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SEMINAR #9 IMPORTANT PLACES IN THE STORY – JUDEA

JERUSALEM 

The history of Jerusalem goes back as far as 4000 BC. It has repeatedly changed hands and been a frequent target for destruction.

One scholar estimated that it had been besieged as many as 23 times, attacked as many as 52 times, and captured and recaptured, as many as 44 times over its history.

It is first mentioned in Genesis when Abraham met this strange character that appears suddenly and then passes quickly from the scene, called Melchizedek, (Genesis 14) the “king of Salem” ie  Jerusalem.

Its history as a city, in the Old Testament, traces back to the time of King David when he conquered the then Jebusite city of Jerusalem around 1000 BC and made it his capitol.

The resulting, so called city of David, was on a ridge to the south of the present Old City and extensive excavation is being done there.

It was not very impressive by today’s standards being mostly built of mud and stone.

One could argue that it was located on part of Mount Moriah, the same hill where Abraham, 1000 years earlier, (Genesis 22) took his son Isaac to sacrifice him in obedience to what he was convinced God wanted him to do. Then God intervened.

Mount Moriah is not a single peak but rather an elongated ridge which begins in the South at the original  city of David and progresses North to the area near the Damascus Gate on the Northern side of the present Old City of Jerusalem.

Mount Moriah, as you will see, figures very prominently in the history of redemption as described in the Bible.

This hilly outcropping called, Moriah, becomes an important part of the Bible story as it ties together a series of events in God’s great plan for the redemption of mankind, all the way from Abraham to Jesus.

Mount Moriah, beginning with Abraham’s sacrifice there around  2100 BC est., followed by the establishment of the city ofDavid there around 1000 BC,  followed by the construction of the Temple of Solomon there around 950 BC with the continuation of the sacrificial system there, followed by the rebuilding there of the Temple of Herod at the time of Jesus, followed by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod that Jesus knew, and apparently ending on the North side of the present Old City of Jerusalem to the East of the Damascus Gate. These events all had an interesting interconnection with the specific place called Mount Moriah.

That is a very interesting fact as I will explain.

When the Romans destroyed the Temple of Herod and city of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Temple sacrificial system of the Jewish people, established in response to God’s instructions to Israel during the exodus-desert wandering of 40 years, came to an abrupt end.

No more sacrifices then.  And still no sacrifices to this day

But the sacrificial system was the very heart of Judaism. What now?

Everything in Judaism till that time, centered around the Temple and the various feast days and the ritual animal sacrifices conducted there. In a few short weeks it was all gone.

As a result, Judaism was forced to radically change from a religion of blood sacrifices and ritual atonement, to the ethical religious system that it is today.

Now follow me carefully.                                                                                                                            

The Old Testament sacrificial system was the main ingredient of God’s plan for the redemption of mankind.

And it was inextricably, historically, tied to this place called Mount Moriah.

Shift gears with me for a minute:

Where was Jesus crucified?

It appears, that there are 2 possible identified locations for the death and burial of Jesus, who was described in the Bible significantly as  the “Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world”.  

But why “lamb”?

Why not goat or snake or chicken?

Why “Lamb”?

The location that most archeologists seem to favor for the crucifixion is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a church that goes back to the 4th century AD.

More on that location later.

The question of where the city walls of Jesus’ day were located is the big issue in determining the location of Calvary, as those walls have long disappeared except for fragments here and there beneath buildings and stores and homes in the Old City.

The Bible is clear that the site of the crucifixion was outside the city walls and so locating those walls is important to solving this riddle.

Is the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, located on Mount Moriah?

Probably not.

But the other location  that many Evangelical Christians favor, (and more will be written about it in the following pages,) called Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden tomb,  does  appear to be located on the Northern outcropping edge of Mount Moriah, just outside of the Northern walls of the Old City of today.

One cannot be dogmatic about this but this does suggest an interesting connection.

Is this just a coincidence?

An interesting and impressive argument can be made that, if this location, Gordon’s Calvary, is the accurate location for the crucifixion, then it ties together the entire history of God’s use of sacrificial animals as a preparation for the time when He would send the ultimate lamb sacrifice, His Son, to bear the sins of the world and thus bring meaning to the history of blood sacrifice there over the centuries of Bible history ………and all on Mount Moriah.

