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.
A real archaeological and visual highlight on our trip to the Holy Land will no doubt be the Herodian fortress along the Dead Sea known as Masada. Wayne Stiles has an excellent article with some outstanding photos of the site and some devotional reflections: Masada: A Place of Sanctuary, Suicide, and Inspiration. This is good background for our visit as well as for general information about a breathtaking and key historical site.