Israel Day Six

We arose this morning in our picturesque setting on the shores of the Dead Sea with the mountains of the Judean wilderness towering over us. Our visit to the Dead Sea was over much too quickly, but there was much more to see in the Judean desert before we made our way up to Jerusalem.

Sunrise over the Dead Sea.

Sunrise over the Dead Sea.

Mountains of the Judean Wilderness in front of our hotel at the Dead Sea

Mountains of the Judean Wilderness in front of our hotel at the Dead Sea

We pulled away from the hotel, and journeyed northward along the eastern shores of the dead sea until we reached the legendary site of Masada, an ancient fortification on top of a desert mountain plateau in the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea. We know most of what we know about Masada thanks to the 1st century Jewish historian, Josephus. Herod the Great built a magnificent palace on the Western edge of Masada which had three terraces on the face of the cliff. Masada was the first place he fortified after becoming King of Judea. He built an elaborate storage system of water which diverted water from the Masada River into large cisterns on the mountain. He also built huge storage facilities for all kinds of fruits, grains, and other foodstuffs. This was a place which was virtually impregnable sitting high on the mountain cliffs. He could store enough food and water to hold out for years against any attack. Masada is most famously known as the location where the last remaining Jewish rebels held out after the war with the Romans that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. After a long siege, the Romans had built an assault ramp which finally broke through the walls. When it became apparent, that the next day the Romans would come in and take the fortress, the leader of the rebels convinced the 960 Jewish inhabitants to commit mass suicide rather than have their wives abused by the Romans and their children become slaves. When the Romans entered Masada that next day in 73 A.D., all were dead save two women and five children.

Masada perched atop this desert mountain.

Masada perched atop this desert mountain.

Looking out over the Dead Sea from atop Masada

Looking out over the Dead Sea from atop Masada

Looking down on one of the several Roman military camps which surrounded Masada.  There were over 15,000 Roman troops to take these 960 rebels.

Looking down on one of the several Roman military camps which surrounded Masada. There were over 15,000 Roman troops to take these 960 rebels.

Looking down onto the synagogue within the fortress of Masada

Looking down onto the synagogue within the fortress of Masada

Looking across the storage areas of Masada.

Looking across the storage areas of Masada.

The frescos behind are from the time of Herod's Palace.  A ritual bath from the time of the Jewish rebels was subsequently added to the room.

The frescos behind are from the time of Herod’s Palace. A ritual bath from the time of the Jewish rebels was subsequently added to the room.

As we saw at Beit She'an, this is a Roman bath house in the fortress.  You can see where the hot air from the fire outside was directed beneath the suspended floor on these small columns.

As we saw at Beit She’an, this is a Roman bath house in the fortress. You can see where the hot air from the fire outside was directed beneath the suspended floor on these small columns.

The fortress of Masada.

The fortress of Masada.

Looking down the slopes of Masada, catching a glimpse of the Western Palace of Herod, constructed on terraces on the mountainside.

Looking down the slopes of Masada, catching a glimpse of the Western Palace of Herod, constructed on terraces on the mountainside.

Looking straight down onto Herod's Western Palace.

Looking straight down onto Herod’s Western Palace.

This is Camp F of the Roman encampments.  This was the headquarters camp led by Lucius Flavius Silva.

This is Camp F of the Roman encampments. This was the headquarters camp led by Lucius Flavius Silva.

Tristram's Starling at Masada.  These friendly birds are native to Israel.

Tristram’s Starling at Masada. These friendly birds are native to Israel.

A deep, large cistern atop Masada for water storage.

A deep, large cistern atop Masada for water storage.

These round boulders were thrown over the side of the fortress by the Jewish rebels at the besieging troops.  In the background, notice a 5th century Byzantine church that was built on the site.

These round boulders were thrown over the side of the fortress by the Jewish rebels at the besieging troops. In the background, notice a 5th century Byzantine church that was built on the site.

The apse of the Byzantine Church atop Masada.

The apse of the Byzantine Church atop Masada.

Standing in the apse of the 5th century Byzantine Church.

Standing in the apse of the 5th century Byzantine Church.

Beatiful Mosaic on the floor of a room in Herod's Northern Palace on Masada

Beatiful Mosaic on the floor of a room in Herod’s Northern Palace on Masada

Part of another Mosaic in Herod's Northern Palace.  Herod the Great was an Idumean Jew whose sincerity was continually under doubt.  It is noteworthy that he has no depictions of people or animals in his mosaics so as to avoid criticism that he was violating the commandment to not create a graven image.

Part of another Mosaic in Herod’s Northern Palace. Herod the Great was an Idumean Jew whose sincerity was continually under doubt. It is noteworthy that he has no depictions of people or animals in his mosaics so as to avoid criticism that he was violating the commandment to not create a graven image.

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We ascended and descended Masada by means of cable car.

We ascended and descended Masada by means of cable car.

A view of the landscape surrounding Masada.

A view of the landscape surrounding Masada.

