Hello friends . . . grace and peace,
One of the unexpected gifts in coming to The Holy Lands of Jordan, Palestine, and Israel is visiting and learning about spectacular places on God’s earth that you may never have heard about in your life.
Today, it was Masada. High into the rocks and cliffs west of the Dead Sea about an hour south of Jerusalem are the remains of a place that has a significant place in Jewish history, and is also a historian’s paradise to visit.
Originally built for Herod the Great, this was the site of the Great Revolt by the Jews against the Romans in 66 A.D. A group under the leadership of Eleazar ben Ya’ir, fled Jerusalem and took refuge in the fortress overlooking the Dead Sea. Several years later, Roman troops came to the site and eventually built a ramp made of dirt and rocks to try to get to the Jews. Ben Yair convinced the 960 members of the community that it was better to commit suicide rather than become Roman slaves. When the Romans finally reached the crest, only two women and five children remained.
If you are intrigued by the story of Masada, feel free to read more online AND see the 1981 mini-series staring Peter O’Toole (trailer below)
We all stepped into a large cable car that took us up the side of the mountain. From there, we were able to roam the ruins of the fortress that included evidence of a synagogue, baths, a palace and water cisterns. Several of us in our pilgrimage group admitted we had never heard of the place or its historical significance.
We weren’t finished with exploring history on this Monday. Several miles north of Masada, also west of the Dead Sea, is Qumran. A breakaway sect called the Essenes lived and studied there for two centuries, a period that covered Jesus’ time on earth. The Essenes were dispersed in 66 A.D. by the Romans but stored ancient scrolls in the caves that were in the side of the rocky cliffs.
In 1947, Bedouin shepherds found seven of these scrolls in one of the caves, sparking a massive excavation that found additional scrolls. They became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls that shed considerable light on the culture of the 1st Century as well as gave us wonderful confirmation that the scriptures we have today, in the 21st century, are as close to the original texts as they can possibly be.
Excavation continues at the site.
We drove a short distance north to a small community near the northwest corner of the Dead Sea, and several members of our group took advantage of the invitation to float in the sea. Its high salt content – 33.7 percent – gives bathers a buoyant experience. One does not swim in the Dead Sea, one floats. Because of the massive amount of salt and minerals showers were recommended for all.
It is, however, sad to note that because of policies and projects supported by the Israeli government, the Dead Sea is dying. Water is being siphoned off from the Sea of Galilee which means less water travels down the Jordan River. The Dead Sea loses more than 1 meter of depth each year.
Tuesday promises a different type of experience. We will head south to the Israeli settlement Efrata in the West Bank near Bethlehem that was established in 1983 to hear from an Israeli settler there. We will also go to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp for Palestinians displaced by the Israeli occupation to hear from one of the refugees. More than ever, we ask that you
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6