Daily blogs highlighting a Baptists Today “Nurturing Faith Experience” in Israel came to a screeching halt when Internet access in our hotel at Ramath Rachel decided to rest on the Sabbath. After two final days of touring and a lo-o-o-ong flight home, I decided to fight the bleary eyes and celebrate real bandwidth by posting some photos from those last days.
Saturday was spent entirely in and around the Dead Sea. After an early start and a long ride from Jerusalem, we stopped briefly at an Ahava Factory Outlet so folks hoping to beautify their skin could shop a bit, while others availed themselves of the snack bar and restrooms.
Travelers commonly remarked on the bleakness of the desert mountains surrounding the Dead Sea, but about halfway down we visited the oasis of En Gedi, where streams of water flow from what appears to be barren rock and create a small moist enclave that spills into a narrow valley and brings life to a slice of the land. David once hid from King Saul in a large cave at En Gedi, according to 1 Samuel 24, and we could easily see why both of them chose to stop there.
Near the southern end of the Dead Sea we rode a cable car to the top of King Herod’s isolated mountain fortress on Masada, which rises from the desert floor like a giant ship floating atop the sands. Herod rarely used the retreat, if ever, but a band of Jewish zealots managed to hole up there for several years, embarrassing the Roman army that had been called out to put down a Jewish rebellion. The legions conquered Jerusalem and leveled the temple in 70 CE, but it took three more years to take the fortress of Masada, where most of those who remained committed suicide, choosing to die free rather than live in slavery.
Heading back north, we stopped for a quick tour of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, presumably hidden there by a strict sect called the Essenes in an effort to keep them from the Romans. The small site and its surrounding wadis were bone dry the day we were there, but a rare heavy rain hit the area the next day, creating flash floods: see an short clip here:<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1F5L2jxi5s&feature=youtu.be>.
A short stop for a chance to swim in the Dead Sea was quite long enough for most. The sea has fallen so much in recent years that the swimming area we visited was a prime site for harvesting the black mud that many believe beautifies the skin, but it didn’t make for pleasant swimming.
More appealing was a short trip up the Old Jericho Road and a quick stop to climb what appeared to be an empty hill and look over into the Wadi Qelt, where St. George’s monastery is built into the side of a gorge so deep that some think it may have inspired the “valley of the shadow of death” imagery in Psalm 23. We recited the psalm together, just to be on the safe side.
Our final day began in a rainstorm, the first I’ve seen in six trips to Israel. We walked up the remains of a first century Roman cardo (main street), and saw part of an ancient “broad wall” unearthed in the 1970s that proved the city was much bigger in the late 8th century BCE than previously believed.
From there we trekked through streaming streets until we arrived, with waterlogged shoes, at the Western Wall. Given the rain, the wall was deserted, leaving only us and a few others to offer prayers uninterrupted by crowds or dismissive looks from the Orthodox Jews who would just as soon we not be there.
The rest of the day was spent in museums, first at the Yad VeShem, Israel’s massive memorial to victims of the Holocaust, where more than one of us shed tears for the millions who suffered and died as victims of human meanness and unfettered prejudice. Knowing that our Jewish guide’s parents escaped Germany in the 1930’s — but his grandparents were killed at Treblinka — made the experience even more poignant.
At the more traditional Israel Museum we viewed a large scale model of Jerusalem in the time of Christ in hopes of bringing together a better mental picture of the many places we had been during the week. We stopped in the Shrine of the Book to view fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, along with the 10th century Aleppo Codex, before having far too little time left to wander the exhibit halls where archaeological finds from the ancient sites we had visited are displayed.
During a farewell dinner at Maganda’s in Tel Aviv, we were reminded to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, understanding that peace in the world depends largely on finding a solution to the ongoing conflict in that holy city.
We live in a divided world, and the experiences we shared led to us to a greater understanding of the conflicts involved. I do believe that will not be our last hopeful prayer for the peace of Jerusalem, and for all the world.
[Note: most of the pictures in this post were taken by Susan: she should get credit!]