Friday, March 13, 2015

I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked - Part 7

Are you tired yet? Let me tell you, after four full days of non-stop touring we were getting a little worn around the edges. If I ever go back to Israel I would like to arrange the tour myself - decide what we want to see, how long we would like to be there, and not have to jump on the bus so we can get to the next site on time.

I'm not complaining, mind you. We were fascinated and captivated by the things we were seeing. But there is so much for the mind to take in that it's difficult to process and keep up. Sometimes in the morning we'd ask each other "What did we do yesterday?"

Originally, on Sunday morning, we were supposed to visit the various churches, some inside the walls of Jerusalem and then to the Church of the Holy Sepluchre, built on the site where it is said Jesus was crucified and laid in the tomb. But Dr. Tolar knew from experience that on Sunday these churches would be jam packed with worshipers and that we would stand in line for hours waiting to see the important things and we would probably miss out on seeing them all because of the crowds. So our tour was modified and we switched Sunday's and Monday's itineraries.

Instead of touring the churches we headed Southeast out of Jerusalem, toward the Dead Sea, Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered) and Masada.

Just a few miles outside of Jerusalem we headed into what our guide, Yair, called "the wilderness." There were no major cities out here, only a few, scattered, small cities, including Jericho, where the Bible says Joshua and his army blew trumpets and crumbled the city walls. Otherwise there is just open, mountainous land that is inhabited mostly by Bedouins. Their makeshift shacks and huts can be seen along the roadside.

The land between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea is the land where it is believed Jesus spent his time in the desert. As you can see there isn't much there and as you get closer to the Dead Sea it only gets worse. Today, with the introduction of irrigation systems in the area, there are farms in the desert. But in the time of Jesus there would have been nothing.

Without irrigation the land is dry and desolate.

We saw the Dead Sea shimmering in the morning sun as we approached, stretching South and East toward the country of Jordan. Because of the haze on the water, caused by evaporation, it was difficult to see Jordan but it was there, just 12 miles away at the Dead Sea's widest spot.

We passed several date palm farms on the way. In one place we had to detour around a large sinkhole, very common on the shore of the Dead Sea. In fact, large areas of the seashore are closed to the public because of the danger of sinkholes.

Several miles past the detour - there it was in all its glory. Masada.

Masada is now an Israeli national park, preserved for all to see.

For years I had wanted to see the Dead Sea and Masada. The story of Masada, the fortification built on a mesa near the Southern end of the Dead Sea where a large group of 960 Jewish rebels stood against the Roman army for a period between 2 and 3 months before the gate was breached and the Romans entered, only to discover that all but 6 inhabitants were dead by voluntary murder/suicide, is a fascinating piece of history. The Jews chose death over Roman captivity. When it was over, only one woman and five children were found alive.

The models show you the sheer cliffs and how difficult it would have been for the workers to get building materials up to the top of the mesa. The paths up are there even today. Certainly they utilized some materials from the top of the mesa but not all.

And you know Herod would never have climbed the path himself but would have been carried up in his litter by slaves.

(Picture borrowed from Google)

Fortunately for us, the trip up today is by suspended cable car. The path is open to the adventurous. I did think it would be fun to walk down it if I'd had the time but we were on a schedule (fortunately for me.)

From the cable car, looking down toward the reception center you can see the Dead Sea in the background and the mountains of Jordan. The two rectangular areas visible in the picture are the ruins of the Roman camps during the siege.

Masada, first fortified by Alexander Jannaeus in the first century BC, was captured by Herod the Great, who built a large palace into the Northern end of the 1300 foot high mesa. The ruins today still show evidence of the palace and some of the buildings. There were public baths, warehouses, and even a synagogue.

From the place where the cable car stops you climb up to the entrance, then climb some more to get to the site of the palace and warehouses.

This is all that's left of the once great palace.

The warehouses, where they kept grain and other food items, were long and narrow. The black line(s) on the walls represent the division between the original structure and the parts that have been restored. Everything under the black line is original.

The public baths are still in pretty decent shape. The color on the walls is reproduced from the original, showing how well the rooms were decorated.

Some of the mosaic floors are still there and have been preserved.

The synagogue has been partially restored with plaster to show how it would have looked in the day. Most of the walls of Masada were covered with plaster made from the limestone.

There is one rock wall that is decorated with pieces of colored stone. We got no explanation of what it was but it must have been important. It was definitely interesting.

To get their army up to Masada successfully, with a battering ram with which to break through the gate, the Romans began building a large ramp on the back (Western) side of Masada. The Jews threw hot oil and rocks down on the workers so the Romans replaced them with Jewish slaves, knowing they would not be attacked. The ramp took many weeks to complete. Much of it has survived.

The Romans broke through the gate then settled down for the night. When they entered the fortification the next morning they discovered all but six dead of their own hands.

