August 21, 2017

Excursion to Egypt and Israel (3)

by Mike Willis

Our trek through Egypt was over in a few hurried days crammed as full as we could make them. We crossed the border into Israel at Elat (ancient area near Ezion-Geber). Our schedule was tight so we were not able to see some of the southern areas of Israel (Beer-sheba and Hebron), but had to drive directly to the southern tip of the Dead Sea where we spent the night.

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The Dead Sea

On my first trip to Israel, my mental image of the Dead Sea changed completely. I had a picture in my mind that it would be brown, brackish water; I was surprised to see its beautiful blue water and to learn that it is a place where tourists go to relax on its shore. We arrived after dark, so there was little that could be seen of the Dead Sea that evening, but some of our younger travelers went out to swim in the Dead Sea so that they could experience the sensation of not being able to sink in its waters. The next morning after breakfast we walked to the shore of the Dead Sea so that we could see the salt formations on the shores. As we left our hotel and drove along the western shore of the Dead Sea, we could see the receding shore line brought about by the diminishing amounts of water from the Jordan River entering the Dead Sea. Israeli irrigation is making the countryside more productive at the expense of the diminishing size of the Dead Sea.

Masada

Leaving our hotel we traveled north to Masada. Masada is a ruined mountaintop fortress in the desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. A cable car takes visitors to the top of the mountain.The first fortifications were built by the Maccabees in the C2 B.C. King Herod constructed the palaces and fortifications as a desert fortress (37-4 B.C.). Herod did not use the palace, but a Roman garrison was always stationed there. In A.D. 66, Jewish Zealots captured Masada from the Romans at the start of the First Jewish revolt (A.D. 66-73). The Zealots brought their wives and families to Masada. About 1000 people lived off the vast storehouses of food Herod had put there. Eventually the Romans besieged Masada with 15,000 men. The Romans built a ramp up the western side of the mountain and breached the wall in A.D. 74. The Zealots took their own lives rather than face defeat at the hands of the Romans on Passover A.D. 74. Upon capturing the city, the Romans found everyone dead, except for two women and five children. The ramp used to access Masada, the Roman encampments, the catapult balls, storage bins, etc. make this a memorable experience.

One of the important buildings in the the Masada complex is a first-century synagogue (only about four first century synagogues have been excavated). There does not appear to be any separation of men from women in the synagogue and it is roughly oriented toward the Temple in Jerusalem, as was common practice at a later date. There are no mosaic floors with elaborate pictures as occurs at Beth Alpha, for example.

Ein Gedi

As we continued our journey north, we stopped at Ein-Gedi. Ein Gedi ("spring of the kid") is a desert oasis situated on the western shores of the Dead Sea. Today it is a nature preserve and has a beautiful waterfall (David's Spring). Walking through the park one can frequently see an ibex (mountain goat) or hyrex.This is the location where David fled when Saul was pursuing him. In the cave at Ein Gedi, David cut off a portion of Saul's robe (1 Sam. 23:29; 24:1). Excavations have uncovered a seventh century B.C. Israelite tower, an ancient Canaanite temple, remains of a Roman fort, a fifth century A.D. synagogue (with a "seat of Moses"), and a Roman bath house. Connie Adams presented a short scripture reading while we were stopped at Ein-Gedi.

