Today we spent most of the day well below sea level. We loaded up the bus this morning and headed toward the Dead Sea.
We soon entered the Wilderness of Judea and saw many interesting rock formations and many Bedouin encampments. Several interesting events took place in the Wilderness of Judea. It is the setting of the story of the Good Samaritan, John the Baptist preached there and it was also where Jesus was tempted.
Our first stop of the day was a surprise as it was not on our schedule.
This is the traditional location for the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Across the Jordan River from us was Bethany beyond Jordan. The side of the river we were on is less developed than the Jordan side of river. The baptism may not have happened exactly where this picture was taken, but it is representative of where it happened.
We then loaded back on the bus and headed toward the Dead Sea.
The picture here was taken at the north end of the Dead Sea. This is the lowest point on Earth. I have seen several different numbers for the elevation, so I think it will be best to just say that it is almost 1400 feet below sea level. The level of the Dead Sea has been rapidly dropping due to increased use of water that would normally flow down the Jordan River.
After a scenic drive with hills to the right and the sea to the left, we arrived at our next stop.
I will not recount the story of Masada here, as many of you will already know it. Seeing the site for the first time was impressive as I was able to see the sheer size of the fortress. To reach the top of Masada, you have several choices. Most of our tour members opted to ride the cable cars up to the top. I joined a smaller group that wanted to follow the Snake Path to the top. You can see the Snake Path in the picture above. The path goes up the side of Masada with a vertical rise of about 400 meters.
About 45 minutes after we started, I reached the top. Here I am climbing the last few steps. It was an arduous climb and in the upper portion I made many rest stops. However, it was a rewarding climb. It gave me a feeling for how unassailable the fortress was.
Another of the ways to access the site is to walk up the ramp that was built by the Romans when they besieged Masada in 73. I can just imagine the work that had to be done to build the ramp, and the astonishment of the Romans when they entered Masada the morning after they breached the gate.
The fortress was fascinating, and hopefully I will be able to visit it again some day. Next time I will take the cable car:-). I did take the cable car back down to the visitor’s center.
We then headed toward Ein Ghedi, only to find out that the restaurant that we planned to eat at was closed for restoration. Since this was the spot where we planned on walking on the shore of the Dead Sea, we missed our opportunity.
The picture above is one of the Date Palm groves with the hills above them. I did see an Ibex right as we were pulling back on the highway from Ein Ghedi, but was unable to get a clear picture.
We then headed on up to Qumran for lunch and a tour of the excavations there. On the way we were able to look across the Dead Sea and see Mount Nebo in the distance.
After a good lunch we watched a short film in the interpretive center and saw a few exhibits before once again braving the heat of the day.
The picture above shows one of the entrances to Cave 4. This cave is the most famous of the 11 caves as more than 15,000 fragments and more than 100 scrolls were found here.
We then headed up to Jericho.
The tell of Jericho is named Tell es-Sultan. There have been many excavations here and many disagreements over the interpretation of what has been found. The picture here shows a Neolithic Tower that is considered the oldest building in the world. The tower is 3.6 meters tall and is connected to a wall from the same time period.
Across the street from the tell is Elisha’s Spring. The spring is still producing water today.
And they came back to him while he was staying at Jericho, and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?” Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke. (2 Kings 2:18-22 ESV)
This happens just before one of my favorite accounts of Elisha.
He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. (2 Kings 2:23, 24 ESV)
After an exhausting day, it was nice to head back to the hotel. We will be up early tomorrow as we will start another day of exploration in the old city of Jerusalem.
For more information about the trip you can also read the following blogs by other tour members.