Tuesday, 19 January 2016. Last day in Israel.
We drove south this morning to Masada. Most of the terrain was barren – dusty, chalky hills, not much green. Reminiscent, if anything, of the American west – parts of Utah, perhaps. We saw a herd of goats being led by a goatherd. He’s Bedouin, our guide told us. The Bedouins still live on these hillsides, not so much in tents as in lean-tos.
Soon we arrived at the Dead Sea – the shoreline is beautiful, as are all coasts, but eery – since almost nothing is around: no people, buildings, or vegetation.
Masada may be about the most interesting place I’ve ever toured. I set out by myself and hiked the southern and western borders, coming across cisterns, the columbaria, mikvahs (ritual baths), and all kinds of small rooms. It was much bigger than I’d anticipated. I met up with some of our group around the northern wall. Sandi Gerhan and I got a good workout in, climbing several flights of steps down to Herod’s northern palace (and back up the same way.) It appears that you can still see paint on the walls – I don’t know what the paint substance is. We saw the synagogue, the storerooms, Herod’s swimming pool, models of the water system. An utterly fascinating place. All of the pictures above are of Masada – I could have stayed there taking pictures for hours.
We quickly toured Qumran, home of the Essenes, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Many people believe John the Baptist spent time at Qumran, and perhaps Jesus too. Qumran was a communal community, where most people were celibate, where men spent time copying scripture, where meals were eaten in silence. The cave at left is a dwelling, the cave at right is where many scrolls were found.
After lunch at Qumran, we took a trip to the beach. About half our group ventured into the Dead Sea, floating and enjoying this unique experience. Until afterwards when we all (especially the women) felt greasy, salty and very much ready for a shower.
Our last stop was Jericho. We saw a sycamore tree (though certainly not the same tree Zaccheus climbed) and the remains of the world’s oldest walled city. It was extremely windy! At top left you can see the wall around the city. Right underneath that are the mountains where Jesus spent 40 days being tempted. The last three photos are from a lovely peace garden at the entrance to the historical sites. Jericho is now a very poor Palestinian Muslim city; one of our group members said it looked half abandoned.
We are headed back to our hotel after another day filled with history, culture, learning, and laughter…and, for some of us, a 3 AM wake-up call so we can get to the airport on time!