Interesting.

The Jerusalem that those who go with us on the February 10, 2014 journey will experience for 4 nights, is quite different from the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day.

One could argue that there are really 3 cities of Jerusalem today.

First : The picturesque Old City behind the present ancient walls from the time of Suleiman the Magnificent (16th century AD) built over the ruins of the city of Jesus and of Herod the Great (1st century AD ), AND

Second: the new city of Jerusalem (where we will stay on  the February 10, 2014 journey) that goes  back primarily to the late 19th century.

It was built primarily by European Jews, fleeing Europe and the pogroms and persecution of the Tsars, starting in the late 1800s and increasingly since the 1948 establishment of the modern state of Israel.

It should be remembered that, prior to June 1967, Jews were unable to enter the Old City which was then in Jordan.

That changed as a result of the outcome of the 6 Day War of June 6, 1976.

But one could argue that there is yet another Jerusalem, a 3rd city of Jerusalem;

Third : This would be the Orthodox section of New Jerusalem where the Jewish law, such as the sanctity of the Sabbath is strictly adhered to, so that if you were to drive through that area after sundown on Friday, you would be subject to being stoned.

Most Israelis are cultural and secular Jews who give lip service to the rabbinical laws such as Sabbath observance but use that time to go swimming or skiing much like so many Americans who never darken a church door but would still call themselves Christians.

And the secular cultural Jews of Israel don’t much like the Orthodox Jews and their life styles.

In 1967 when I first went to the Middle East, the Old City was in the hands of the Jordanians and a no-mans-land separated the two cities of Jerusalem.(People straying into this no man’s land were subject to being shot by a sniper from either side of the border. Snipers lurked on the top of the Old City walls in Jordan and across the valley on the Jewish side as well).

In 1967, in order to pass from Jordan to Israel, you got off your Jordanian bus in Jordan on the North East side of the walls of the Old City and you passed through the wrecked former home of a Jewish family called Mandelbaum. You then carried your bags across no-man’s- land, and underwent Israeli security, and then finally got on your Israeli bus and went on your way.

Goodbye Jordan. Hello Israel.

On our recent February 2013 journey, we crossed from Jordan into Israel in the North at the continuance of the Jordan River near the South side of the Sea of Galilee. Much easier crossing than in the past.

The history of modern Israel and the issue of borders and settlements that you hear about on the news constantly, is quite easily understood once you get a grasp of the recent history of that part of the world.

In early June, 1967, the Arab nations of Syria, Egypt and Jordan simultaneously launched an attack on the fledgling, 19 year old, state of Israel.

That attack came from the North and the East and the South by vastly superior forces, both in numbers and in weaponry.

The Israelis quite miraculously won that war in a short 7 days and pushed the borders of the state of Israel back to the Suez Canal in the South and the Jordan River in the East and the back side of the Golan Height in the North East.

Result: This repositioned Israel with finally defensible borders that made sense from a military standpoint.

Jordan was the big loser.

It lost the OId City and all of the land between Jerusalem and the Jordan River which included Bethlehem and Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found, and Jericho.

Syria lost the Golan Heights.

Egypt lost the entire Sinai, all the way to the Suez Canal, but regained much of it back later as part of negotiations with the Israelis in trades of land for peace.

Prior to the June 1967 war, the borders of Israel were indefensible and, at one point, Israel was only about 15 miles wide with Jordan to the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the West.

Over the subsequent years, Israel has voluntarily given up much of that territory to the South and some to the East captured in 1967.

They have negotiated this away in a quest for peace with her neighbors which, in spite of promises given, has proven to be as illusionary today as it was then.

New non contiguous Palestinian territories have been carved out in the Jordan Valley (Jericho) and along the Mediterranean Sea coast (the Gaza strip). The PLO and Hamas control these separated chunks of land.

The issue of the land captured in 1967 is the source of much of the tension in the Middle East that you read about and see on television, the so called settlements and the West bank and the refugee question.

