Today was a massively wonderful and disappointing day all at the sometime. The sites and stories were the wonderful part along with some family stuff.  Today was my wedding anniversary. It’s the first one I have not been there to celebrate with my wife and it felt strange. I was blessed to be able to call home and talk to her this afternoon as she was waking up.  That really helped put the rest of the day in perspective and there was really nothing that could have ruined this day.  However the tour guide and bus were the disappointing part. They showed up late of course. We drove to Masada and after our tour it took almost an hour to get them to come and pick us up. That wasted time was really disappointing. Today was the last chance we had to see some of the sites so the late start and delay at Masada caused everything else to be cut short. Then on the way home there was something wrong with the bus and we drove about 10 mph for really long way. My roommate (Ray) and I finally got out and walked the last few miles to the hotel.

Our day started at Masada. This is a huge desert fortress built on top of a large mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. Herod the Great built this place for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. This guy really was a master builder. I was so amazed at the thought that went into this fortress that was designed to be a place of refuge and last stand if needed. In this day there was really no easy way to get to the top. Today you have three options. The first is the climb to the top on the very steep and narrow “snake path” The climb takes a very young set of legs about two hours. On the back side there is a large siege ramp that the Romans build and there is a shorter walking path up next to it that enters through the water gate. And we took the third option which is a gondola that takes about two minutes to ride to the top. It was well worth the $15 especially since our group was short on time for today’s itinerary. If you had the entire day to devote to this one site I think the climb to the top would be great.

This fortress is a really great place to make your last stand. The cliffs that surround it are massive. On the east the cliffs are 1,300 feet virtually straight up. The west side has a few places that the cliffs are only 300 feet but they too are impassable. Keep in mind 300 feet is a 30 story building. Long after Herod’s death some Jews made their last stand here during the Jewish revolt. The Romans took about 3 months and built a siege ramp 375 feet up the west side. They then built a siege tower and breached the wall. They found all but a few children and ladies had committed suicide. I find it strange that they were not able to better defend this fortress. You can’t really appreciate the defensive nature of this place until you stand on top and look down on the surrounding countryside. There is very little vegetation, no potable water, and the heat is horrible. You really have to see this place to understand but it is an amazing site to visit.

Riding up to Masada

Riding up to Masada

Sitting on the wall overlooking the Dead Sea at Masada

Sitting on the wall overlooking the Dead Sea at Masada

No wheel chair ramps at Masada

No wheel chair ramps at Masada

From the Northern Place at Masada

From the Northern Place at Masada

We ate at Masada before we left and next drove to Qumran. A Bedouin in search of a lost goat discovered the cave at Qumran which contained the Dead Sea Scrolls.[1] More scrolls were discovered in other caves in the years between 1947 and 1956. There was a very strict religious sect that lived here in this harsh desert. They built a small village here on the edge of the Dead Sea and you can tour the remains of the city still today. No one really knows what happened to them but for some reason they hid all of these scrolls (many of them Old Testament books) in caves around their village. Those scrolls have been a tremendous help in verifying the accuracy of the Bible we have today, because they are the oldest records we have of the Old Testament. There is a short film at the start of the tour that is basically making a case for John the Baptist being one of the members of this sect. After the video you can walk around and see this amazing little village and try to understand how they lived I really enjoyed it!

One of the caves near Qumran

One of the caves near Qumran

Our next stop was at the Dead Sea where we got to swim. Not much to report here really. The water is extremely salty. The water is much saltier than the ocean. The water is over 34% salt. This is also the lowest land point on planet earth. The most amazing thing and the reason everyone comes here is when you get in you float. I always wanted to be an astronaut and today I finally got to be totally weightless. It was a real thrill but after about fifteen minutes I was ready to get out. The water is really nasty and you can’t help but get some into your nose and a few people got some in their eyes. It burns really bad. I shaved this morning and even with almost 7 hours having passed the water still really burned my face. When I got out I could feel the salt on my skin. It was a really fun and amazing experience that I would highly recommend.

Pastor Pete having fun floating in the Dead Sea

Pastor Pete having fun floating in the Dead Sea

From there we drove to the Jordan River. The place that is celebrated as the traditional location for Jesus’ baptism is very close to the Jordan border. It is actually in a militarized buffer zone between Israel and Jordan. They close the gates at 4pm so we were not able to drive in. We went from there to the ancient city of Jericho. This is the place that the walls came tumbling down, but there is really much more to the story of this city. Like several other sites we have seen this is the location of many different civilizations. The first one being about 10,000 B.C. There is an actual guard tower there that is about 10,000 years old. It is the oldest thing I have ever seen. The site is small and there are only a few pits you can look in and see these ancient remains. The signage is somewhat lacking and you can’t always tell what you are looking at. When Jesus was passing through here (Luke 19:1-9) he meet a man named Zacchaeus who was perched in a tree.  This was another small but fun site to visit and I would recommend it for those who have the time to pass through.

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Tomorrow I plan to visit Bethlehem and some other places here in Jerusalem. We have the day on Friday to explore as well then we leave Friday night for home. I am sad to think that this trip is coming to an end, but I am also very excited to be going home. There really is no place like home!  I can’t wait to see my family. I have missed my children and wife terribly. I also can’t wait to see the wonderful people of Cowboy Fellowship on Sunday. I am doing my best to finish strong here but my thoughts are increasingly focusing on home. I have really enjoyed getting to meet new friends and see new places, but my old friends and old places are drawing me home!

 

Now I need your help, which one of these should I buy for Abby?  Vote in the comments below. Also just for fun meet my roommate Ray. He has a great beard!

Pink for Abby

Pink for Abby

Green For Abby

Green For Abby

My Roommate Ray

My Roommate Ray



[1] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 148.