Qumran

Qumran is the name of a "wadi" or watercourse that cuts down through the limestone cliffs. Qumran is twelve miles south of Jericho and is known for the scrolls found there in 1947. After the initial scrolls were found by a Bedouin shepherd boy, a dozen more Qumran caves yielded a vast hoard of ancient manuscripts in Hebrew and occasionally in Aramaic. The narrow caves and niches around Qumran were largely moisture free, so leather and parchment scrolls were "preserved." These scrolls, many of them containing the earliest known examples of biblical texts, were a revolutionary find. Coming to light during the 1947 war that eventually led to the establishing of the state of Israel, the first Dead Sea Scrolls had a remarkable journey. After early archaeologists confirmed their authenticity, getting them under the control of the proper authorities was another problem. One of the scrolls was smuggled out of the country and eventually sold through a small ad in the classified ads section of a New York City newspaper. Eventually the scrolls were properly secured and research on them began soon thereafter. Excavation of the Qumran site soon began and searches of area caves found many other documents. Cave 4 was discovered in 1952. It contained 14,000 fragments of scrolls; when archaeologists sifted the dust in the cave, they found an additional 1000 fragments. Scholars believe that a Roman soldier who entered the cave in A.D. 68 tore the scrolls intentionally and that later ravages by animals and climate inflicted further damange. Scholars were able to piece together the fragments to produce portions of 530 different scrolls. From the different caves, fragments of every book of the Old Testament except Esther were found. Two important Isaiah scrolls were found at Qumran. The Qumran manuscripts and fragments have reshaped the study of textual criticism of the Old Testament and biblical research in general. Among the manuscripts found at Qumran were two complete Books of Isaiah. A Temple Scroll was found which described the Holy Temple in detail. The discovery of the Scrolls revealed two things. First, that the Hebrew scriptures have remained essentially unchanged for at least 2000 years, and that parts of the Bible existed in several versions. The scrolls were written and stored away by the Essenes, a Jewish sect which had separated themselves from the Pharisees and Sadducees and who relied heavily on ritual purity and strict observance of the Jewish law. They adopted a simple monastic life. Qumran was the Essenes' main religious center until their destruction in A.D. 68. No one who studies either Old Testament or New Testament studies can pass through a graduate program without being exposed to the significant finds at Qumran.

Jericho

Known as the city of palm trees (Deut. 34:3), Jericho is the oldest and the lowest (820 feet below sea level) town in the world. The "oldest town" claims do not really apply to present-day Jericho-only the tel on the northern boundary is ancient. The city walls that have been uncovered date back to 2600 B.C. Jericho was the first city of Canaan that was captured west of the Jordan River during the Conquest under Joshua. After Jericho was destroyed by the Israelites, the city was rebuilt (1 Kings 16:34) during the reign of King Ahab (874-853, Thiele) and continued up to the Arab conquest in the 7th century A.D. In 30 B.C. King Herod built a winter palace at Tulul Abu el-Alaiq and this is the palace where Herod died. The double pool of the palace is where Herod had Aristobulus III, the last Hasmonean High Priest (and his rival) drowned. Herod's city was virtually destroyed by the Romans during the Second Jewish Revolt, but reappeared in its present site under the Byzantines.

Jericho has been excavated by John Garstang in the 1930s; he caused considerable interest when he claimed to have found the walls which had fallen during the conquest of Joshua. Some years later, the site was excavated by Kathleen Kenyon who asserted that Garstang had misdated the site. Bryant Wood has done additional work at Jericho which tends to support Garstang's date.

The political situation in Israel makes visiting Jericho more difficult than previously. Our Jewish guide was not allowed in Jericho, so our bus driver dropped off the guide and drove us through Jericho depending upon me to give us what information I knew about the area.

Beth-Shean

When Saul and Jonathan were defeated and killed by the Philistines, their bodies were hung on the wall of Beth-shean (1 Sam. 31:10). The men of Jabesh-gilead made a raid to remove the bodies and give them a proper burial (2 Sam. 21:12). In Roman times, this town was known as Scythopolis. Today is the site of an important excavation. Its restored theater and main street are impressive. It is the best preserved Roman/Byzantine town in the country. The 80m-high tel contains fifteen superimposed cities. The Roman remains at Beth-Shean are impressive with its theater, hippodrome, bath house, colonaded street (Palladius Street), etc. We enjoyed singing in its theater as we drew near to the close of this day of our travels. After leaving Beth-Shean, we drove to Tiberias for the evening.

Truth Magazine Vol. LII: 12  p12-14 December 2008

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