The day’s journey took us from the lowest place on earth (the Dead Sea) up to Jerusalem for a welcome that none of us will ever forget.
We were able to get a little bit later start today (on the road at 9:30 instead of 8:00), so we enjoyed the leisurely pace and the opportunity to relax and prepare for the weekend in Jerusalem. Our first stop was Masada, the mountain fortress made most famous first by Herod the Great’s palace, then by the band of Jewish rebels who made their last stand against the Romans there. This is a fascinating and dramatic site with a view of the Dead Sea and surrounding desert mountains that leaves one speechless.
We spent almost two hours on top of Masada touring the ruins and learning the stories of that place, and we did not even cover the entire site. It seemed that one could spend the better part of day up there to see everything Masada has to offer!
We continued north along the shore of the Dead Sea, and before leaving the region, we were treated to a surprise stop at “Cave 1,” the cave where the first Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Many of us made the hike up to the cave to stand in the entrance, the very location of one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century. This is not on typical tours, and it was a delightful treat (and a privilege) to get to visit this place.
In the afternoon, we went around Jerusalem on the east, through Bethany, to Bethlehem. This route afforded us a great view of the Mount of Olives, of the Kidron Valley, and of the impoverished West Bank town of Bethany. What a difference a few hundred yards makes! There is a great variety of living conditions around the Holy City.
We arrived in Bethlehem to visit the shop of the legendary Kando family. The Kando’s grandfather was instrumental in bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls to the attention of the world, and his family was the first to be licensed as official antiquities dealers by the Israelis. They own one of the original scroll jars discovered in the caves, and it is on display in the store.
We lunched at the Kando store and had time to shop at this Christian-owned business. The items in the store come from Christian artisans, and a portion of the profits go to a foundation that supports the Christian community in Palestine. We were welcomed warmly by our friend Shibli Kando, given some history about the family, the store, and the Scrolls, and treated like family by everyone there. We found beautiful pieces carved from olive wood, jewelry, and genuine ancient coins and pieces of ancient pottery. We saw their inventory of pottery ranging from 4000 BC to about AD 400. Amazing!
After the fun of a great shopping expedition, we resumed the tour with an entrance into Jerusalem. We had a great view of the city as we approached, and we stopped on the southwest side for a “Genesis Welcome.” As we looked out over the city, our guide George led us through the story of Abram and Melchizedek in Genesis 14. We were served bread and wine, as Abram was, and we were wel
comed formally to the city by two native Jerusalemites: our guide, George, and our driver, also named George. We will always remember this hospitality and signature greeting.
Tomorrow we walk on the Mount of Olives, and we begin to see Jerusalem. Wow!