Masada, Qumran, Dead Sea

May 12, 2012

Some of you may have seen the movie Masada. Today we visited this site – the second most popular tourist site in the country (after Jerusalem). 

The journey south from Jerusalem is not long. Jerusalem (half way up the country), is the dividing line between the fertile north (Judea, Galilee etc), and the desert of the south. If you look at a roadmap of Israel you can see the difference. There are few roads or towns south of Jerusalem.

Within minutes of leaving Jerusalem travelling south we were in desert. Along the side of the modern highway live the Bedouin people. Their life is nomadic, a few weeks or months here or there with a few animals.

After about twenty minutes we passed the now familiar town of Jericho (remember Zacchaeus) on the Left, and the Dead Sea comes into view ahead. We travelled down the west of the sea for 45 minutes (desert mountains on the right and the Dead Sea on the left).

The fortress of Masada (images) was built by Herod in the decades before Christ. This Herod was the one who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth and had all male babies put to death to prevent the emergence of the new prophesied king. he was known as Herod the ‘great’. 

This title was not because he was a great person (he was far from that – pretty mad and paranoic), but he was a great builder, and this fortress (as with the earlier ones we have seen particularly at Caesarea) is testimony to his building passion.

You can read the details of the newly excavated site online at this link.

After the death of Herod (approx 4AD), his kingdom was divided between his three sons and Masada was abandoned until sixty years later when the Jews revolted against Roman rule. 

A group of Jews (around 1000) who were suspected of inciting the riots, fled to Masada and made use of the fortress. This event is what has made Masada well known today and is the subject of the movie. I won’t tell you how it ends in case you want to watch the movie.

Five hundred years later a group of Christian monks seeking solitude moved into the abandoned town and created a monastery. In a prominent position they built a chapel. Because this chapel was built after the earlier battles it is relatively intact. Another sign of Christian hope in a place of struggle.
Much of the (Byzantine) monks mosaic floor of the chapel also remains:

Below, a few photos of the day:

The information centre at Masada:

Margaret wanted to walk up the mountain on the ancient ‘snake path‘.  This is her taken as we passed overhead in the cable car.

and the more relaxed journey to the top in the cable car

Margaret’s ‘snake path’ from the cable car

From the top looking down

Looking down over the three levels of Herod’s fortress that were at the northern cliff-face. You can see these clearly in the model further down this page.

a model of Herod’s fortress

From the bus driving North alongside the Dead Sea

Then a visit to Qumran.

then to the Dead Sea for a float in the 20% salt water.  Here people float and read as if in a deck chair, and cover themselves in the mud, to absorb the health and cosmetic qualities of the minerals.

Last night we joined other pilgrims and some English-speaking locals for Mass at the Notre Dame centre.  


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