I have noticed that I have been posting the wrong date corresponding with the actual event – sorry about the confusion. This article is about yesterday’s travels on the 15th (of course who knows what day my body thinks it is. The sermon this Sunday should be interesting to say the least!)
This is the day that everyone realizes that touring the Holy Land is hard work even if it is on an airconditioned Coach and not a camel. Nevertheless we were determined to make our last day of pilgrimage (tomorrow is a free day) and good one. It turned out to be a great one.
We traveled to Masada, the site of the fortress built by Herod the Great. A century later Jewish zealots, the Sicarii, occupied it during their revolt against the Romans. The fortress occupies the top of an impressive, free-standing rock some 1300 feet above and two-and-a-half miles on the western side of the Dead Sea.
Masada is not mentioned in the Bible, but is famous in Jewish history. In 73 AD, 960 Sicarii occupied the fortress and chose to die by their own hands, rather than allow capture by the Romans. According to Jewish historian Josephus, they “chose death rather than slavery…” and carried out their resolve “neither to serve the Romans nor anyone else except God.” The morning after the mass suicide the Romans broke through the fortress and, instead of facing a battle, were met by silence. It has become a national shrine for Israelis, who commemorate their sacrifice.
Beginning with Herod the Great it remained occupied until the fifth or sixth century AD when Byzantine monks erected churches on the mountain top. We will take a cable car to the top and visit the remains of the Roman palaces, store houses, synagogues, and the bath house.
On the way to the Dead Sea, we passed alongside the remains of Qumran, which once stood as an Essene community. This is the location of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the most significant archeological finds pertaining to scripture. A Bedouin shepherd, who was wandering around looking for a lost animal, discovered these scrolls in 1947. The story told is that he was tossing rocks around the caves when he heard a clay jar shatter. This find gives us copies of scripture – many are in fragments – that date from 300 BC to 70 AD. Prior to this discovery, the most recent copy of the scriptures dated to the sixth century AD. At least a fragment of every book in our Bible, with the exception of Esther, is contained in the Qumran discovery including the entire book of Isaiah.
One the way back from Masada we stopped by a kibbutz for lunch (falafel, hummus, etc.) followed by a dip in the Dead Sea. From our hotel we descended to the Dead Sea from nearly 3000 feet above sea level to the lowest point on earth. The Dead Sea is 1300 feet below sea level. The Sea has no natural outlet and, therefore, has become the world’s most saline body of water with averages of around 30%. It is called “dead” because due to its high salinity no significant aquatic life exists. Additionally, the starkest, most desolate scenery the world has to offer surrounds the Dead Sea.
You could not tell things were dead for several of us who decided to take a swim. My job was to serve as lifeguard since taking in the water is toxic and the bottom is slippery and muddy. We waded out into the water with the slick and slimy mud squishing between our toes and floated on top – literally on top – of the water. I am not sure who was having more fun: those frolicking in the water or those along the shore taking pictures.
The irony is that today this “dead” body of water is a source of both life and health: the pot ash contained in its bitter waters is an invaluable fertilizer; while, the lake and the springs that feed it are said to have cured everything from arthritis to psoriasis since ancient times; and for a handful of Baptists and friends it was a place of immense laughter and fun.
Christ has come, so the gospel of John reminds us, that we may have life and have it in abundance. (John 10:10). Even when our life is sometimes bounded by death, may the joy of the Lord infuse each of us with light, and life, and even a few giggles. The empty tomb reminds us that death does not win.
In just over 24 hours we will receive our wake-up call (one in the morning to be exact) and we will be heading home. There is so much I have left out but I want to leave you with a few more pictures highlighting our time together walking where Jesus walked and playing like God desires.