This morning, Wednesday, after leaving our host families after breakfast, we drove to Masada in the Negev region which I knew nothing about so it was fascinating. We drove along the base of the valley, along the shoreline of the Dead Sea to get there – was amazing to enter the Jordan Dessert and drop out of the mountains AND to pass below sea level! The Dead Sea shore is 423m/1388ft below sea level.
We had to go back up into the mountains though to reach Masada. I took a cable car up the mountain (some in the group hiked up, a couple up & down, and some down), we toured around the ruins, and then I hiked down. It’s a very clear path although very rocky and the drop is quite extreme so the handrail means a great deal!
After that we drove to Qumran for lunch. Sounds crazy! Of course, this is where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls and we just popped by for lunch! All along the drive you can look up into the mountains and see many of the caves like those the Scrolls were found in. After lunch, we went down to the beach and floated in the Dead Sea. Our guide, Husem, was great and told us what our ritual might be – 15 minutes floating (not getting any water in your eyes or mouth) and then you get out and in the shallow water you find mud and rub it all over your skin. Then you wait about 15 minutes for it to dry in the breeze, and rinse by floating again. Our whole group looked like crazy nuts running around with mud and covering ourselves and each others backs. It was hijinks and great fun! After we’d showered and changed, we got back on the road.
We visited Jericho, the oldest city in the world and saw the Sycamore tree of the bible story (the tax collector who climbs up to see Jesus). We also stopped at a lovely fruit seller overlooking the Mount of Temptation where Jesus was tempted and where there was a view of an old monastery up in the mountain – literally rock clinging to cliff. There are many monasteries in this region. Then we drove up to Capernaum where we saw the ruins of the ancient town with its synagogue and Peter’s home, the site of the first Christian house church. Jennifer Knust, New Testament professor at BU, offered some fascinating insights at the site about the relationship between Judaism and Christianity at this time.
Finally we headed back towards Tiberias but were briefed that we should not tell the checkpoint guards that we had gone via Jericho because it is a Palestinian town located in the West Bank and would likely result in our disembarking and everyone on the bus being questioned and scanned while the bus was thoroughly examined.
We’re staying for the next two nights at the Eden Hotel in Tiberias. It’s a kosher hotel so there was no milk for coffee or tea and no butter for the bread served with dinner! Tiberias used to be majority Palestinian town but now, as a result of the Occupation, it is 90% Israeli. I think tomorrow will be an interesting day!