Thursday morning we departed from the lovely Gai Beach Hotel in Tiberias and made our way south towards the desert & our two major sites for the day. Our route became more and more arid as we left the lush Galilee region and worked our way into the Judean wilderness. We passed through checkpoints into )and then back out of) the West Bank following the Jordan. It soon flowed into the Dead Sea, which reminded me of Utah: the great salt lake and the rock faces sculpted into starkly beauty by wind and water. At the southern end of the Dead Sea, on an island of rock so high we found ourselves at sea level again at the top (1200+ ft above the valley floor), was Herod the Great’s mountaintop fortress of Masada. As brilliant a builder as he was paranoid and ruthless, Herod constructed Masada as the furthermost link in a chain of 9 fortresses he built across the territory. It is the most impressive. Having read about it for years, especially about the Jewish rebels that took it over during the war that saw the Temple destroyed in 70 CE, I can only say that it lives up to — even surpasses — expectations. What a feat of engineering to build an almost impregnable fortress at the end of the earth.
After several hours, we got back on the bus and drove back north along the Dead Sea & into the West Bank again. Near Jericho, we arrived at Qumran, the remote religious enclave of ascetic religious practitioners & scholars that existed for several hundred years until it was destroyed in the same revolt. It has some interesting links to Christian practices such as Baptism and Communion, and also contributed to the genre of apocalyptic literature of which Revelation is a later example. We know this because before the community was destroyed, they archived many scrolls in the caves above their community which were found by Bedouins in 1947; they are known now as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These copies of Biblical (and other) books are the oldest copies of Scripture in existence by about 1000 years.
After dipping our toes in the Dead Sea, we headed west into Jerusalem, where we’re spending the second half of our trip.