon along the Carmel ridge is a most likely spot for the discovery of petroleum. We will have to wait and see if this is true — and I do not think we will have to wait too long. We would suggest that this is one of the prime areas that should be investigated.
The second region is south of Jerusalem — from Arad towards the Dead Sea. We already mentioned that Strabo, the Greek geographer of Christ’s time, said that liquid pitch (petroleum) was, in his time, seeping from the rocks around the area of Masada. This region is also within the pre-1967 borders of Israel and an area that would be politically acceptable for the production of oil — if it is discovered in the area. Already around the site of Arad (about 40 miles south of Jerusalem) natural gas has been found. There may be petroleum as well.
Whatever the case, the Bible says that Israel is yet to ride the high places of the earth. Something is going to happen that will establish them economically in a secure position. The region of Palestine is yet to play a significant role in the history of the world. And this is to occur before the Second Advent of Christ back to this earth. Let us keep our eyes attentively to what is happening here in Jerusalem, and all The Middle East. This is the region that prophecies of the Bible speak about the most. And we think we will have but a short time to see many important things beginning to occur.
We believe that God is about ready to show the world how important the information in the Bible really is. Not only does it have a spiritual message for the welfare of all humanity. but it may well be one of the prime sources to show Israel where vast quantities of petroleum are located. One of these days it will be discovered that the Bible is one of the most up-to-date books in the world. And it won’t be long before all of us find it out!
Ernest L. Martin, 1981
Edited by David Sielaff, May 2007
February 19, 1981
The Jerusalem Post
Theories of Hebrew U. geology professor promise oil finds
By YITZHAK OKED
TEL AVIV -- A controversial theory on oil exploration will be checked out soon, with the possibility of Israel finally hitting a bonanza. The theory is that of Prof. Raphael Freund, former head of the Hebrew University geology department, who died a year ago at the age of 47.
Before his death, he had come to the conclusion that oil in great quantities had not been found till now because prospecting was done according to theories that might be suitable for other countries, but not for Israel.
Before his death Freund tried to persuade the government to explore according to his theory, saying that he had pinpointed two areas which offered great prospects. His only condition was that he be paid one per cent royalty if oil was found'.
Explorations have not yet been started and no agreement has been signed with Freund's heirs because there is disagreement whether royalties should be one per cent gross or net.
According to Freund's wish his papers, including the one that pinpointed the spots he believed most promising, were given for safekeeping to lawyer Yosef Yeshurun, an old childhood friend. During the past year negotiations have been going on at a slow pace. Only after the intervention of several cabinet ministers is an agreement in sight now.
Elazar' Barak, the managing director of the Israel National Oil Company (INOC), recently declined to comment on the matter, since no agreement had been signed yet. He did say, however, that after the signing and after drilling was started it would take about a year to prove or disprove the professor's theories.
Lawyer Yeshurun, though unwilling to disclose the likely drilling sites, did say that they were within the "Green Line." He also said that agreement on the royalty question was imminent.
In an interview before his death, Prof. Freund told The Jerusalem Post's David Krivine, that the country is perched on top of a massive layer of rock, extending from the central Negev northward. Because of the Syrian-African Rift and the Mediterranean sea, the oil deposit layers had dropped down to a depth of 2.5 kilometers and been covered by younger layers.
Freund in interviews had said that the chances of finding oil in Israel were no less than those of finding it in Libya, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Iran. He had pointed out that in Iraq it took 15 years before the right layers were hit.
The royalty will be split in three. One third will go to the Hebrew University's Yesum Company. Another third will go for a research fund in the name of Prof. Freund, and the remaining third will go to his heirs.
1 Dr. Martin originally wrote this article from Jerusalem, hence the byline. DWS
2 Strabo, Geography, Book XVI, 2, 43–44, speaking of the Dead Sea and surrounding areas:
“… the source of the fire is in the centre, and the greater part of the asphaltus [asphalt, which comes from petroleum] comes from thence. The bubbling up, however, of the asphaltus is irregular, because the motion of fire, like that of many other vapours, has no odor perceptible to observers. There are also phenomena of this kind at Apollonia in Epirus.
Many other proofs are produced to show that this country is full of fire. Near Moasada [known as Masada today] are to be seen rugged rocks, bearing the marks of fire; fissures in many places; a soil like ashes; pitch falling in drops from the rocks; rivers boiling up, and emitting a fetid odor to a great distance; dwellings in every direction overthrown; whence we are inclined to believe the common tradition of the natives, that thirteen cities once existed there, the capital of which was Sodom, but that a circuit of about 60 stadia around it escaped uninjured; shocks of earthquakes, however, eruptions of flames and hot springs, containing asphaltus and sulphur, caused the lake to burst its bounds, and the rocks took fire; some of the cities were swallowed up, others were abandoned by such of the inhabitants as were able to make their escape.” DWS
3 As of 1981. DWS
government is soon to test out the theories of Professor Freund, and within a
year after exploration starts, they should know if he was correct. ELM
While Dr. Martin believed it would be found soon, that was not the case — yet. DWS
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