The big question is:  where should the legitimate borders of Israel be today?                                                                                                                    

Question:  When you start a war and you lose, are you entitled to demand that the land you lost as a result of an aggressive act , be returned to you, as the Arab side demands of Israel?

wailing_wall

What are Israel’s choices?

Choice 1: Hold onto the current borders that were established in June 1967 as most Israelis are committed to doing, and live your life with that assumption.

While taking this stance, the Israelis are assuming that the Old City and its environs will remain as Israeli territory and so they have proceeded to build villages and communities there and to establish a de facto Jewish presence that is unlikely to go away without armed conflict.

The Arab world does not like that and are bent on forcing Israel to return to the indefensible borders of early 1967.

The second choice Israel can entertain is:

Choice 2: Return to the pre June 1967 borders.

This presupposes that Israel would give up the Old City of Jerusalem and much of the West Bank and put themselves back in the untenable situation they found themselves in when I first went there in April 1967,

Secret: Not going to happen and foolish politicians from the US and elsewhere who try to force the Israelis to make this concession do not know what they are talking about.

And herein may well lie the seeds that one day will explode into the conflict the Bible describes as the Battle of Armageddon.

Two main continuing sticking points preventing a settlement of the differences between Israel and her Arab neighbors remain.

They are:

(1)   The right of Israel to even exist as a state in the Middle East.

Most of the Arab world refuses to accept this political reality.

This makes peace talks almost futile before they even begin.

(2)  The so called ”right of return” for Arabs that left what is now Israel prior to 1948 when the state of Israel came into existence with the declaration of the UN and the War of Independence, and again in 1967 during the 6 Day War.

Arabs who left their homes in what is now Israel, in these conflicts, still understandably harbor the hope that they will one day be able to return to their former homes and pick up life as it was before.   I remember well my Arab bus driver when I was in Jordan in 1967, pointing longingly over the border into Israel to a village where he said his family had lived for many years and yearned to return to .

The lot of the Arab refugees is a tragic human situation without a realistic remedy. It has been further exacerbated by an unwillingness on their part, and their leaders’ part, to get on with life and accept the reality of history.

Offers of financial restitution so that they can rebuild their lives anew elsewhere have been met with a resounding No.

Festering refugee camps house thousands who have lived there for generations now, in Jordan and the West Bank and Gaza.

The residents of these camps  are pawns in the hands of the Arab power brokers like the late Yasser Arafat, who really care little about their welfare, and the international community.

The really big problem that makes this a virtually insolvable situation is that, if Israel opened its borders to the mass return of these former occupants, the Jews would become an instant minority in their own country.

Also, consider the mess of trying to sort out ownership of land now resold many times by its current and recent Jewish owners, with the  competing ownership claims of the former Arab owners. This would be a challenge big enough to tax the ability of a modern Solomon to solve.

This will not happen unless forced by a military defeat and by the destruction of the nation of Israel.

Remember the Jews have nukes and so they are not about to go peacefully.

They know that they have nowhere to go except into the Mediterranean Sea into which more than a few Arab leaders have threatened to send them.

Welcome Armageddon

 In Jerusalem there are numerous important places that we will visit

on the February 10, 2014 journey that you might want to join.

Among them are the following:

 

Israel-Trip-084

 

TEMPLE MOUNT:

This is the picturesque area with the beautiful  gold domed Muslim building on the top that is featured in almost every picture taken of Jerusalem.

This is the plateau, now restored, where the Temples of Solomon and of Herod the Great once stood.

All then existing  buildings were obliterated and even this plateau was largely destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD but it was then restored and rebuilt by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD , and by the Turkish Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, in the  Middle Ages.

Its walls are a tapestry of history starting with the massive distinctive stones along the bottom area that go back to the time of Jesus and were placed there by Herod the Great.

But above them are the smaller rougher stones from the Middle Ages.

The gates are from the Middle Ages.

The most famous part of the plateau is the so called Western Wall or “wailing wall”.

This is not part of the city walls of Jerusalem.

It is actually part of the retaining wall for the plateau that once held the ancient temples of the Bible.

