We found a place to stay in the wilderness. It’s an old biblical city called Arad and it’s surrounded by mountains and valleys so stark that you would think nothing could grow here, especially people. But people have lived in Arad for thousands of years and actually the modern town is quite pleasant. It’s greatest asset, for us, is that it is only 17 miles from Masada and the Dead Sea. We rented an apartment for two days that has all the amenities of home and even has a washing machine in the bathroom. For weary travelers living out of a suitcase that is a blessing. It is located just west of the bottom of the Dead Sea at 1600 ft. above sea level. By the time we get to Masada we are at 1400 ft. BELOW sea level, so as you can guess the road goes steeply downhill all the way. Eric says he would love to do this on his motorcycle.
We arrived at Masada, one of the greatest archeological sites in Israel. The reason for that is as follows: The nation of Israel came to a halt about the year 72 A.D. Two years earlier, as a result of the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple was in ruins. The Jewish people who weren’t killed by the Roman army were taken as slaves back to Italy or sold to others along the way….all except a group of about 900 or so Jewish Zealots (whole families) who managed to escape from Jerusalem and flee to the mountain fortress along the Dead Sea called Masada. This was one of Herod the Great’s retreats he had previously built for himself to protect him in case of an insurrection. It was built high up on a giant mesa with the approach so steep it appeared to be impregnable. The Romans understood that as long as these people remained in control of this fortress the nation was still alive and capable of starting another insurrection. So the mountain had to be taken. Their plan was to build a wall completely around the mountain and keep anyone from leaving and anyone else from supplying the Zealots with food or supplies. In other words, starve them out. It took nearly two years to do this while the Roman army built a rampart nearly up to the top where they could take their siege engines and break through the wall that encircled the mountain top. When they finally broke through the walls and invaded the Jewish retreat they found that everyone had committed suicide rather than be killed or taken prisoner by the Romans. That brought the official end to the Jewish nation….until 1948 when the modern nation of Israel came into being. That is why this place is so important to the Jewish people. Their slogan is “Never again!” meaning, “we will not fall again.”
Today, instead of having to climb up the “snake path” to the top they have installed a cable car for the tourists. Our son Eric said he wanted to climb the snake path—so we let him, while the “old folks” took the faster and easier route. The guide book says the climb usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour but Mr. America made it in 30 minutes, in the hot sun. Many of the finds on the top of Masada have been reconstructed somewhat. But what is left is spectacular. Herod’s Western Palace has three wonderful mosaic floors and his Northern Palace built on the very edge of the cliff still has some colored frescoes on its walls. It was a three hour experience for us and left us pretty much drained with all the up and down and the desert heat. So we decided, after we had seen it all, to take a trip down to the public beach and jump into the Dead Sea.
Believe it or not, there are about five or six luxury hotels built in this wilderness right next to the Dead Sea. I wondered how they could fill these expensive hotels with enough guests to make this a profitable enterprise. But I guess the answer is—this is the Dead Sea where you bob like a cork in this super salty body of water, and of course Masada is just down the road. Anyway, the tour buses keep pulling into their parking lots with a lot of people who really want to be here.
Tomorrow, we leave the desert and head for the capitol—Jerusalem, where we will stay for about eight days before returning home. There is so much to see in the “holy city.” And we’ll tell you about it later.
Bud & Kathy
Bud and Kathy Downs are making another trip to the Lands of the Bible-- first Turkey and Greece (from May 11 to 22) and then to Israel (from May 22 to June 8). We invite you to join us through our travel blog. We intend to post regular updates and pictures of Bible sites.