We headed back down to the cable car and on the way passed a section of the ancient aqueduct that brought water to Masada.

Following the inevitable trip through the gift shop (and a really good cup of coffee) we got back on the bus and headed for Qumran, just up the road.

On the way we skirted the Dead Sea. The white deposits at the waterline are salt crystals and minerals.

It was at Qumran in 1947 that a Bedouin goat herder accidentally stumbled on some of the Dead Sea Scrolls while looking for a lost goat. He found a cave and rather than simply climb down and enter it, he tossed a rock into it to see what happened. The sound he heard, like the rock hitting pottery, indicated there was something in the cave that probably didn't belong there. What he discovered was pottery containers that contained the scrolls.

The caves and part of the pottery, as well as the ruins of the village where the writers of the scrolls lived, are still there and preserved.

(Note the numerous caves on the hillside)

It's easier for me to allow you to read the following than to try to remember all of the information given about how the scrolls came to be. From

Ten additional caves were found in the hills around Qumran, caves that yielded several more scrolls, as well as thousands of fragments of scrolls: the remnants of approximately 800 manuscripts dating from approximately 200 B.C.E. to 68 C.E.

The manuscripts of the Qumran caves include early copies of biblical books in Hebrew and Aramaic, hymns, prayers, Jewish writings known as pseudepigrapha (because they are attributed to ancient biblical characters such as Enoch or the patriarchs), and texts that seem to represent the beliefs of a particular Jewish group that may have lived at the site of Qumran. Most scholars believe that the Qumran community was very similar to the Essenes, one of four Jewish "philosophies" described by Josephus, a first century C.E. Jewish historian.

From Qumran you can look across the Dead Sea to the hills of Jordan. Jordan was a little easier to see from here. But not much.

From Qumran we headed North to the Northwest "corner" of the Dead Sea where some of our group wanted to actually get in the water. The air temperature was about 75 and the water temperature was between 70 and 75 degrees. The bottom of the Dead Sea is made up of thick, mineral-filled mud that people smear on their skin for therapeutic purposes. (Selling Dead Sea mud and minerals is a multi-million dollar operation these days.) It cakes on your feet even when you're walking in the water.

But the water is so dense with salt and minerals that it supports the weight of a human body in such a way that you will float no matter what you do. There are warning signs all over the place that tell you not to drink or swallow the water, not to get it in your face or eyes, not to splash it on other people and not to swim on your stomach or try to go under. You can die from ingesting too much of it.

Yet some in our group wanted to give it a try. As did many others at the beach that day.

The Sea is evaporating at an approximate rate of three feet per year. The Israelis use water from the Jordan River and the Jordanians have dammed a river that was an additional tributary to the Sea. Being 1200 feet below sea level, the lowest place on Earth, the weather is arid and dry, as in Death Valley here in the United States.

An old dock, behind us on the original shore, shows just how far the water level has dropped over the years.

It's a good 20 feet from the front of the dock to the ground and it drops another 10 feet or so before you get to the water.

There's little chance that the Dead Sea will dry up anytime soon as it is over 1200 feet deep at its deepest point. But the dry shores are getting larger and larger all the time.

There is an open air bar along the sidewalk that goes down to the water that rightfully boasts that it is "The Lowest Bar In The World." I couldn't help but wonder if Garth Brooks knows about it and has friends there...?

The public beach provides changing rooms and even rents swimsuits and towels to those who came unprepared. But I was already getting a cold and Arden wasn't much interested in getting all muddy. So we watched happily as the others frolicked.

Finally everyone was rinsed off, dried, changed and back on the bus. We had one more stop to make. Some of the adventurous members of the group wanted to ride a camel. There were a couple of places on the way back where Bedouins sold camel rides for $5 each. Several people decided to try it.

There were two camels at the place we stopped. Arden took one look at the older one, who seemed to be having trouble getting up and down, and said she didn't want to do it. She thought it was cruel to the animal.

So we watched as the others boarded the camels and rode around the parking lot. I must admit it was pretty funny at times.

At the end of another long but satisfying day we headed back to the hotel. As we were entering Jerusalem from the East our driver, David, turned on the stereo and played a recording of a yet another song I knew as a child. "The Holy City," otherwise knows as "Jerusalem, Jerusalem" is a song I heard in my church as a kid. I no longer remembered the verses but I still remembered the chorus. And being in that bus headed back into that city it brought tears to my eyes.

Last night I lay a-sleeping,
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem,
Beside the Temple there.
I heard the children singing,
And ever as they sang,
Methought the voice of angels
From Heav'n in answer rang.
Methought the voice of angels
From Heav'n in answer rang.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
Lift up your gates and sing;
Hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna to your King.

As we pulled into the driveway in front of the hotel I looked out at the Western sky and saw this. I had to take a picture of it. What a great way for God to end a wonderful Sunday!

Next entry - The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western (Wailing) Wall...

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