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Published: August 1st 2011
What a thrill to drive through Jerusalem a second time and then journey over to the far side of the promised land. Along the way we were startled and amazed to see the vegetation and terrain change so drastically from green trees and shrub-filled hills to sandy, rocky, desert mountains descending sharply to the Dead Sea. Along the way we saw Jericho off in the distance. We then learned about the Bedowin people and kabutz villages along the Dead Sea. Our bus made a rest stop in Qumran and there we learned how a bedowin shepherd boy found the Dead Sea scrolls in a cave. The scrolls were well preserved in clay jars and the boy was said to have taken some of the parchment to a shoe cobbler - who promised to make the boy shoes, but instead took the Hebrew writings to an expert who translated and dated the holy scriptures. This was truly a miraculous find.
We arrived at Masada and looked up at this amazing fortress atop a gigantic cliff. This impressive feat of engineering was originally built by Herod the Great (37 BC - 4 BC). The plateau of Masada is located high above the Dead
Sea and could only be reached by hiking the steep snake path up 450 meters to the summit. Under Herod, this site was a palatial fortress in the style of the Roman Hellenistic period with baths, plastered walls, and both public + private palaces. The most amazing part of this structure was the way in which flood waters were collected and channeled into enormous cisterns that would provide enough water to last more than 2 years. After Herod, Masada became the perfect hideout and stronghold for the Jewish Zealots resisting the Roman takeover of Jerusalem and Israel. These Jews called the Sicarii were apart of the great revolt against the Romans that broke out in 66 AD. By the time Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD a varied group of Essenes and Samaritans all fled and joined together at the fortress under the command of Eleazar Ben Yair. They lived here together and even built a synagogue and ritual baths. In 73 or 74 AD the Roman Tenth Legion Fretensis, led by Flavius Silva, laid siege to the mountain. 8,000 Roman troops, auxiliary forces, and Jewish slaves built 8 camps, a siege wall, and a remarkably tall ramp of earth
and wood up to the plateau of the fortress. After a few months, the Romans pushed a tower up the ramp with a battering ram to batter the wall. When the hope of the rebels dwindled, Eleazar gave two speeches to the 960 members of the community. In this speech he convinced the group that it would be better to take their own lives and the lives of their families than to live in shame as Roman slaves. Using 10 lots written on clay shards they slayed each other and the last one killed himself. The next morning two women and 5 children were found hiding in the cisterns and told the Romans what had happened the night before on the first day of Passover. This is a very moving and sad story of extreme faith and conviction. We toured the whole complex in the opressive heat/sun and then descended back down on the modern cable car.
After visiting Masada we had lunch at a hotel near the southern edge of the Dead Sea and went in for a swim. It was a strange and unusual experience. There was a thick layer of salt at the water's edge and the
temperature was like a warm bath. Our bodies floated high above the water like we were sitting on a styrofoam noodle. Laying on our back was like laying on a water bed and when we turned over on our stomachs we could fly like superman. The water felt more like oil than liquid, but it was easy to swim through. It was a fun experience for both of us. Driving away we were taught that the Dead Sea is getting smaller and going down one meter every year. The southern part is also cut off and separated from the northern section. On the way back to port we drove through the southern territory of Israel and saw many wadi, sheep, goats, and even wild camel. I asked if this area was near the location where Joshua and the scouts looked into Canaan and saw the "giants". Our guide and I looked in our Bibles together and pointed out two references to the "King of Arad" and Eschol (which means cluster of grapes). Not too far away on our map was the rural settlement of "Eshkolot." Our guide did point out the birthplace of Goliath on a hill called Gat. The
guide then ended our tour with a prayer of peace and two Jewish folksongs.
Thank you Adonai Tov for the importance of this land and the memories kept here by your people. + Amen
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