It is fascinating to mingle there, as we will do in February, with Jews of every stripe, and international visitors, many of whom are Christians, and know that Jesus saw the wall we are looking at. And the really interesting thing is that only part of that wall is now exposed.

Most of it remains buried beneath our feet in the accumulated debris deposited there over the centuries in the Tyropean Valley or the Valley of the Cheesemakers, on which we will be standing, now filled in.

Its unexcavated bottom is probably more than 100’ below our level.

Local conditions permitting we will venture up on the top of the Temple Mount plateau.

The local Arabs control access.

It used to be possible to actually enter the dome of the Rock, the beautiful gold domed building, built by the Muslims in the 7th century AD over the reputed Old Testament rock of sacrifice of the ancient Jewish temples. They no longer permit non Muslims to go there.

Around the corner from the Western wall, we will see where the archeologists have been very busy at work and have uncovered the actual steps that Jesus would have climbed as he entered the temple and threw out the money changers.

So much more to tell you but this will have to suffice until we are actually there.

Just want to whet your appetite

 

POOL OF BETHESDA

To the North of the temple plateau are the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus told the  man who had been lame from birth to “pick up your bed and walk”.

What is fascinating is to see how far below the present surface where we might be standing, the ruins of the Biblical pool are located, perhaps 40’ down.

This is a reminder that the city that Jesus knew was totally destroyed and the debris of the 2000 intervening years has built up in places in an accumulation this deep.

 

VIA DOLOROSA

The modern streetway identified as the Via Dolorosa is entirely tradition and is not in any way the route that Jesus took to the cross.

Its chief virtue, with the stations of the cross, is as prompter for worship and devotion, which purpose it serves some well.

It is very important to Roman Catholic groups to participate in this experience.

It is a worthy thing to remember the agony of Jesus and the events that occurred along the way to Calvary.

Just remember that the city of Jesus’ day is many feet under the level of the current street.

We don’t usually spend any time on this traditional location unless our paths happen to cross it on route to another site, then it will be mentioned.

 

THE LITHOSTROTOS

Along the via Dolorosa there is one stop that is important.

Under the Convent of the Daughters of Zion, they have found old ruins that could well be part of the pavement in the open  courtyard of the Antonio fortress on which Jesus stood when he was being tried before Pilate and beaten by the Roman soldiers.

It is called the lithostrotos or pavement.

It is obviously very old.

One school of thought is that this is part of the open courtyard of the Antonio fortress that Herod built on the North East corner of the temple area, so that, if there was a disturbance, he could quickly deal with it and send in the Temple Guard soldiers.

Herod lived in fear that his countrymen would turn on him.  That is why the fortress of Masada was also created by him.

What is seen when viewing the pavement is the striations cut in the surface apparently  to keep the horses from slipping when it was wet.

Also there is, carved into the pavement for us to see, a game called the Kings game, that could have been the game the soldiers played as they gambled for Jesus’ cloak and mocked him as the king of the Jews. No absolute certainly here but a good guess.

The other school of thought is that this pavement area dates to the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the early 2nd century AD when he began a reconstruction of a pagan Jerusalem that he called the Alia Capitolina.

 

CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE

This very old church is located in the center of the Old City of Jerusalem.

It traces its origins back to Queen Helena the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD.

She was a very devout Christian and, with the blessing of her son, set off to identify the places associated with the life of Jesus and try to preserve them by building churches over them.

She relied on local tradition in her quest.

Two of those churches she built survive today.

We will visit one in Bethlehem and the other one is here in the Old City.

In all fairness, it is Important to note that, most archeologists and liberal church groups accept her church, the church of the Holy Sepulcher,  as the place where the crucifixion took place followed by the resurrection.

As far as I am concerned the jury is still out.

The big question in identifying the correct site, is identifying the location of the 1st century city walls, because we know, from the New Testament, that Jesus was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem.

As for this Church itself, it is an unpleasant place to visit and not at all  what you would expect to find.

It has a history of religious tension and competition.

A number of “Christian” denominations lay claim to different parts of the building and, so fierce is their rivalry, that they will go to war if someone of another sect tries to sweep the floor in their part.

