the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Hebrew Marah', מָרָה ,: bitterness, from the taste of the water; Sept. Μεῤῥᾶ, Πικρία , Vulg. Mara), a brackish fountain, forming the sixth station of the Israelites, three days distant from their passage across the Red Sea (Exodus 15:33; Numbers 23:8). Finding here a well so bitter that, thirsty as they were, they could not drink its water, they murmured against Moses, who at the divine direction cast in "a certain tree," by which means it was made palatable. "It has been suggested (Burckhardt, Syria, p. 474) that Moses made use of the berries of the plant Ghurkud (Robinson says [i. 26] the Peganum retusum of Forskal, Flora Egy. Arab. p. lxvi; more correctly, the Nitraria tridentata of Desfontaines, Flora Atlant. 1:372), and which still, it is implied, would be found to operate similarly. Robinson, however (1:67), could not find that this or any tree was now known by the Arabs to possess such properties; nor would those berries, he says, have been found so early in the season as the time when the Israelites reached the region. It may be added that, had any such resource ever existed, its eminent usefulness to the supply of human wants would hardly have let it perish from the traditions of the desert. Further, the expression ‘ the Lord showed' seems surely to imply the miraculous character of the transaction." With regard to the cure of the water, it has been well argued (Kitto, Pictorial History of Palestine, p. 209) that no explanation of the phenomena on natural grounds has proved consistent or satisfactory; neither is there any tree in that region or elsewhere now known which possesses such virtue in itself, or which is used for a similar purpose by the Arabs. We are therefore compelled to conclude, as, indeed, the narrative spontaneously suggests, that the shrub selected was indifferent, being one nearest at hand, and that the restorative property ceased with the special occasion which had called for its exercise, leaving the well to resume its acrid taste as at present found.
The name Marah, in the form of Anmarah, is now borne by the barren bed of a winter torrent, a little beyond which is still found a well called Howarah, the bitter waters of which answer to this description. Camels will drink it, but the thirsty Arabs never partake of it themselves — and it is said to be the only water on the shore of the Red Sea which they cannot drink. The water of this well, when first taken into the mouth, seems insipid rather than bitter, but when held in the mouth a few seconds it becomes exceedingly nauseous. The well rises within an elevated mound surrounded by sand-hills, and two small date-trees grow near it. The basin is six or eight feet in diameter, and the water about two feet deep. (See Burckhardt, Trav. in Syria, p. 472, Robinson, Researches, 1:96 sq.; Bartlett, Forty Days in the Desert, p. 30; and other travelers.) "Winer says (Handwb. s.v.) that a still bitterer well lies east of Marah, the claims of which Tischendorf, it appears, has supported. Lepsius prefers wady Ghü rundel. Prof. Stanley thinks that the claim may be left between this and Howarah, but adds in a note a mention of a spring south of Howarah ‘ so bitter that neither men nor camels could drink it,' of which ‘ Dr. Graul (2:254) was told.' The Ayouni Motlsal, ‘ wells of Moses,' which local tradition assigns to Marah, are manifestly too close to the head of the gulf, and probable spot of crossing it, to suit the distance of ‘ three days' journey.' The soil of this region is described as being alternately gravelly, stony, and sandy; under the range of the Gebel Wardan chalk and flints are plentiful, and on the direct line of route between Ayoun Mousa and Howarah no water is found (Robinson, 1:67)." (See EXODE).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Marah'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​m/marah.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.