So today was less about being a pilgrim than it was about seeing the sights one shouldn ‘t miss on a trip to Israel. These were Masada, Qumran, and the Dead Sea.
First stop and where we spent our morning was Masada. This is the second most visited place in Israel, after Jerusalem. King Herod the great had one of his dozen palaces there, and you can see the remains. It was a lavish place, with various pools, remarkable water system , places for soldiers’ quarters, luxurious living space for Herod and his nine wives, and a lot more.
It is on the top of a huge rock that rises out of the desert and was a strategic place because it was easy to defend. You can see anyone coming from far away and be prepared to keep them from entering.
But the real reason Masada has a place in the national lore is that it was the place Jewish rebels fled to in the time of the destruction of the Temple. The Romans were crushing the uprising by hunting down and killing the rebels, who stayed in Masada in hopes of surviving. Long story short, the Romans brought 10,000 troops and 10,000 slaves to build a ramp and battering ram up to the top and eventually overtook the 1,000 Jewish revolutionaries. The story goes that when the Romans got in to the fortress, everyone was dead- choosing death over slavery to the Romans. They are looked on as heroes and inspiration in Israel’s quest for freedom.
Next up we went to Qumran and saw the site of the community of the Essenes who lived there. This was a male, likely celibate group of religious fanatics who were preparing for the end time by living an ascetic religious life in community. It is theorized that John the Baptist might have been part of the Essene community before he started foretelling the Messiah. At any rate, the Essenes were around for about 200 years, up until 68 in the first century. We know of them because the are the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1947. Eleven caves have turned up every book of the bible except Esther, some multiple times. There are scrolls and fragments of scrolls now in the Israel museum. We saw one of the caves they were discovered in.
We ended our day by going to the Dead Sea and having a float. Not a swim, a float. The water is so salty and full of minerals that you go out a little ways, basically sit down on the water … and darn if it doesn ‘t completely hold you up. It was very cool. I was in the water thinking, here I am in the Dead Sea, looking across it to the country of Jordan in the background. Just another day and another adventure in the Holy Land!
Tomorrow we head to the Western/Wailing wall and some more time in Jerusalem. It should be quite an experience.