Monday, June 18th, 2001
Masada, Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, Bethany

Father Severino and I once again left the monastery early, this time departing around 8AM. Severino had purchased a thing or two for the trip, including a new steering wheel casing, a new seat cushion, and a "Cowboy" hat to protect him from the hot sun (I could have used one as well where we ended up going). We drove off through the Bethlehem checkpoint and passed through East Jerusalem on our way off to the Dead Sea. We used the same route that we used several days ago, when we drove past Jericho. However, we turned south rather than north when we approached the Dead Sea.

Our first stop on the day's journey was the ancient outpost of Masada. While getting there was quite a battle, it was also a lot of fun; especially traveling with Father Severino. With the pumping tunes of Gina T. to keep us company, we were having a super time. All week long we had been rockin' the Kasbah, now we were rocking' the wasteland . . . and the Clash were nowhere to be found.


"Indiana Jones from Poland"

Journal Excerpt
The roads leading up to Masada are dramatic and extraordinary. The roadway to Masada heads south through a barren wasteland, with the Dead Sea on our left and the massive cliffs of the Judean Desert on our right. At times flat for many miles, the road also becomes elevated and sometimes seems literally "carved" out of the hillside providing views of the Dead Sea and valley that are difficult to believe much less describe. I stopped several times to take video and to catch my breath if nothing else.

The flatlands around Masada and its surrounding mountains have an incredibly beautiful and "patterned" effect that I have never seen before. It almost looked like a giant "Ant Farm." The dunes stretched several stories high for miles, yet carved into the dunes were a randomized, yet seemingly deliberate and precise set of pathways. Similar to the "valley of the Crescent Moon" from Indiana Jones lore the topography seemed more indicative of Petra than Masada. Then again, Petra is less than 75 miles away.


roadway to Masada


Dead Sea in the distance


three feet from the edge


Patterned dessert dunes

We arrived at Masada around 10:30AM or so and took the cablecars to the top. The cablecars are definitely the way to go unless you are traveling on a very tight budget. One can save several bucks if they choose to walk up the winding "snake path" to the top, but I was never more eager to slap down some shekels and avoid the 30-45 minute climb in the oppressive, hazy, and sauna-like noonday heat. It was a scorcher by the time we reached the top.

Beginning the tour of Masada, one is immediately aware of several things. First, the views from the city are some of the finest one could hope to see. Second, the inhabitants of Masada were well prepared and had enough necessities to stay up there a very, very long time. Third, if somebody wanted to stay up in the fortress, there wasn't a heck of a lot anyone could do about it. And finally, many people committed suicide on this small patch of ground.

The latter fact gave the entire area a very solemn feel that pervaded every inch of the tour. All of the preparation, all of the buildings, all of the storerooms, and all of the structures supported a people who eventually took their own lives rather than be slaves for the Romans. It was for this morbid reason that I tried to focus on the more interesting aspects of Masada like the impressive views of the Dead Sea and dessert and the ingenious design of the mountain fortress.


overlooking the valley from Masada


Mosaic in the "bath house"


resist the urge. . . skip the snake

After staying at Masada for a little while, we traveled back to relax at Ein Gedi. Ein Gedi is located on a fertile area of land next to the Dead Sea. Ein Gedi was once an extremely beautiful and precious location, known worldwide for its herbs and spices which were used to make lotions, balms, perfumes, and incense. Ein Gedi is mentioned in the Bible on six occasions. It was at Ein Gedi that David hid from Saul and spared Saul's life.

  • 1 Sam 23:29-24:4 And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi. After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, "David is in the Desert of En Gedi." So Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, "This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, 'I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.'" Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe.

King Solomon also refers to Ein Gedi in the Song of Solomon,

  • Song 1:14 My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi.

Ein Gedi was a beautiful and prosperous place for many centuries until it was destroyed by the Muslims and its inhabitants were murdered and scattered. Ein Gedi was resettled in 1949 and is presently notable for the famous, wordclass spa that flourishes there.

It was in the early afternoon that we arrived at Ein Gedi after stopping at a nearby haunt for some lunch and ice cream refreshment. Adjacent to the diner, was Ein Gedi beach, which afforded one restrooms and showers for a few shekels and beach chairs for a few more. Father Severino and I went down to the abandoned beach and went for a swim.

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the planet, 1290 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea is mentioned in the Bible many times and is truly one of the most remarkable and "freaky" places I have ever been. Nothing appreciable lives in the Dead Sea, except maybe some algae or microbes, and upon entering its waters, one discovers very rapidly why that is so. The Dead Sea (also called the Salt Sea in the book of Genesis) is very. . . ah. . . salty. There is much salt in the Dead Sea. There is so much salt in fact that the dense salt content of the water makes just about everything float. This is due to the salt. The water also tastes salty and not just salty, but VERY salty. By the way, did I mention how salty the water was? Because if I didn't, I just wanted to mention that the water is salty, VERY salty. This again is due to the salt. Now that we are clear on this point, I will move on.

Since everything floats in the Dead Sea, one actually does not get the normal sensation of being at a beach at all. People seem to haphazardly waddle through the water on their backs, paddling backwards with miniscule productivity. However, swim with your frontside down and your butt sticks out of the water, forcing your head down and this causes lower-back discomfort. So, one is trapped either way.

