Hello friends . . . grace and peace,
Today was rather incredible. We went to three different sites, each very different, each for a different reason, and all were fantastic.
We left Jerusalem after breakfast and headed towards Masada which is a huge palace & fortress on the top of a mountain that is surrounded by valleys. It was built by King Herod the Great (actually, his slaves) and it is, quite literally, almost impossible to get to unless you take a cable car or walk the “snake path” up the 1,300 feet to reach the top. Or you could do as the Roman armies did and just move thousands of tons of rocks and dirt to form a ramp up to the west gate to take over the palace as they did in 72 AD. There was even a TV-mini series made about this historic battled called (go figure) Masada starring Peter O’Toole.
This palace gives us as Christians a glimpse in the man who was King Herod. When we see and read about the opulence and practices of this king, we begin to understand even more why some things that are talked about in the bible occurred. When we realize how paranoid Herod was of losing his power, we come to a better understanding of why he ordered the slaughter of young boys when Jesus was born. Because we know that King Herod was widely respected and revered among other kings in the region, EXCEPT by Cleopatra in Egypt, it makes a bit more sense why God would send Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus into Egypt so that Herod could not follow.
As is so often the case, the story of Jesus has historical and political underpinnings that help us to better know God’s Word.
After Masada, we journeyed to Qumran. This is the place where The Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Qumran was the place where an ancient Jewish community called the Essenes lived. The Essenes were PASSIONATE about copying the ancient Hebrew texts onto scrolls so that they could send these scrolls to others in the Jewish nation. However, when it became obvious that Roman occupation was inevitable, the Essenes worked hard to save as many of these scrolls as possible. They packed them into jars of clay and stored them deep within the surrounding caves.
1,900 (ish) years later, in 1946, a shepherd threw a rock into a cave and heard the sound of breaking pottery. Upon exploration he found the first of what was to be knows as The Dead Sea Scroll. Massive excavation took place 30 miles in each direction along the shores of The Dead Sea. And in one cave (see above photo), the ENTIRE Old Testament was found in scroll form (minus the book of Esther and Nehemiah). Scholars poured over these ancient documents and found them to be virtually identical to the Hebrew bible that we have today. ASTOUNDING!!
Our professor and friend, Fr. Kamal Farah, taught us that this was a wonderful mission of the Christian church: to care for the Bible. This means we care for and protect the physical text which is exactly what churches have done worldwide with our ancient books and scrolls. They are precious and must be cared for. But, the church is also to be empowered by God’s Spirit to teach from these ancient texts and, by putting them into practice, we partner with God and participate with the ongoing restoration of “all things” (Matthew 19:28, Colossians 1:20). This is also caring for the bible, just as much as caring for the physical texts themselves.
Our adventure ended with a trip down to The Dead Sea. At almost 1,400 feet BELOW sea level, it’s the lowest place on earth. To put it better, when you are standing on the top of Masada (see top picture panoramic view) you are only 100 feet ABOVE sea level.
Kinda blows your mind.
We had a good time at The Dead Sea. Because this body of water is so salty and so dense with other minerals nothing lives in it. No fish. No algae. But, if you step into it, and even if you are only in a few inches of water, you can sit down into the water, lay back, put your feet up, and quite literally, float around with no effort needed to stay off the bottom. It’s a surreal experience. Here are a couple of photos of some folks in our class…
Now don’t miss this . . . Jesus spent the majority of his life in a region of the world that is east of the mountains of Jerusalem. It’s dry and hot most of the year. The Dead Sea is not suitable for drinking. The people living between Galilee and Hebron were reliant upon the natural springs as well as the wells that had been dug. We read in John’s gospel, chapter 4, that even Jesus himself got weary from traveling in this area and stopped at a well. He asked a woman for a drink of water and then offered her, a woman, living in a hot and dry area of the world with few and far between reliable water sources, “living water”. And if she drank this “living water”, she would never thirst again. Jesus used the geography, the climate, the very creation of God, to present Good News to her.
THAT is the essence of being here in this Holy Land. We are given new insights into what God was up to as we are able to gain deeper understandings into God’s Word.
peace to you