So today we started off with a trip to a site that is not necessarily a Biblical one, but it is certainly a historical one. But before I lay that out for you, allow me to digress. We have had some wonderful food while we have been here-so many traditional Mediterranean foods such as hummus, baba ghanoush, pita bread, falafel, and fresh vegetables in all manner of "salads", as they refer to them here. One of my favorite things to eat for breakfast at this hotel is...well actually I have no earthly idea how to spell it, and I won't embarrass myself by trying! I need to make a point tomorrow to figure out exactly how it is spelled. But basically it is similar to a crepe. Here they are prepared with the traditionally very thin piece of bread, or tortilla, but they are hearty and seem to be whole wheat. The bread is heated briefly, brushed with olive oil, and filled with some type of cheese. A blend of spices, that is mostly ground oregano I believe, is added as well. The whole thing is then heated up and served. YUM! The nice man who makes these asked me to take a picture of him this morning!
And now, back to the tour. This morning we headed to Masada, which is a historically significant site here in Israel.
I will borrow from Wikipedia to explain it more fully: "According to Josephus, a 1st-century Jewish Roman historian, Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BC as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. In 66 AD, at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War against the Roman Empire, a group of Jewish extremists overcame the Roman garrison of Masada. Many members of the Jewish group and their families fled Jerusalem and settled on the mountaintop, using it as a base." Several years later, the Romans came and built a ramp up to the mountaintop and prepared to attack. However, rather than be taken for slaves the Jewish people there committed suicide, each man killing his own wife and children, and then taking his own life.
Pretty crazy story, huh? It is somewhat controversial, but most agree that this is what happened. What we visited today was the site itself and the reconstructed ruins that sit atop the mountain fortress. One of the things that was coolest to me about the site itself is the technology that the people there had...you'll see more about that in a minute. Here are some snapshots from the visit.
We rode a cable car up the VERY steep mountain:
That's a loooong way down, y'all:
FYI, that's the dead sea in the background:
We shared the area with some Israeli soldiers who were there as part of their training. They were kind enough to take a few pictures with some people from our group.
Ok...so here is what was so cool to me. Now remember, this was Herod's palace we are talking about. I feel sure he had the finest technologies and resourceful minds in the land at his disposal. Take a look at this replica of the palace bath houses:
There was a cool room, a warm room, and a sauna. That small cylinder in the picture above is the top of the furnace. What you see in the picture below are the columns that separated the double flooring that was in this part of the palace:
And now here are the actual, untouched remains of that flooring:
I don't know if you are putting two and two together yet but if not....he had heated floors, people! Heated tile floors. That absolutely boggles my mind. That something that is considered a real luxury today, that is available for people to put in their homes, Herod had found a way to design and implement in his palace in thirtysomething BC! Incredible.
Here we all are listening to one of Rami's detailed explanations:
Next it was on to the Qumeran, the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. What we know is that a community called the Essenes lived here. They were a Jewish community, all men, who came to this place to live a life of purity and devotion to God. They spent most of their time studying the Jewish scriptures, copying important religious texts, taking ritual purification baths, and making pottery. In case you do not know exactly what the Dead Sea Scrolls are, I will explain by borrowing again from Wikipedia: "The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts from the Hebrew Bible and extra-biblical documents found between 1947 and 1956 at Khirbet Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in the West Bank." These scrolls were significant because they are the oldest texts that have been found of the Hebrew Bible; they date back to the 2nd century BC. "These biblical manuscripts, which include at least fragments from every book of the Old Testament, except perhaps for the Book of Esther, provide a far older cross section of scriptural tradition than that available to scholars before."
Here is a picture of the excavated site where the Essenes lived and worked:
Their ritual bathing area--you can't see, but there are wide steps that go down into the bath:
And a picture of cave number 4 (60 were excavated), in which over 90 percent of the scrolls were found.
So after all that history, we were ready for the beach! (Sort of!) We headed off to swim in the Dead Sea!
In case you don't know, the Dead Sea (which is actually a lake) is the lowest elevation on the Earth's surface. It is 10 times saltier than the ocean. It is chock full of salt and many other minerals that make it a center of research for healing and cosmetic purposes. The Sea is 35% salt, and because of that, when you lie in its waters, you don't sink...you float!
Here is a pic of Lizzie and me with that awesome Dead Sea mud all over us:
Funny story-after we had all been in the water for a while, I looked over and saw Ms. Jill, a lady in our group, frantically rubbing the mud all over her arms and face. When I commented on how she must really be enjoying the mud, she said, "Do you have any idea how much we would pay for a spa treatment with this stuff back home?! Probably a hundred dollars!! I'm gonna get it while I can!" We all laughed-but she is exactly right!
Here is some of our crew just chillin' in the water:
It really was such an interesting sensation to float there in the water. A few of us went out to where it got a little deeper, and tried to "stand", or at least position ourselves upright, without touching the bottom. The only way I can describe it is to say I felt like a cork just bobbing in the water! I imagine it is somewhat similar to being in outer space. Another interesting fact-if you drink the water there in any significant quantity, it can kill you. When the guide first told us this, most of us thought he was kidding, but we quickly realized he was not. There were signs all over the place warning swimmers to keep their head above water and not to splash if at all possible.
And for our last little excursion of the day....we stopped at a gas station on the way to the hotel where they were offering...camel rides!
We climbed on to the camels while they were still sitting, and the guys leading each camel would use a lead rope to signal for the camel to get up, which it promptly did. They would then lead us a couple times around the parking lot, like kids at a county fair on a pony! Ha! We all just ate it up. Almost everyone in our group took a turn on one of the camels!
I love how the camels walk, with their necks arched and noses up in the air. They seem to be very proud. As they should be-I think they are such cool and beautiful animals!
I can't believe that the trip is almost over. It seems to have gone by so quickly, and yet we have packed an amazing amount of activity into just a few days. I am very much looking forward to tomorrow, when we will go back into Jerusalem and Bethlehem for a little more sight-seeing and discovery. I will keep you updated!