Do the words of Moses hold geological clues?

Dec 04, 2002 01:00 AM

It is an unlikely monument to religious conviction. But the newly erected oil rig is testament to one man’s faith in the Bible to deliver material rather than spiritual riches. The towering rig, which has begun drilling for oil north of the Israeli capital Tel Aviv, is the culmination of a Jewish prospector’s 14-year quest to find oil in the Holy Land -- fuelled by a passage in the Old Testament.
Petroleum geologist Tovia Luskin sold his home in Australia more than a decade ago to begin his hunt for untapped oil reserves thousands of miles away after reading the religious tract. The 51-year-old Russian émigré is convinced that the words of Moses hold geological clues which will allow him to tap in to the huge oil field that provides most of the oil for Israel’s Arab neighbours.

Luskin, whose project has attracted millions of pounds of investment, believes his efforts have finally paid off with the discovery of an "oil and gas accumulation, capable of commercial exploitation". His company, inconsultation with oil industry experts, believes there is an 80 % chance of recovering 65 mm barrels of oil reserves from the site.
Luskin’s eyes light up as he recites the passage from Deuteronomy that convinced him to embark on his quest. "About Joseph, he [Moses] said: ‘May the Lord bless his land with the precious dew from heaven above and with the deep waters that lie below; with the best the sun brings forth and the finest the moon can yield; with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills...’”
Although "choicest gifts of the ancient mountains" may appear a rather oblique reference to oil fields, Luskin’s expert knowledge -- coupled with the interpretation of leading Jewish religious scholars -- convinced him that he would strike black gold in Joseph’s land. The area bequeathed to Joseph includes the territory north-east of Tel Aviv where Luskin is now digging.

His new oil platform rises above the narrow coastal plain at Kfar Saba, on the edge ofthe West Bank, in sight of the Palestinian town of Qalqilya. “What we have here is a very close correlation to the fields in Syria’ Luskin first read the section from Deuteronomy in 1988 while working for an oil company in Sydney and was immediately intrigued by its contents.”
The geologist, who had only recently become a practising Jew, discovered that the medieval Jewish scholar Rashi had speculated that the passage referred to hills formed before the surrounding landscape -- an incongruous conclusion at a time when it was believed the earth was created in six days.

It was a startling discovery, since it seemed to point to a modern geological concept -- something Rashi, who lived some 800 years ago, could not have grasped. Luskin said: "This was very puzzling for me. It was very strange that someone would think at that time that one mountain was created before other mountains. It is a base of geology, a fundamental principle of geology.”
In May 1990, Luskin travelled to New York to consult with the Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, considered to be one of the Jewish world’s foremost religious scholars. The late Rabbi told Luskin that he had made a "noble interpretation" of the biblical passage.
Luskin said: "He gave me a blessing for this project and he said it would be successful and soon. And with this I immediately put my house on sale in Sydney and moved to Israel.” He found partners, and the team became Givot Olam Oil Exploration, which was eventually listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. The company’s name is taken from the Hebrew in the biblical passage, meaning everlasting hills.

Luskin said: "In Israel, what I understood was the migration of oil was much earlier in time before the recent mountains were formed. It was critical to find structures that existed in earlier times.” He believes the site where he is drilling is connected to the oil-rich Palaeozoic petroleum system -- extending from Saudi Arabia, through Iraq, to Syria -- which is the source of most Middle Eastern oil.
Peter Dwyer, a drilling consultant from Australia who is overseeing the operation, said: "What we have here is a very close correlation to the producing fields in Syria. We are just looking for a zone that will be productive. It is just a matter of drilling as fast and cost-efficiently as we can until we get to the real meat of the well at 13,500ft. Then it’s show-and-tell time.”

Whether Luskin’s dream will be realised at that depth is a moot point, but he is evangelical in his conviction that he will be successful. He said: "It should be very soon, maybe in a year or two.”
Luskin is not the only man driven by divine inspiration to search for oil in the Holy Land. A few years ago, Harold “Hayseed” Stephens, a born-again Christian oil man from Texas, began exploring on the edge of the Dead Sea. His site is the area where Sodom and Gomorrah once stood. He believes that Genesis identified these towns -- modern bywords for dens of iniquity -- as places where prospectors might strike it rich.
Stephens’ company is Ness, the Hebrew word for miracle. He too believes that the Holy Land is waiting to be tapped for its "choicest gifts". Like Luskin, history will one day judge him as a visionary or a deluded dreamer. But Israel is, after all, a land of miracles, and Luskin is hoping his prayers will soon be answered.

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