Day 4 found us up early with another busy day ahead. After breakfast we loaded onto the bus for the trip to the amazing Masada National Park.
Masada is an ancient mountainous fortress in the Judean Desert on a massive plateau 1,500 feet above the Dead Sea. It was built around 30 B.C. by King Herod the Great and is the site of the Jews last stand against the Romans after the fall of Jerusalem in 68 A.D. It is thought to be one of the greatest archeological sites in Israel.
You can access this mountain fortress either by cable car or by foot on the Snake Path Trail. Fortunately we were able to ride the cable car but we were packed in like sardines.
Our pastor, who is a marathon runner, decided to run up the trail to the top. This was after he had already gotten up at 5:00 A.M. and run seven miles! He has taken this personal challenge before and with his son.
King Herod built two magnificent palaces, one of which was built on three terraces, a huge fortress, swimming pools, water reservoirs, huge amounts of storehouses and an armory all on this mountaintop with spectacular views.
Black painted lines are everywhere to show the original wall (below the line) with the reconstructed wall above the painted line.
Original stones were used during reconstruction. Masada had its own “watergate”, a path on which beasts of burden carried water from the channels at a gate up to some cisterns at the mountaintop. Stone paving at the gate prevented damage from the animals’ hooves.
Decades later, in the last days of the Great Jewish Revolt when the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D., a Jewish group took possession of Masada from the Roman garrison there and lived there for three years. This was the last stand for almost 1,000 Jewish Macabbean/Sicarii men, women and children who decided to commit suicide as free people rather than fall into the hands of the Romans.
The siege of Masada by Roman troops occurred from 73 to 74 A.D. The Roman army military camps appear as square areas on the surrounding countryside.
The Roman army (15,000) would not give up so they built a siege ramp to attack the upper wall.
As the Roman battering ram breached the fortress walls, the Jewish rebels realized winning was hopeless. Refusing to surrender and end up as slaves or killed, they set fire to their homes and warehouses and chose ten men by lottery who were to kill the other 960 men, women and children.
The last ten men then committed suicide. When the Romans made it to the top, they found everyone dead except for two women and five children who survived by hiding.
Masada was extensively excavated between 1963 and 1965 by an expedition led by Israeli archaeologist and former military Chief-of-Staff Yigael Yadin. One of the most remarkable archeological finds was the synagogue, built during the times of King Herod and one of the oldest on Earth. In one of the rooms they found the oldest parts of Torah scrolls ever found.
They found perfectly preserved water reservoirs, cisterns, a Roman style bathhouse and the remains of a Byzantine church. The remnants of a Byzantine church dating from the fifth and sixth centuries have been excavated on the plateau.
Masada is a UNESCO site, a symbol of heroism and man’s struggle for freedom. A 1981 American miniseries starring Peter O’Toole described Masada’s last stand. Books have also been written about Masada.
After lunch we visited the Qaser Al-Yahud Baptism Site, the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. It is also identified with the place where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River after 40 years of wandering in the desert. (Joshua 3) Ancient traditions also associate this site with the place where Elijah the prophet ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. (2 Kings 2)
On the way we drove along the border of Israel and Jordan, with landmine warnings dotting the landscape. The Jordan River is the 1994 treaty line between Israel and Jordan.
Years ago our pastor used to baptize people at this location, but over the years the water has gotten more polluted and dangerous. The last time he conducted baptisms here he slipped and cut his foot on some metal. He ended up in the hospital with a very serious infection. Since then his church group baptism site was moved to a different section of the Jordan River that is cleaner and safer.
There were some people being baptized today in the coffee-colored water.
Directly across from us was the country of Jordan with Jordanian soldiers keeping watch. Our pastor read scripture and we sang several hymns, all within listening distance of the watchful soldiers.
We ended the day earlier than usual since it was the Sabbath and many things were closed. The group was thankful because we were all feeling the effects of the long, arduous days.
Next Up: Day 5, Bethlehem