We left the beloved Galilee and headed south today, passing through the Jordan River Valley, running alongside Israel’s border with Jordan. Passing Jericho, we continued south all the way to Herod’s mountain fortress, Masada.
A towering plateau, this was the sight of the Jews last stand, after the Romans drove them from Jerusalem in 70 AD. About 1,000 Jews fled to the grand fortress built by Herod (though unoccupied), only to meet their death there in 73 AD when the Romans built a siege ramp and overpowered the walls of the fortress. Jews taking refuge there had two choices: be taken captive and brutalized by the Romans, or commit mass suicide. Preferring to die as free people, they chose the latter.
Masada has great historical significance, and Israeli soldiers finishing boot camp are inducted into the IDF, with a loud chant, “Never again!”
Yesterday, a small group of us made the 1,500 foot climb to the top of Masada, while the rest of our group enjoyed the tram ride to the top!
Our next stop was the beautiful oasis of En Gedi. Situated in the most barren place imaginable, En Gedi is truly an oasis of refreshment. With a series of waterfalls visible only by hiking up the trail, again the adventurous souls in our group took off up the path. It was a very rewarding hike, as the waterfalls and grottoes along the way left us feeling as though we were in a tropical paradise rather than the barren Negev desert.
Then, on to Qumran for lunch and a tour of the area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd boy made one of the most profound discoveries in Israel’s history. While herding sheep, he tossed a rock into a cave to scare out unwanted guests, or to get his sheep to return to him. When he heard the crash of a broken vessel, he stepped in to see what it was. Inside the cave, he found a broken pottery vessel containing parchments verified as ancient scrolls. About 16,000 scrolls and parchments were eventually found, likely hidden there when the Jewish people were on the run from the Romans. They never made it back to retrieve them, yet God faithfully preserved them for centuries.
Our last stop of the day was to a beach on the Dead Sea. There, our group frolicked in the sea in which it is impossible to sink! (What joy to watch a group of adults act like kids!) Water from the Jordan River and from the rains in Jerusalem deposit water and minerals into the Dead Sea, but the sea has no outlet. Thus, minerals have collected there for centuries, causing it to be so mineral-rich one can literally sit back and read a book without sinking!
Unfortunately, the Dead Sea is drying up. The shoreline that used to be many, many feet higher has now dramatically receded. On the other hand, archaeologists don’t mind that recession so badly because they are on the hunt for the lost cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which are thought to be within the confines of the Dead Sea.
Finally, we entered Jerusalem! The next three days will be especially meaningful as we visit the sites in and around the Old City and elsewhere. Stick with us as we journey together!
Shalom from Jerusalem!