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L A N D a n d T I M E
Climate and Fauna

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The habitable portion of the southern Levant is small but exceedingly diverse. From mountain peaks to the lowest point on the earth, from abundant rainfall to arid desert, the land includes a wide range of habitats. The peak of Mt. Hermon is more than 9,000 feet (2800 m) above sea level, while the Dead Sea is the lowest point on the earth's surface more than 1,300 feet (390 m) below sea level.

The climatic variations are largely due to it being a land hemmed in between the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Arabian desert to the east. Summers are hot and dry; most precipitation occurs during the relatively cool winters.

The dry areas approach desert conditions and can receive as little as 2 inches of rainfall per year. Apart from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River valley, there are few lakes or rivers. Most water is found in springs that break through the limestone bedrock covering most of the region.

The more humid areas have a mild Mediterranean climate, such as is found in Greece and Italy. These areas receive between 12 and 40 inches of rain per year.

The natural vegetation originally consisted of dense oak, pistachio and pine tree forests. Wild wheat, barley and olive trees were also native to this area. Over the millennia, human beings have brought about dramatic changes in the environment. By 8,500 years ago, human intervention had led to plant domestication and by 5,000 years ago, deforestation was well underway.

A great variety of animals are known from the Levant and among them are about 100 species of mammals and almost 500 species of birds. Many of the "wild beasts of the forest" mentioned in the Bible no longer exist today as a result of intensive hunting. Among these animals are the lion, bear, antelope, wild ox, Mesopotamian fallow deer, ostrich, crocodile and hippopotamus. Domesticated animals from the area include the horse, donkey, goat, sheep, pig and cattle.

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