Masada, floating on the Dead Sea, and Qumran
I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining.
I believe in love, even when I don't feel it.
I believe in God, even when God is silent.
(Words found scrawled on the wall of a cellar in Cologne at the end of World War II where Jews had been held as captives. We started our day singing this text set to a melody by Mark Miller, director of the YDS Gospel Choir.)
We hit the road early this morning to head down to Masada, site of the Zealot community holding out against the Romans for three years, from 70-73CE, following the Great Revolt and destruction of the temple. Rather than surrender to slavery and subjection to Rome, the entire community of 960 drew lots, and the people were systematically killed or committed suicide. This community occupied Herod the Great’s winter palace, which sat atop a colossal stone mountain and contained two palaces, enormous water cisterns that were filled by having water hauled up the mountain, and every convenience for the powerful king. The views of the Negev, the Dead Sea, and the surrounding countryside was unobstructed, so we could certainly understand why this protected place would have been selected by Herod for a palace. Many of our hardier souls walked down the Snake Path rather than taking it easy on the tram!
We then backtracked north to Ein Gedi, a kibbutz at which we ate lunch followed by a swim in the Dead Sea. It was unexpectedly steep and rocky to get down into the sea, but the experience of bobbing like a cork in the cool water was delightful. One emerges from the sea with a good coating of salt on the skin, and I imagine that most of the swimmers will be taking a good shower tonight even though we rinsed off in the showers at Ein Gedi.
Boarding the bus for a short drive a little further north, we came to Qumran, site of the 1947 discovery of a cave containing huge pottery jars that held inside of them scrolls composed and/or stored by the Essene community that lived there for about two centuries until the time of the Jewish Revolt in 68CE. We had seen some of the scrolls and fragments at the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, and today, we were able to get a sense of their rather miraculous discovery in a barren and remote location. Our guide, Naim Khoury, was one of the archaeologists who worked at the site in the 1960s, and Harry Attridge was able to fill in much of the historical and scriptural information since his doctoral dissertation advisor was one of the translators of the original scrolls.
A short ride from Qumran brought us to Jericho, where we will have a quiet evening at this lovely oasis resort before looking around the city tomorrow and then heading up into Galilee.
Elaine Ellis Thomas
Harry Attridge discussing Qumran
Beach at the Dead Sea
Walking path up to and down from Masada
Walkway to the top of Masada