We got off to an early start today, in order to get to Masada as soon as possible. Masada is an important site for Israel. It’s where the last of the rebels held out against Rome in the revolt of the late 60s CE. the Romans crushed the revolt and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, but the 1,000 rebel men, women, and children atop the high plateau that soars straight up well over 1,000 ft. were successful in resisting the Roman soldiers encamped all around them below.
Finally, the Roman attempt to build an earthen ramp up the walls of Masada (which means fortress in Hebrew) served its purpose. The zealots on top of the mountain had held out for longer than the Romans thought possible. When it was clear they were doomed to die at the hands of the Romans, or be enslaved, the Jews began systematically taking their own lives, preferring the freedom of death to enslavement, torture, or murder. Only a couple women and some children survived.
Today Masada reminds Jews of their resilience and strength when facing forces arrayed against them, as in the present Middle East. The Israeli Army inducts its soldiers atop the high fortified mountaintop, and they vow never to surrender Masada again.
King Herod built Masada as a sumptuous palace. The views are stunning. The plaster and tile and stonework astonishing. And the engineering simply unbelievable, especially for the first century of our era. The provision of water to the cisterns was ingenious – capturing the occasional flash flood on surrounding hillsides through a series of channels. Unbelievably, in the middle of a desert they had three year’s worth of water stored up.
We had our morning prayer in the excavated synagogue of Masada. Kathy read Psalm 27. Look it up and imagine us on top of Masada. It was moving to hear words that probably had been read in that very room 2,000 years ago…” Though an army encamp against me…” We sang and prayed as other tourists entered to have a look around. When we left, George said that in 20 years of leading groups he had never witnessed prayer in the ancient synagogue. He is a Palestinian Christian himself, and found the experience powerful, as did many of us.
After the tour, most of the group decided to walk down. It was arduous and slippery, but all those who attempted it made it! It took 1.5 hours to walk the 1.5 miles of steep, unrelenting descent. Hard on the knees!
Following a quick lunch we were on our way back north. We made a short stop at Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered by a shepherd looking for a goat one day in 1947. They represent some of the oldest biblical manuscripts we have today. We’ll see them in the Israel Museum later this week.
Then we were off to the border crossing into Jordan, which went really smoothly. Very quickly, in fact. Our new Jordanian guide, Sulimon, called it a miracle and said we had time to go right away to the baptismal site nearby. They kept it open for us; we were the only ones there. The walk from the bus to the river brought us through quiet, tree-lined paths. A gentle breeze and late afternoon sun accompanied us. We gathered at the river, Kathy read the story of the baptism of Jesus, we sang “Let’s go down to the river to pray,” and then prayed together. We all touched the water and remembered our own baptisms.
Refreshed by the quiet and the experience at the river, we walked back to the bus and headed south for the four-hour drive to Petra. We were greeted by a wonderful buffet, and then finally fell into bed too late! What a day!