Today we continued our exploration of the world in which Jesus lived and carried out his mission. We headed east and south from Jerusalem into the deep Jordan Rift Valley, dropping some 1400 feet below sea level. Here at the lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea has no outlet resulting in a salinity 10 times as salty as the ocean. 31 miles long and 11 miles wide it is a lesson in deception as its sparkling waters offer no refreshment for the parched traveler!
Our first stop was at the ruins of Qumran along the Dead Sea. This is where three Bedouin shepherds in 1947 made the most incredible find of ancient manuscripts in history, the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. The nearby settlement is where members of the Essene sect lived and produced this amazing library of biblical and non-biblical works. We explored the ruins, reflected on their believe that ritual purity would prepare the way for the Messiah, and contrasted them with John the Baptist who called for repentance as preparation for the Messiah.
From Qumran we headed further south along the western shore of the Dead Sea to the imposing fortress of Masada. First fortified by the Hasomonean rulers of Israel, Herod the Great expanded both the military might and the opulent luxury of this unparalleled fortress-palace. For Herod this was the place of last refuge for him and his family. During the First Jewish Revolt of AD 66-73 the Zealots fled to Masada for their final standoff with the Roman army. Surrounded by General Titus' 10th Legion they watched as the Roman's meticulously built their camps and siege wall surrounding the fortress. Constructing an impossibly massive ramp to the top of the mountain the unstoppable Roman army then breached the wall of what was thought to be an impenetrable stronghold.
On our way down from Madada we were enjoying our much-deserved ice cream bars when this beautiful desert antelope made his appearance! From there we head back north to En Gedi, the site of one of David's desert strongholds while he was fleeing from Saul. There we carefully slid into the oily waters of the Dead Sea to enjoy the odd sensation of floating like a cork!