Fortresses, Faith Communities, and Floaters…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

the suns rays shining on us all

the suns rays shining on us all

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.

the fortress of Masada

the fortress of Masada

looking down from the top of Masada to the ruins below

looking down from the top of Masada to the ruins below

a model of what Masada would have looked like in the time of Herod the Great

a model of what Masada would have looked like in the time of Herod the Great

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.

the views from the top of Masada are breathtaking to say the least . . . this is looking east, towards the Dead Sea and the Kingdom of Jordan

the views from the top of Masada are breathtaking to say the least . . . this is looking east, towards the Dead Sea and the Kingdom of Jordan

this is looking north, towards Jericho and the Sea Galilee region

this is looking north, towards Jericho and the Sea Galilee region

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)

a view from the cable car about to head up 1,300 feet to Masada

a view from the cable car about to head up 1,300 feet to Masada

there's a path that leads to the top as well . . . if you don't feel like riding the cable car . . . it takes about 45 minutes to walk up

there’s a path that leads to the top as well . . . if you don’t feel like riding the cable car . . . it takes about 45 minutes to walk up

the ruins at Masada are extensive . . . this is the remains of the "downtown" area where many stores and shops would have been

the ruins at Masada are extensive . . . this is the remains of the “downtown” area where many stores and shops would have been

there are mosaics everywhere . . . these are in what would have been Herod's bath house

there are mosaics everywhere . . . these are in what would have been Herod’s bath house

one of Herod's bathtubs . . . he wasn't in it, so it's ok to look

one of Herod’s bathtubs . . . he wasn’t in it, so it’s ok to look

this is Herod's sauna, or steam room. the floor was elevated, with the hot water down at the base of these columns (which supported the floor. the steam from the hot water then traveled up the hollow pipes made of stone to create a steamy place to sit and relax. remember, this place was built in 37 BC!

this is Herod’s sauna, or steam room. the floor was elevated, with the hot water down at the base of these columns (which supported the floor). the steam from the hot water then traveled up the hollow pipes made of stone at the edge of the floor against the wall to create a steamy place to sit and relax. remember, this place was built in 37 BC!

Herod might have been "Great" but he certainly wasn't tall . . . Fr. Ralph had to duck to get into the bathhouse . . .

Herod might have been “Great” but he certainly wasn’t tall . . . Fr. Ralph had to duck to get into the bathhouse . . .

Aran didn't . . .

Aran didn’t . . .

hundreds of years after Masada was abandoned by the Roman Empire, a group of Byzantine monks discovered it and built a church there

hundreds of years after Masada was abandoned by the Roman Empire, a group of Byzantine monks discovered it and built a church there

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.

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Fr. Kamal, teaching us at Qumran

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.

there, that large cave, that's the one that started the whole saga of the Dead Sea Scrolls

there, that large cave, that’s the one that started the whole saga of the Dead Sea Scrolls

in that small cave near Fr. Kamal's hand, were found every single scroll of all the books of the Old Testament, except one (Esther). this is far and away the most incredible archeological/biblical find in history

in that small cave near Fr. Kamal’s hand, were found every single scroll of all the books of the Old Testament, except one (Esther). this is far and away the most incredible archeological/biblical find in history

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.

they're still digging and finding things at Qumran

they’re still digging and finding things at Qumran

Excavation continues at the site.

the beach at the Dead Sea

the beach at the Dead Sea

Leslie Kohler and Cam Ross floating

Leslie Kohler and Cam Ross floating

Lyn Ross enjoy the soothing salts and minerals in the water

Lyn Ross enjoying the soothing salts and minerals in the water

Fr. Richard Schaal, waving whilst effortlessly remaining on top of the water

Fr. Richard Schaal, waving whilst effortlessly remaining on top of the water

Michele and Jon Whitford and Aran Walter, all proving that you literally need to do NOTHING in order to float on the Dead Sea

Michele and Jon Whitford and Aran Walter, all proving that you literally need to do NOTHING in order to float on the Dead Sea

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.

the Dead Sea is shrinking by more than 3 feet a year. take special note of the southern end. it is possible today, to actually walk across the Dead Sea on dry land as the water levels have gotten so low. :-(

the Dead Sea is shrinking by more than 3 feet a year. take special note of the southern end. it is possible today, to actually walk across the Dead Sea on dry land as the water levels have gotten so low. 😦

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.

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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

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