At breakfast we witnessed another beautiful sunrise, a red rubber ball rising over new Jerusalem. This is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath – no work is done. Our breakfast was made from food prepared on previous days. Not even scrambled eggs could be prepared. Talk about straining gnats.
Israel is made up of hills, valleys, hamlets, and towns. Mountains abound all around the Jordan Valley. We descended toward the Dead Sea and traveled the mountain, desert road, which is also rocky, hilly, craggy and lonely – between Jerusalem and Jericho. We descended over four thousand feet and once again, entered a different climate. This, as you probably realize by now, was the road used by the Good Samaritan. Our ears popped. What a beautiful land of endless variation! We saw many Bedouin camps and tents, goats, and sheep along the way. Israel really opens up the past. We passed through the wilderness of Judea, just north of Neger, and the wilderness of Beersheba. We passed deep gorges and narrow mountain passes, and canyons (Wadi) on the way toward Jericho. In the distance we saw Mount Nebo, Jericho, and the Wilderness of Temptation. We descended rapidly to the Dead Sea which was once a desert, but now, with water available, tomatoes, onions, strawberries, etc. are raised. We saw a Greek Monastery – the site of Biblical Gilgal. We also saw the place where Joshua crossed the Jordan River and laid down twelve stones. The Dead Sea provides Israel with minerals, power and electricity. We turned south towards En Gedi and Masada. We passed the mountains at Qumran, where later today, we will see the caves where the Bedouin shepherd boy discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. Our ears kept popping. Now we went by the actual caves which hid the scrolls. What a desolate place is Qumran, home of the Essenes. The Dead Sea is 20% salt, and right next to a fresh water spring. The residents of Qumran depended on this fresh water supply. We saw possible Essene farms and a community near Qumran.
After proceeding south along the Dead Sea for awhile, away from the spring, the land again turned into a desert. The Dead Sea is shrinking and getting smaller. The water line is moving back. What beautiful terrain – the desert, mountains, and the Dead Sea – it has to be seen. We drove south a long way, passing caves where rebels hid from Greek and Roman authorities. The Dead Sea was four shades of blue, surrounded by lush, green vegetation, and towering red and brown mountains and cliffs. Leopards and ibex dwell in these forlorn mountains. We kept proceeding south toward the oasis of En Gedi. As we passed through En Gedi, we immediately saw an oasis filled with beautiful palm trees. En Gedi, of course, is where David hid from Saul in a cave and cut Saul’s garment. I can see why David stayed here.
We then passed a health resort where a sulfur spring bubbled from the ground. Finally we approached our first destination of Masada. What a majestic site in the distance. The ramp that the Romans built in order to capture Masada could be seen. The Romans, under Titus, took three years to capture it through siege (70-73 A.D.). We also saw Mount Sodom south at a distance. An oasis was at the bottom of Masada. What a beautiful drive, Jerusalem to Masada. One may ascend Masada in one of two ways: 1) by cable car or 2) by the “snake path” which takes about forty five minutes. There is no rain here, and we saw one large cistern on the way up. It was a large man made quarry, turned into a cistern. Masada means stronghold, rock, or fortress, and was built by the paranoid Herod. There are three separate levels to King Herod’s Pleasure Palace, connected by staircases. The top level of Masada is twenty acres. Many of the Roman encampments could be seen below. The Roman encampments were square shaped and very easy to see. Masada had water, swimming pools, gardens, and just about everything to make it a paradise. A Roman wall crept all around the base of the mountain in order to keep the people captive. After three years, over nine hundred zealots committed suicide. Masada was discovered only one hundred years ago. When the Romans laid siege to Masada, they probably got their water at En Gedi. When the Romans attempted to build the earthen ramp, the zealots threw rocks down on them. We passed a stone quarry that was used by Herod in order to build. The walls of all the rooms at Masada were once beautiful, painted, and covered with plaster. There were saunas, hanging gardens, bath houses, pillars, storage rooms with a nine year food supply (the food was near Herod’s quarters). There were beautiful mosaics. There was even a hot room, and the floor was supported by small columns – underneath the floor were coals and hot water which created a sauna. Tile was on some of the walls. As mentioned, the pleasure palace of Herod had three tiers, and was located in such a way as to catch the breeze at the end of the mountain. The outline of the Roman encampments could be seen all around the mountain. The General’s Quarters could be seen inside the encampments at the corner of each. Water came to Masada all the way from the mountains near Jerusalem and was collected in cisterns. There were holes in the base of Mount Masada which collected the water runoff from the mountains nearby. The force of gravity pushed the water up, because even the top of Masada is below sea level! The top level of Masada features the Northern “pleasure” Palace. Next, I visited the lowest tier of the pleasure palace, the third level down. This tier gave Herod shade and breeze. There was a hidden stairwell which was built into the rock, that Herod used to go up and down. There were no trees in the area, hence the Romans had to haul a battering ram for a long distance. Then I saw the middle terrace of the pleasure palace (Northern Palace), and observed the remains of a narrow, circular stairwell built into the rock.
