Day fourteen of our Study Tour,
Saturday the 14th, Shabbat in Israel,
and this is my final blog post.
I hope you have enjoyed my notes and pictures sketched each evening before falling exhausted into bed. Thanks to Patrick Starrenburg who helped out from ‘home base’ adding to the posts with useful links and ironing out typos before posting them online.
A reminder, all of the text in bold purple are links to other websites, also many of the images are ‘clickable’ and go to other websites. If an image loses its colour as your mouse hovers over it that means it contains a link.
Today was spent in the Judaean Desert. It was hot in the high 30s and very dry. We took in three sites of interest.
By way of background:
The Roman Empire surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.
The eastern part of this empire was vulnerable to attack from the desert as well as being itself politically unstable in many ways. When the Jewish people rebelled against Rome in 66 AD the response from Rome was furious and determined. Within this response: the Essenes at Qumran were wiped out in 68 AD, Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, and finally in 74 AD – at the end of the brutal process – the fortress of Masada was captured. But only after almost all the Zealot defenders had taken their own lives to avoid capture and slavery by the Romans.
Our first stop was to the Dead Sea site of the Essene community at Qumran. This is near where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Scholarship establishes that some -if not most – of the Dead Sea Scrolls were also produced in Qumran by very capable scribes. Having visited the Shrine of the Book the previous day we were prepared to visit the site they came from.
An introduction to their significance is available on an official website. Their history since 1946 is another story and reads like a thriller involving many shady characters across several continents eager to: gain possession, sell them for the highest price or jealously guard their academic prestige.
Today we saw what has been recovered of the Essene’s desert community facilities at Qumran. This is about 40km south of Jerusalem near the Dead Sea.
It is a collection of building remains, many with identifiable functions. A stand-out feature of the settlement are the many ritual baths/mikva’ot. This community was established in protest at the perceived corruption of the Jerusalem Temple and emphasised purity as part of this reaction. This practice of ritual purity involved several ritual baths per day which requires a water system and multiple pools. All this happened in the desert. A photo of one such ritual bathing or purification pool comes below.
Getting to the caves where the scrolls were found requires commitment and stamina that we were not prepared for. I got as close as a photo vantage point that looked across at the first cave reached by a Bedouin shepherd boy in 1947.
From Qumran we travelled south along the Dead Sea to Masada. The story of this epic piece of Jewish history is too much to relate here. A 15 minute YouTube clip is instructional:
Finally, after the heat of the desert sun, we were taken to a beach on the Dead Sea to swim in the lowest sea or salt water lake on earth at currently around 423 meters below sea-level (= the Mediterranean). The change from swimming in fresh or regular sea water is unsettling as your legs want to float, even when you want to stand on them!
The land of Jesus has spoken to me but tomorrow -Sunday- we return by bus over the Allenby Crossing to Amman in Jordan to eventually catch a 4:20 a.m. flight home on Monday morning.