SATURDAY 16 June
This was probably the hardest day for me. There was a lot more sitting on the bus due to the distances we covered, but it was also a really hot day.
We got on the bus and headed for Masada first. This was the fortress palace that the Jewish rebels against Rome made their last stand. It did not end well for them, but is celebrated in Israeli folklore as a group of people who chose death as free people under God, rather than living as slaves to a foreign power.
Nedal (our guide) had joked that the cable car was broken, but it wouldn't have been very funny had it been true! There is a snaking walking trail up the side of the mountain, but it wouldn't have been an easy climb. It was hot. We really only did the palace end, where there were Roman baths and storage for food. We could look over the edge at the lower levels of the palace. There was a bronze model that showed how the water was collected into the cisterns.
We also went to see where the Romans had their Hebrew slaves build the ramp for the siege tower, and where the breach in the wall happened. From the top you can see the remnants of the Roman wall around the whole hill, including watch towers and garrison camps. It would have been scary to see them and know that they were going to get you. Josephus might have been recording what they did at Gamla, with casting of the lots to see who had to kill himself at the end (after killing the remaining leaders, who in turn had killed their families). But they have found ostraka with names on them (including one of the leaders of the revolt).
It was hot, did I mention that?
We then headed up to Qumran. This is where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls, and was an ascetic community in the desert. The was a section in air-conditioning, where there was the inevitable gift shop and a restaurant. I'd be more prepared for the restaurant now, but it was very confusing with multiple lines and the menu at the front that didn't relate to which line you needed for the food of your choice. It seems to be the way they can process bus loads of people coming continuously.
We had a wonder through the gifts shop, too. Dead Sea Mud, and some books and things.
We then went into the audio-visual section, and Nedal talked to us about some of the findings in the dead sea scrolls. It was so cold - I think I was running a temperature and it was uncomfortably cold almost to the point of teeth chattering. Standing around was also taking its toll on me. It was a relief to get back outside into the heat, although it took me a while to thaw out. There are remnants of the Qumran community here, communal buildings for scribes and dining rooms, etc. they haven't found cells/bedrooms, but in this era they often slept on the roof, which haven't survived.
We came back via Jericho and Mt Temptation. We were shown a sycamore tree in Jericho and Nedal talked about Zachaeus while we all went snap-happy, until Nedal pointed out that sycamore trees don't live for more than 400 years, so it was likely not the one Zacheaus climbed into.
|The slab traditionally believed to be where they prepared Jesus' body for burial.|
When we got back to Jerusalem we had a short break (on the bed with feet up) and then went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There is a place where you can touch the stone that was like a skull. It was limestone that was flawed and couldn't be used for building, so was left in situ. It was also the town dump. Although the church is very orthodoxy and over-decorated, there is an atmosphere of prayerfulness. Or at least there is until the orthodox and catholic liturgies start to try and drown each other out! (The Catholics have an organ. There’s no way the Orthodox are going to win.)
I didn't go into the sepulchre itself (there was a huge queue). Greg who is familiar with the building looked like he was heading in another direction, so we went into an unadorned cave with a central preparation area and small niches off it where bodies were buried.
I was struck by the number of young men in the orthodox community. I would have expected declining numbers and older men. Apparently monks are celibate, but priests are expected to have families and live in their villages. Bishops are drawn from the monasteries, therefore are celibate. Just so you know.