Today we began on the hill of Jerusalem, and started our descent to the lowest place on earth – the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is 1300 feet below sea level – Jerusalem is 2500 feet ABOVE sea level. We traveled east to the Dead Sea, then headed south. After stopping at a shop for bathrooms and medicinal mud and skin care products from the sea, we arrived at Masada. Masada is located on the mountains/hills along the west side of the Dead Sea near its southern point. Masada was first built by Herod just before the life of Jesus, as an escape from the pressure of Jerusalem. He was a bit paranoid of his role, and wanted a place where he could look over his area of command, but be distant from it. How he picked this location, I haven’t a clue. Desolate, isolated, far away from much of anything. He built quite a structure there. It sits some 200 feet above sea level – a good 1500 feet above the Dead Sea.
In 66 AD, the Jews overtook the fortress. We do not know about how that came about, but when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, many made their way to safety at Masada. It was the last stronghold of the Jews in Israel at that time. The Romans cornered the people there, and laid siege against the compound for nearly a year, but the people had stored up so many resources and supplies, they were able to withstand the siege. Over that time, the Romans built a ramp to attack the compound with a battering ram, and when through the first stone wall, burned down the wooden second wall.
The rampart was complete in the spring of 73, after approximately two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress. When they entered the fortress, however, the Romans discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide rather than face certain capture, defeat, slavery, or execution by their enemies.
The structure is incredible. A cable car carried us up to the structure, and we spent a great deal of time walking around and seeing how the people survived, and the sacrifice they made to die rather than face the Roman tyranny.
After Masada, we headed to lunch, then a short visit at Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found in 1947 by Bedouin shepherds. The find happened when a stone was thrown into a cave, and it made a strange noise. Going into the cave, the shepherds found jars with scrolls wrapped in leather. The interest was first more in the leather. As it was passed on and sold to various owners, the importance and value increased. Copies of Old Testament Scripture, Apocrypha, and other writings were found. It is believed these were written by Essenes – Jewish Zealots who were very devout, and lived in a desert community. It is widely believed that John the Baptist was a member of this radical group of Jews. A community remains have been found near the 11 caves that have been excavated. This site is north of Masada by about 30 miles. Tuesday we will get to see these scrolls at a museum not far from our hotel.
After Qumran, a ten minute drive north, to the beach, where a couple of us braved the salty water. The Dead Sea is 10 times more salty than the oceans, with many other minerals in its mud and water. Many rub the mud all over their bodies when there, then wash off in the sea and/or shower. It is so easy to float – I was able to hold a newspaper and read it in the water! We thought an easy job to have would be lifeguard at the Dead Sea. This is until our guide told us of an 80 year old man that kept floating in the water, just floating, till the found out he was not moving – he had suffered a heart attack and died on the Dead Sea – can you imagine?
Across the sea from that point we could see across to the country of Jordan to Mount Nebo, where Moses was permitted to look across the Dead Sea and Jordan River that flows into it to the Promised Land from the wilderness. Moses was not permitted to enter the land as he and his people had stumbled along the way, causing God to prohibit their entry. Once Moses died, Joshua led the people through the waters to the Promised Land.
So the best line of the day was from Micah, our tour guide, who has the patience of Job! Unfortunately, there are some in our tour group (not MY seven, they are GREAT and ALWAYS on time) who are always lagging behind and slowing us down. Someone mentioned to him that it must be frustrating. His response was, “Now you know why Moses quit his job!”
Tomorrow is Jerusalem. Two things we were told – long pants and no sleeveless shirts because we are going in to holy places, so show some respect, and no Bibles – they are not allowed on the Temple Mount. We will do a LOT of walking. We will see many wonderful sites, and we look forward to sharing more tomorrow.