After swimming, woops, I mean floating for a while, I noticed the lifeguard on duty watching the small group of a dozen or so people who were in the water. Suddenly I realized the absurdity of this person's presence. If nothing sinks in the Dead Sea and there are no living creatures like sharks and such, why would a beach like this need a lifeguard? No one can drown in this water, because everything floats! Now that's gotta be the easiest and stupidest job in all of Israel!

Oh, and one final thought. If you should ever be in the Dead Sea and have to use the bathroom, it is very important that you get out of the water and use it. This is a valuable tip. It would not be wise to "relieve yourself" in the water, unless you would like to experience a burning sensation that is 'Biblical' in its intensity.

Upon leaving the water, I returned to Father Severino who was relaxing near the lifeguard stand. I asked the lifeguard if his job was difficult and quipped with him concerning the absurdity of his job description. The gentleman actually explained to me that due to the lack of balance that one experiences in the water, some people end up on their front side and are unable to turn over. Some people have panicked and even drowned when this has happened. These occurrences are especially common in the elderly and obese.


floating in the Dead Sea

Journal Excerpt
Lying here on the shores of the Dead Sea is one of the more surreal experiences of my life. This place is so thoroughly odd. Light-years away from a bustling city or even a populated roadway, I am many miles away from any form of developed civilization. It is so quiet here that one can hear the slightest sound . . . but there are none. An occasional lapping wave and a very infrequent person's voice break the silence. In between, the air is devoid of sound. More truly than I have ever experienced before, the silence is indeed 'deafening.'

The oddity begins with the eerie Dead Sea and its bazaar ability to make one float. Yet, exiting its waters, one encounters a climate and geography that is certainly its match. I feel as if I am on the moon right now. . . or in some alien dimension. . . or a character in a story the author hasn't finished. The desert heat stifles the heavy, humid air and the strange and thick, milky-blue waters sizzle in the sun. Massive sand mountains and huge, rocky cliffs thrust their way out of the sea and watch intently my ever movement. Massive, and foreboding, they speak to me in a language I'm unfamiliar with, and I continue to look at them in hopes I will begin to understand what they are saying.


I kept listening


and watching

After a lengthy sunbathe, I returned to the comfortable waters of the sea. Due to the rich mineral content of the water, the surrounding soil is highly sought after. Dead Sea mud is used in many upscale salons and spas around the world and carries with it quite a premium. However, it's inexpensive by the shore and a small bag can be purchased for around two dollars. You can also obtain it for free by the shore side, yet the prepackaged aliquots have been strained to remove rocks and pre-dried and concentrated. Father Severino treated. I couldn't resist.


having fun in the mud


I need a bath

We left Ein Gedi in the mid-afternoon and stopped off at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The actual site didn't interest me much and we didn't pay to see the excavations. Severino gave me the summary description, "a couple of empty caves" and that didn't peak my interest enough to go in.

However, I was interested in checking out one more place before concluding the day and that would be a brief stopoff on the way back through Jerusalem at Bethany. The Bethany road through East Jerusalem is highly contested and is not always safe for tourists and those traveling in small numbers. Severino took me a different way to avoid any possible confrontations.

Bethany was a very significant site in Christ's time and a favorite lodging place for Jesus and His disciples. Bethany was the home of Mary and Martha and the location where Jesus performed one of His most astonishing miracles; raising Lazarus from the Dead.

After a lengthy sunbathe, I returned to the comfortable waters of the sea. Due to the rich mineral content of the water, the surrounding soil is highly sought after. Dead Sea mud is used in many upscale salons and spas around the world and carries with it quite a premium. However, it's inexpensive by the shore and a small bag can be purchased for around two dollars. You can also obtain it for free by the shore side, yet the prepackaged aliquots have been strained to remove rocks and pre-dried and concentrated. Father Severino treated. I couldn't resist.

We left Ein Gedi in the mid-afternoon and stopped off at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The actual site didn't interest me much and we didn't pay to see the excavations. Severino gave me the summary description, "a couple of empty caves" and that didn't peak my interest enough to go in.

However, I was interested in checking out one more place before concluding the day and that would be a brief stopoff on the way back through Jerusalem at Bethany. The Bethany road through East Jerusalem is highly contested and is not always safe for tourists and those traveling in small numbers. Severino took me a different way to avoid any possible confrontations.

Bethany was a very significant site in Christ's time and a favorite lodging place for Jesus and His disciples. Bethany was the home of Mary and Martha and the location where Jesus performed one of His most astonishing miracles; raising Lazarus from the Dead.

  • John 11:19 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off. And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother . . . John 11:38-46 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.

Bethany was also the home of Simon the Lepper where a woman anointed Jesus with a valuable vial of ointment.

  • Mark 14:3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

And Bethany was the last place anyone has ever seen the visible Christ, as it was from Bethany that Christ ascended into heaven.

  • Luke 24:50-53 And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

For 4 shekels (about a dollar or so), you could take a tour of the "Tomb of Lazarus." It's highly improbable that the tomb is the ACTUAL tomb of Lazarus, but it was probably somebody's tomb and it appears to be from Biblical times, far beneath the city streets. I found it worth the dollar to view what such an ancient tomb would have looked like and see its surroundings. Anyway, the Muslims control the site now, which added to my lack of enthusiasm to cough up the money.

There was also an interesting church in Bethany dedicated to the miracle that Christ performed in raising Lazarus from the dead. I spent a short time checking out the beautiful paintings inside the chappel.

We returned to Bethlehem shortly after.


Beautiful chappel and paintings


Raising Arizona (woops, I mean Lazarus)

You may download my Israel 2001 screensavers at Webshots

 

 


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