Back on the top terrace was the oldest synagogue in the world at the time of the Second Temple. Ezekiel, Chapter Thirty Seven, “The Vision of Dry Bones,” was found in the synagogue. Nearby, there was a chamber for the scrolls, or library. We observed the Roman ramp of earth closeup from the top of Masada. There were many towers posted along the outer walls. We left the “leisure” Northern Palace, and entered the Western “working” Palace. This was the Administrative Palace. A woman and her daughter were the only ones who did not commit suicide in 73 A.D. They hid themselves in an empty water cistern.
Now we will head for En Gedi. The Dead Sea has no fish or seaweed. The sulfur smell is very strong. En Gedi comes from “En” or spring, and “Gedi” or goats. We came to Wadi David – the springs and water source for En Gedi. We observed the ibex wandering on the cliffs, the mountain animal of Israel, from which we get the word “Gedi.” En Gedi features a beautiful waterfall. At En Gedi, the water originates at a spring and goes underground. The water is warm. On our walk back from the waterfall, we saw a “coonie” which looks like a groundhog. We also saw about twenty ibex walking along a high ridge. We saw many other ibex amid the rocks. They are very coordinated for the mountains, and they change the position of their feet to land square on the rocks.
Now we went to the Dead Sea at En Gedi for a swim. One can float there with no effort at all. Salt deposits were left all over our bodies. Since I shaved the previous night before swimming, my neck stung. You could smell the sulfur, and clay deposits were left everywhere. The clay is used for cosmetics, facial treatments, and other vain pursuits of man. Since the Dead Sea is the lowest place on the face of the earth, and tropical, and unseasonably warm, and has many mineral deposits, one feels that God did something special here – such as rain fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah, and dropping the entire valley below sea level.
Onward to Qumran. We passed an oasis filled with palm trees along the way. (By the way, it just came to mind that there were no problems on the trip which had to do with the recent P.L.O., Gaza Strip and Bethlehem developments). Qumran was settled by the Essenes in the eighth century B.C. We visited the remains of the community, observing a water channel, a cistern, scrolls stored in a Scriptorium, and a cemetery. Many scrolls have been located in these mountains nearby. Observed in the Essenes Community were homes, pottery, stables, flour, a dining hall, a pool and a cistern. Every remaining artifact gives evidence of a simple life style. The Essenes left Qumran and went to Masada.
We left Qumran to go back to Jerusalem. On the way home, our guide mentioned that Bedouins still trade camels for wives. They love their simple life style. We passed a military camp. Now we went back to the road which goes from Jericho to Jerusalem. We passed another military camp. Many Bedouin Camps were seen on the way back to Jerusalem. We passed through today’s Bethany and stopped at Lazarus’ tomb. It was deep and dark and seemed very real. We had to duck and crawl in order to enter the crypt area. It appeared to be a real possibility of genuine authenticity, like the tomb of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.
We again entered Jerusalem. We visited Jesus’ Garden Tomb, mentioned in the paragraph above. It too, seemed authentic because of 1) the trough where the stone rolled, 2) and the window where the Bible seems to indicate light came in (John 20: 4-8); when John and Peter saw the linen clothes in the tomb, a source of light would have been needed for them to see the clothes after running into the tomb – the window, of course, would have provided the light.