Group picture by the Israeli flag atop Masada.

Group picture by the Israeli flag atop Masada.

From this impressive site, we journeyed further northward to Ein Gedi, the second largest Oasis of the Judean desert (Jericho being the largest). It was here that David took refuge in a cave, hiding from King Saul who sought for him “even upon the most craggy rocks, which are accessible only to wild goats.” (1 Samuel 24:2) I can attest to the accuracy of this description. The entire group hiked up to the lowest waterfall where the water from the springs of Ein Gedi make their way through the desert mountainside to the land down below. Only the most hardy of the group made the steeper hike up to the larger waterfalls above. The scenery was majestic and will never be forgotten. We saw several of the rock hyrax, a guinea pig-like mammal which lives in the Judean desert. This place also is home to a number of the desert dwelling goat, the Nubian Ibex. I think the afternoon was too hot for these lovely creatures to be active on the slopes of the mountain.

Cindy at the lower falls at Ein Gedi.

Cindy at the lower falls at Ein Gedi.

This little guy was playing in the springs at Ein Gedi.

This little guy was playing in the springs at Ein Gedi.

The Rock Hyrax at Ein Gedi.

The Rock Hyrax at Ein Gedi.

One of the small waterfalls at the oasis of Ein Gedi.

One of the small waterfalls at the oasis of Ein Gedi.

On the way back down the mountain at Ein Gedi.

On the way back down the mountain at Ein Gedi.

The upper falls at Ein Gedi.

The upper falls at Ein Gedi.

Those of our group who hiked to the top waterfall.

Those of our group who hiked to the top waterfall.

When we had exhausted ourselves at Ein Gedi, we made the trip further northward to visit Qumran, famous for being the location of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Living in this barren desert landscape was a monastic community of Jews which some identify with the group known as the Essenes. The society members would live in caves in the sheer desert cliffs and come into the community during the day for their daily activities, which included ritual baths, eating, and writing and copying scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls, contrary to much popular thought have nothing to do with the New Testament scriptures and contain no “lost” gospels. Written mostly in Hebrew, they contained copies of the Old Testament scriptures, commentaries on these scriptures, and information on the rules, regulations, and structure of the Qumran community. They have great significance for Jews and Christians in that before their discovery the earliest copies of the Hebrew scriptures dated from the tenth century. Found in Qumran were copies of the entirety of virtually the entire Hebrew Bible (with the exception of Esther) dating from the first century. These copies confirmed that what those 10th century documents reported as scripture was indeed accurate. That the text had not been corrupted over the millennia that had passed since that time. Because of this, the Dead Sea Scrolls is truly a monumental discovery for defending the integrity of Scripture.

Looking out to the Red Sea from the highway as we drive to the north.

Looking out to the Red Sea from the highway as we drive to the north.

Part of the Qurman Community excavations.

Part of the Qurman Community excavations.

Part of the ruins of the Qumran community.

Part of the ruins of the Qumran community.

This is a large water storage cistern.

This is a large water storage cistern.

To the left is a dining area for the community's residents.  To the left is the pottery storage area.

To the left is a dining area for the community’s residents. To the left is the pottery storage area.

Cindy at Qumran

Cindy at Qumran

Dead Sea Scroll cave at Qumran

Dead Sea Scroll cave at Qumran

One of the several Qumran caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

One of the several Qumran caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

By the time we had finished at Qumran, many in our group were ready to leave the heat of the desert for cooler climes. Our agenda was accommodating as next on our agenda was to ascend the mountains up to Jerusalem. There was a rush of emotion when the city of Jerusalem first came into view as we climbed over the hill. We stopped on Mt. Scopus to climb out of the bus and take a look at the Holy City for the first time. We had made it to Jerusalem! After an emotional moment on Mt. Scopus, we made our way just down the road to our hotel, Dan Jerusalem, which also sits on the slopes of Mt. Scopus, providing a breathtaking view of the city and the rolling hills of Judea.

On the bus, waiting to leave Qumran

On the bus, waiting to leave Qumran

On Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem behind.

On Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem behind.

Jerusalem from our hotel balcony.

Jerusalem from our hotel balcony.

8 thoughts on “Israel Day Six

  1. Your group sure puts in a full day! Very interesting and I can see how you all get emotional seeing where our savior walked and His word comes alive! Love you guys!

  2. Barry, you could easily be a tour guide on this trip…in fact, you are for me. If I ever go, I would only want to go with you….what wonderful information and photos…..thank you so much!!!

    • You are so kind, Sherry! I’m glad you are enjoying the trip along with us. The only thing that would be better is if your smiling face was among the All Saints’ group!

  3. Great discription of your travels. What a thrill it must have been to see the dead scroll cave at Qumran! Looks like it got warmer.

    • Warmer and then cooler. The temperature change from the below-sea-level depths of the Judean desert to the city of Jerusalem, set on a hill, was striking – from shorts and t-shirts to jackets. (Although, Jerusalem is heating up now as well).

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