To read about our trip from the beginning, start here.
The last day :( I don’t know how, but the trip absolutely FLEW by! Today, we left Jerusalem and went to the Dead Sea region, and finally got a taste for the desert. Our drive to the first stop was so interesting! On one side, we had the Dead Sea (which is huge btw), and on the other there were mountains, but they were just sand, no vegetation at all! Every now and then we would see a little grouping of plants, which indicated there must be an underground water source.
Our first stop was at Masada. This was a site that I really didn’t know a thing about before the trip, but I am so glad I got to go! This is a “stronghold” (that’s the definition of Masada in Hebrew), that is up on a natural mesa near the Dead Sea. there is a path to hike up to the top, but of course, our guide Ron made us “chick chock” to the top so we took the tram. Next time I go to Israel, I will be hiking! Once you get the top, the view is breathtaking! The only Biblical reference of Masada is in 1 Samuel and 1 Chronicles when David camps with his soldiers at the “stronghold” (1 Sam 22:3-5,24:22, 1 Chron 12:1-16). When Herod was the ruler (right before Jesus was born), he fortified the stronghold and it was nearly impregnable. Following the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, many Jews fled here to take one last stand against the Romans. In 73 AD, the Romans finally captured Masada, and discovered that all of the Jews had chosen to kill themselves instead of being subject to Roman slavery. These 960 Jews were the last free Jews until Israel became a state in 1948! Among the ruins, we saw what used to be Herod’s palace, including murals and mosaics still preserved, a synagogue, various housing structures, and the channels and cisterns used to funnel rain water to the stronghold.
We caught a glimpse of the desert oasis Ein Gedi as our bus flew by. This whole region is where David spent a significant amount of time fleeing from Saul (how fitting that our bus was fleeing by? hahah). Near here, David cut off the end of Saul’s robe in a cave while he was relieving himself (1 Sam 24), and it is also believed that he wrote Psalms 57 and 142 in a cave in the area. Additionally, the Moabites and Ammonites and Edomites gathered here to attack Jerusalem, but King Jehoshaphat gathered the people to fast and pray, and God caused the armies to fight each other instead of attacking Jerusalem (2 Chron. 20:1-30).
Our next stop was Qumron. This is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Ron made a short story very long as he told us the story of how they were found, but I will only share my concise version :) There were some Bedouins where playing around throwing rocks into crevices and caves in 1941 when they heard a rock hit something inside of a cave. The came back the next day with ropes and things to climb up and discovered multiple vessels with scrolls inside. They tried to sell them in the nearby town of Bethlehem, but no one wanted them. So they ended up giving them to a local shoemaker. He asked one of his professor friends about them, and the professor friend, realizing their value, bought them. He then announced their discovery, but due to the value, the Bedouins figured they would check if there were any others. They sold most of them to the shoemaker, even tearing some up in order to get more money from him. The shoemaker, then in turn, sold them to the professor, making quite a fortune for himself. One of the greatest discovery in the caves was the oldest complete version of the book of Isaiah. It turns out that the scrolls belonged to a group of Jews who set up a little village similar to a university where people could come and study and live a communal lifestyle. Archaeologists think they hid the scrolls when they heard of the coming invasion of the Romans, intending to return, but they never made it back.
We ended our day at the Dead Sea. So awesome! I had heard all of my life that you can sit in the water and read a newspaper, so I obviously had to try it, and we got a great picture of my uncle doing exactly that (nevermind that the newspaper is in Hebrew :) ). The water felt normal while we were in it, but left an odd feeling on our skin once we got out. And let me tell you, truly floating is an amazing feeling! Pro tips: wear strap on sandals like Chacos as the ground is sometimes hard to walk on, and be prepared with your own hotel towel(s) in the shared showers and changing rooms.
That evening, we decided to take in the city at night before leaving the following day. We hopped on the train to Jaffa Street and the Mamilla Mall. There were both tourists and Israelis out and about enjoying the evening!
And that was the end of the eighth day, our last day! Stay tuned for my next post with travel tips and observations for your next trip to Israel…