Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Israel Day Six!

This morning we packed and headed up to Northern Israel for a few days to tour Qumran, Masada, and the Dead sea, then to head up to the Sea of Galilee where Christ spent most of his life. We headed out of Jerusalem and looked out along side the road where there are lots of Bedouin camps set up. The Bedouins camp in tents and little shacks built out in the Jerusalem wilderness along the hills and mountains. They raise sheep and cattle, and chickens and turkeys, and basically live off the land. These camps were really neat to see. They also have camels—and this is one of the ways they make money. We pulled off at a rest stop where you reach sea level to take a picture, and this Bedouin was there selling his wares and he also had a nice looking camel all dressed up there that you can ride. Todd and I decided to give it a whirl! He laid the camel down and we both got on—(I wasn’t sure he would be able to get up!). The camel got up and he walked us all around the parking lot, and we were able to get several pictures. In fact, the guy took my camera and became our photographer as well! He spoke such good English that we were all joking that he probably wasn’t Bedouin at all, but he was probably from New Jersey and makes more money here in Israel giving camel rides along the roadside! It was a lot of fun! When we got inside the van, Bob was having a hard time with the immobilizer for the van, and we couldn’t get the car to start. We sat there for about 5 minutes while the Bedouin guy was giving another couple a ride, then he came over to our car and Bob rolls down the window, and the guy says “give me”, referring to the keys. He did something and then told Bob to put the code in and sure enough the van started right up. We were laughing so hard, and Bob was like—“Me just stupid American”, and the guy starts laughing and says, “Yes, me no education, you much education…” Too funny! The old Bedouin camel guy in the desert knows more about our cars and cameras than we do!
First we headed to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found by a Bedouin teenager in the 1947. He was looking for a lost goat or sheep, and threw a rock into a cave up in the hills and heard a crash. He went up to investigate the noise and found old pottery with ancient scrolls in them that became known later as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

When they were translated they turned out to be the oldest copies of the Old Testament and the Torah that have ever been found. Some of the ruins in this area were dated back 5 or even 6,000 years, making them some of the oldest ruins ever found. Most of the ruins at the site, however are believed to have belonged to the Essenes, a sect of Jews that set up sort of a collective religious community, almost like a commune, or a monastery. They found huge areas which would have been used for cooking and dining, as well as several cisterns for holding water, and large baths for ritual washing purposes. The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered by many to be one of the most important archaeological finds in history. This was a fascinating site.

We went down the road an ancient city called Masada. Masada was built right around 4 b.c. by King Herod. He built it as a fortress, and also as a retreat or a vacation home for himself.When you read about King Herod, you understand why he wanted to build his vacation home up in a huge canyon. He was very paranoid of everyone around him, and is even accused of killing 3 of his own sons because he thought they had double-crossed him. Herod was a fabulous builder, and many of the ruins we have today have lasted over 2,000 years. We took a cable car up to Masada, although we could have taken a path called the snake path all the way up to the mountain, but it takes an hour to hike there. The cable car ride was awesome, and gave us a chance to look out over the canyons and the Dead Sea at the scenery around the huge canyon. It was beautiful. Masada was amazing—the pictures we took seriously do not do it justice. The ruins that were left here were added to so that you could get a better picture of what they looked like during Herod’s time, but everything below the black line is ancient, and over 2,000 years old, including paint and mosaic tile looking floors, plaster walls made to look like marble, as well as huge pillars and ancient stairways. Herod built three large palaces, on different levels of the canyon, as well as a lookout tower, storage basins for food, cisterns for water storage, and huge bath houses to socialize and clean themselves. The bath house had a cold bath and a heated bath with a raised floor and some way of heating the water. It’s amazing the technology of this place when you think about how old it is.

View from a window at Masada...After Herod died, this place was basically deserted, and in later years was occupied by part of the Roman army. In A.D. 66 a small group of Jewish zealots attacked and overtook the fortress. They brought their families there, almost 900 people, and lived off the vast amount of food and water available at the site, also arming themselves to protect their little community. In A.D. 73, 3 years after the Romans had conquered Jerusalem, they decided to send the vast Roman army up to the place called Masada to deal once and for all with the Jews who were the last remnant of Jewish resistance in the region. It took 10,000 Roman soldiers who built a siege ramp up to the mountaintop, using captured Jews as slaves. Daily, they hit the fortress with rocks, flaming torches, and battering rams, but the people of Masada would fight back with their own rocks and weapons, drawing the battle out, and testing the Roman’s patience. You can see all around the fortress, the Romans built camps and a huge wall encircling the entire fortress so none of the inhabitants of Masada would be able to escape. Finally, though, there was a huge battle and the Romans were able to breach the main gate of the fortress. This happened at night, and the Romans went back to their camp, ready to take control of the fortress in the morning. The inhabitants of Masada, had a meeting, knowing that tomorrow they would be made slaves, and had a decision to make—be slaves, or die. The decision was made that they would rather die than be slaves to the Romans. In Jewish law it is a sin to murder, but the more grievous, unforgivable sin was to commit suicide. So the men all killed their own wives and children in the town square, slitting their throats. The men who were left cast lots to see who would murder the others. Ten men were chosen, and those ten murdered the rest of the men. When they were done, they cast lots to see who would be the one to murder the others. One man was chosen, and he murdered the nine, and then killed himself, knowing that this was an unforgivable sin, but doing it for his fellow countrymen. The next day, the Romans came in to find an indescribable scene of blood and carnage. A huge pile of bodies in the town square, and only two women and a few children who were left behind to make sure that there was someone left to tell their story. This is a famous pilgrimage site for Jews everywhere, and a famous saying is “Masada will not fall again.” This was such an amazing story—and an amazing place!From there, we headed over to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is between 30 and 35% salt, and is full of minerals. They say that people have come from all over the world to bathe in the Dead Sea hoping to cure all kinds of diseases. This was such a fun experience. It was a little cold and windy, but not freezing, so we went down and got in the water. It took a minute to get in, but once you got down deep enough, we just leaned back and you just float on top of the water like an innertube! It’s impossible to sink—even if you’re fat! After swimming for awhile, we went over and dug a hole in the sand to get down to the mineral rich black mud that is supposed to be amazing for your skin. Bob and Sue were very adventurous, and spread it all over their bodies—even their face! I was a little less and just did my arms, chest and back. Todd took some video of the spectacle, then we helped him with a mud bath as well. It was actually pretty gross and kinda stinky—and I couldn’t wait to wash myself off, so we hopped back in and washed ourselves off. Sue and I sat and rubbed the coarse sea salt all over our heels for a little salt pedicure. It was so much fun! When we were sufficiently exfoliated we went over to the hot sulpher springs to relax and get warm. The sulpher is supposed to be amazing for healing all sorts of diseases as well, but to me it smelled like we were bathing in the toilet! Thank goodness they had showers in the restroom so we could wash ourselves off and get dressed before we got on our way! Otherwise our car may have smelled like a big sewer the rest of the trip! This was such a fun part of the day, and a once in a lifetime opportunity! I can’t believe we floated in the Dead Sea! I was so sad because the gift shop closed right as we were finished getting dressed, and I couldn’t buy me a “I floated in the Dead Sea” t-shirt! Darn—I guess we’ll have to come back again someday!

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