Israel Trip – Day 07 – November 12 – Saturday

Today started just a tad early as we wanted to get on our way to the Dead Sea.  It’s still the Sabbath (“Shabbat”), so breakfast looked a little different.  You aren’t supposed to light any fires on the Sabbath, so any hot dishes are prepared the night before, and the rest is cold food.  David called it a “continental” breakfast.  I had a boiled egg, a brownish square pastry thingy that was quite good and just enough sweet, a croissant stuffed with cream cheese, yogurt, and a roll with strawberry jam.

Our bus took us to Qumran first.  Qumran is the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947.  And yes, it is located on the northwest coast of the Dead Sea.  We saw a short film describing the life of the people who lived in Qumran, the “yekha” people, sometimes referred to as the Essenes.  Most think they were almost like a monastery, devoted to worshipping God and copying the Scriptures.  Some think that John the Baptist might have been a part of their community for a time.  The most awesome thing about this community was the fact that they preserved the Scriptures so well.  Their community was destroyed by the Romans in the first century, but the copies they made of the Scriptures lasted for two thousand years.  And best of all, it shows us that the Old Testament in our modern Bibles is pretty darn accurate.  You can trust the Bible.

Our next stop was further south along the Dead Sea, the great fortress called Masada.  Built by Herod the Great as both an escape and vacation spot, it is located on an isolated 1500 foot tall plateau.  You get to the top by way of a cable car.  Herod built a magnificent complex with two palaces that is quite phenomenal.  The southern palace was built right on the side of the cliff in three levels cascading down the cliff.  How they did it is beyond me.  I wonder how many slaves died in the building of that place.  You might remember that movie from a few years ago (“Masada”) about the place.  After Herod’s death, the place had been abandoned until around 70AD when the Jewish rebels against the Roman Empire fled and hid out there.  Almost a thousand lived on top of this plateau, surviving off the giant stores of food that Herod had left there.  In order for the Romans to conquer the place, they built a huge earthen ramp up the backside, then brought up their giant siege weapons to breech the wall.  But when they finally succeeded in entering the compound, all the Jews had killed themselves.  They would rather die than face slavery at the hands of the Romans.  Quite a statement.  Today the modern Israeli army uses the Masada story to be their motivation that they would never again be in a situation that required such dire measures.  After touring the complex, we had lunch at the bottom and spent a few minutes in the souvenir shop.

Our next stop was En Gedi (or “Ein Gedi”).  This was the place where David hid while he was being pursued by King Saul.  Located north of Masada along the Dead Sea, En Gedi is a sort of oasis.  Its name means “spring of the young goat” after the spring that feeds a streams and waterfalls that work their way down a canyon toward the Dead Sea.  The canyon is a beautiful place to hike and contains all sorts of treats – amazing greenery that contrasts to the drab desert that surrounds the Dead Sea.  Animal life includes the little “coney” (looks kind of like a big hamster) and the ibex, a type of mountain goat that lives in the area.  Before hiking up the canyon, David led us in worship with his guitar and I taught a little from the story of David hiding in a cave from Saul.  En Gedi was a place where David had to learn how to deal with his enemies – by putting his messy situation into God’s hands.  It’s about a forty five minute hike up the canyon to the “David Waterfall”, a gorgeous location.  But then you also have to hike back out of the canyon to get to the bus.

After En Gedi, we made a quick stop at a county beach along the Dead Sea.  Some of the folks on the tour had wanted to float in the Dead Sea, and they got their chance.  It is quite a kick as you sit in down in the water and find that you can’t sink.  The water of the Dead Sea is supposed to be good for your skin, but not for your eyes (ouch!).  It also leaves you with a bit of a slimy feel, so it’s good that they supply showers to rinse off afterwards.

It’s about an hour to get back to the hotel in Jerusalem, where we had a great dinner and are not getting ready to settle in for the night.  Tomorrow is another extra early start – we’re going to go on the Temple Mount and walk through Old Jerusalem tomorrow.  Ought to be an awesome time.  More tomorrow!!