I was really starting to question my faith? After all these Muslim sights I’ve seen, Israel gave me a chance to answer the call. But would I take this opportunity to connect with my religion? I chose Mt Nemo instead of Bethany-Beyond the Jordan where Jesus was baptised. Now I had a chance to go to either Bethlehem or Masada.
The night before my Aussie mate Chris bought a backgammon set and a bottle of vodka. Sitting on the roof of our hostel. The sun was setting over Jerusalem and we got carried away. Drinking ourselves to a separate stumble back to the hostel in the early hours of the morning.
Maybe it was just the hangover talking but I chose Masada. 3 days earlier my Israeli friend Shy Lee opened up a map in Hebrew. I couldn’t understand anything except the photo of Masada. 10 years ago I saw a documentary on the fall of Masada and thought back then I have to go to there. As the years ticked on the intricate details of who was fighting here, where it was, when it was? This all escaped me I just knew the story and the vision of
the desert landscape and a human built ramp up a cliff leading up to a ruined castle.
To get here from Jerusalem it’s an hour and a half bus ride to Masada. Terribly hangover I left later than intended and still slept for the first hour. As we approached the Dead Sea I noticed the driver didn’t care about braking as we snaked our way to the lowest point on earth. My stomach churned and I was awake. Sucking in the big ones we reached the stop before Masada. I get up from my seat thinking this is it I am going to be vomiting at the lowest point on earth. I asked the bus driver “Can you please wait 5 minutes I am not feeling well. I need to get to Masada.”
“Masada is 5 minutes away.” He replied. I umm and err and pick up my bag and sit on the now available front seat. Deep breaths in and groans out of discomfort. We arrive and the door opens where the heat just hits me. I felt a bit better as there was something else to put my mind towards and that was the heat.
is up a hill, which was a gingerly experience. At the ticket booth there were a few option to see the place one was to walk up 45 minutes in the 2pm heat - 25 shekels ($8) or take the cable car up and walk down - 45 Shekels ($15). I looked at the prices, thought of the heat, my condition and took the cable car.
So what makes this story so special? Well Masada at the time was the last rebel stronghold against the Romans in Judea. In the mountains and on the plateau were the Jewish community. Down below were the Roman soldiers ready to lay siege on the mountain. A legion of 8 000 troops built 8 camps and siege walls around the site. To this day the remains of the walls exist and are used by historians to gauge the Romans strategies to siege.
But the key to it is the ramp towards the western gate. Made by the Romans during the battle, it’s made of earth and wooden supports. This ramp is what was tattooed on my mind. Whenever I heard a story for years that resembled remotely to this place I’d go
“What is the name? Where is it? Is that the one where…” But it was not to be. That all changed when I saw the map.
Walking around the Northern palace it provides an ideal view out to the Dead Sea and the barren landscape including the Sediment of the ancient Dead Sea. I thought to myself shit if I knew it was this close to the Dead Sea I would have been here earlier.
This was no ordinary siege either. It lasted a few months, frustrating the Romans so much so that they were forced to bring in a tower with a battering ram all after building the ramp from scratch. The inner support wall was then set ablaze and when hope dwindled for the Jews inside, Eleazar Ben Yair gave two speeches. In the end convincing the leaders of the 960 members of the community that a mass suicide is better than to live in shame as a Roman slave.
So if I’m served correctly 10 were ordered to kill the rest. Than one to kill the 9 remaining then himself. As the Romans entered the site they were greeted with an eerie silence and
flames still burning. In the end they earned the respect of the Romans (which I’m sure was what they were looking for.) Two women and 5 children who were hiding in the cisterns on the mountaintop survived and they informed the Romans of what happened here on the first day of Passover. It was the final Roman conquest in Judea.
The ramp was my final site. I looked out at the stunning views again and the details of the siege below. Still seeing the camps, the walls and the complete isolation these people had. Thinking of how long they were here, looking back at the massive food storage they had. I would have liked to stay longer but I couldn’t.
The heat was so intense and still I had to walk down the snake path to the a/c of the ticket office. It took about half an hour where the afternoon puts a shade down on the path. I waited 30 minutes for the bus, exhausted and couldn’t wait to sleep again. As I boarded I noticed it was standing room only. This time round the bus driver was worse than before.
The only thing that distracted
me from being sick was the numerous hot Israeli girls on the bus coming back from a day out at the Dead Sea. This is why I said previously that Israel side is better. Plus the view is better.
The pain of the hangover was nearly over I was thinking man am I getting weak? But no. Chris was at the hostel and sitting in front of the TV I ask him “How are you feeling? What did you do today?” He said whilst channel changing “I’ve done nothing today. I’m still trying to get over this hangover. Do you know I have gone through 425 channels and not found one English language movie.” And that pretty much sums up the hangover.
The day before I could have gone to Bethlehem but instead went to the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. This is what both Muslims and Jews are fighting over. A gold dome and tile work in mostly blue. Non-Muslims are not allowed into the site just around it. I mentioned to a worker who said “Do you have any questions about here?” I replied, “The only questions I have are about the inside
but I am not allowed in.” He responded, “Every Mosque and shrine in the world except here you are allowed (not true I pointed out.) It is because of the Jewish extremists. We have no weapons to protect ourselves. We can’t ask what religion you are to every tourist.”
This is probably why I didn’t end up in Bethlehem (which is in the West Bank) I’m over hearing sob stories with excuses that will never solve the problem. Even so I still was questioning myself: Why am I doing this? Why aren’t I seeing the other Christian sites? Why not go to Nazareth? Sea of Galilee? But I figured I’d prefer to have my religion as if it was beyond me in this life, a fantasy that may or may not be true. If I went to see it I think it would kill it for me but maybe I am just not ready for it… Or don’t care. Or maybe I feel my religion is beyond just a tourist site.
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