Down, down, down to more than 1,200 feet below sea level! The landscape around the Dead Sea is fittingly stark, rocky, and desert-like. We drove along the flat land between the cliffs and the sea, seeing how low the water level is at present (and falling at a rate of 8 cm/year).
Our first stop was the plateau fortress of Masada, buzzing with school children, hikers, and tourists from all over. This is one if the best archaeological sites to visit, and we enjoyed learning about it, along with the fascinating story of the Jewish rebels’ last stand there in AD 72. Herod had a palace whose improvised Roman features show how committed he was to preserving his Roman luxuries wherever he was.
Qumran was our next stop, the site that housed the community believed to be responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls. Qumran has been well preserved and well studied, though clear evidence confirming exactly who its occupants were and how many of them there were still eludes us. Some of the caves where scrolls were found are visible from the main site.
We spent the middle part of the afternoon at the beach. Right on the shore of the Dead Sea. We all experienced the waters and the mineral mud of the Dead Sea to some degree, and some got in all the way to float. That water is unlike any on earth, and the experience of floating in it is completely unique. The weather was warm and the water only a little cool, but not at all cold. Perfect!
We’re cleaned up from our beach trip, and staying in Jerusalem tonight. We’ll be in the Holy City for the remainder of the journey. Tomorrow we will make the Palm Sunday walk and visit sites on Mt. Zion.
Our group had a fun and informative final session for 2012 in our “Going Places” class Wednesday evening. The focus was on the Dead Sea, Qumran, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here are a couple of interesting links related to the Dead Sea’s history.
First is an article in the “popular science” genre that discusses the historically drastic changes in the Dead Sea’s water level: “A Dry Dead Sea Before Biblical Times.”
Second is an animated map that shows the estimated changes in the size of the Dead Sea as compared to its present level, beginning in about 3300 B.C.: “The Dead Sea: A History of Change.”
Third, Wayne Stiles offers a helpful look at the uniqueness of the Dead Sea, including its unique history and future from a biblical perspective: The Dead Sea Will Live Again
Of course, on the subject of the Dead Sea Scrolls, be sure not to miss the exhibit at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible. It runs through January 13, 2013.
When we visited the Holy Land in January we stopped near the Dead Sea at a site called Qumran. In several of the caves around Qumran, the first Dead Sea Scrolls were recovered. The first of these discoveries was in 1947, and it ushered in a new era in many fields, including biblical studies. The Dead Sea Scrolls are widely considered to be one of the most significant archaeological finds of all time.
In Fort Worth, a special exhibit is underway featuring scroll fragments owned locally by Southwestern Seminary, a rare fragment from a Genesis scroll on public display for the first time, two fragments on loan from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, facsimiles of other major scrolls, and related artifacts connected to the early archaeology of Qumran. The exhibition is called Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible: Ancient Artifacts, Timeless Treasures, and we are organizing a field trip from First UMC to go.
The Holy Land travel group from 2012 invites you to join us on Sunday, September 9, 2012. We will leave from First UMC in McKinney at 1:00 p.m. and travel to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, or you can meet us there by 2:30. The exhibit is open until 7:00 p.m. on Sundays. We will purchase a block of tickets at a group rate ($25 for adults), so to get that rate you will need to let us know you are coming. Email the Adult Discipleship office and tell us your name, email address, a contact phone number, and how many are coming. Seniors (62+), children, and students (with ID) save a little more (active military are free with ID), so tell us if you fit any of those categories. We’ll send you instructions on getting payment to the church. The deadline to reserve with the group and to make payment will be Friday, August 31 at noon.
Check out the excellent website and related resources at SeetheScrolls.com, and stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks for some discussion and some recommended reading and resources to inform and prepare you for the experience.