So contentious is the rivalry that for centuries a Muslim family has been the keeper of the keys to the church.

Fortunately there is an alternative to this site which many Evangelical Christians find more appealing.

garden_tomb

 

THE GARDEN TOMB AND GORDON’S CALVARY

It is important to refer back now to the section about Jerusalem above and refresh your memory concerning the significance of Mount Moriah in God’s redemptive plan.

This is important because the Gordon’s Calvary location seems to be on the northern end of Mount Moriah.

This is very significant it seems.

Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb offer an alternative site to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

It is named after General Chinese Gordon, a British military man, who first drew attention to it.

He was a keen student of the Bible and reflected on  the Biblical aspects of the location of the last day events in Jesus ‘life.

One day in 1882, as he walked the Northern walls of the Old City of Jerusalem to the East of the Damascus gate, he noticed, across the road, the rough stone hillside on which appeared, via erosion, the strange image of a skull. And he remembered that Jesus was crucified at Golgotha which means, place of a skull.

This piqued his curiosity.

Further investigation led to the nearby discovery of an olive press indicating that the location was in a garden and, most importantly, this led to the discovery there of a unique tomb, quite unlike most tombs of that era.

It had a place for a stone to be rolled across the opening.

The Herodion royal tombs also had this feature but it is most unusual, apart from them.

This of course again fit the description in the Gospel of the burial place and surroundings and even unique type of tomb that were part of the experience of Jesus.

Gordon became convinced that he had found the real place of the crucifixion and the resurrection.

When you go there on the February 10, 2014 journey you will conclude that, if it is not the place, then this is what you would expect the place to look like, and perhaps that is enough.

Which place is the real location of the death and resurrection of Jesus?.

As I mentioned earlier I think that the jury is still out on this matter.

Many (including me) feel that Gordon’s Calvary is probably the actual place and so they choose to end their journeys with a communion service there as a fitting end to a journey filled with inspiration.

We will use carved olive wood cups from Bethlehem for the service and then take them home with us as a precious memory of an unusual experience

olivewoodcups

 

On the February 10, 2014 journey we will include this in our journey. It is often the emotional and spiritual high point of the entire journey.  Participation is optional.

Today the site is maintained by a British Foundation called the Garden Tomb Foundation.

 

BETHLEHEM

The name Bethlehem means “house of bread” and its history goes back at least 3000 years to before the time of King David who actually came from this town. This is where he tended his father’s sheep.

It is actually named in the Amarna letters circa 1400 BC, that were discovered in Egypt in which the then King of Jerusalem (Note this was 400 years before it became the capital of Israel under King David) appealed to the King/ Pharaoh of Egypt to help him retake Bethlehem then called “Bit Lahmi”.

So it has quite a rich history even outside of the Bible.

The Old Testament prophet predicted that the Messiah would come from this town and so Jesus is identified as from Bethlehem.

It is about 5 miles from Jerusalem.

In addition to the story of David , Bethlehem also appears in the story of Ruth and Boaz found in the Old Testament book  of Ruth.

The tomb of Rachel, wife of Jacob, is located on its outskirts.

The Church of the Nativity built over the cave where Jesus was born is its chief attraction along with the many olive wood carving shops.

The Muslim population of Bethlehem is growing and the Christian population is shrinking.

Currently (2013) because of rockets being fired from Bethlehem into Israel, the Israelis have cut the town off and built a high wall. This has had a devastating effect on the locals who depended upon work in Israel. Buses after careful inspection are allowed in.

Below the town are the traditional fields of the shepherds memorialized in the Christmas story. Those same fields used to belong to Boaz from the story of Ruth.

Same fields: David the shepherd boy, Ruth and Boaz, Jesus and the heralding angels.

CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY      

There is general consensus that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and that the birth probably occurred in the cave that now is covered over by the Church of the Nativity.

In the second century AD, the Jews revolted against Rome yet a second time and that rebellion was also put down brutally by the Roman emperor Hadrian.

Part of the reprisals he brought against the Jews was to desecrate the site of the destroyed temple that fell in 70 AD.

He also established a pagan shrine to Adonis in Bethlehem on the location of what locals reported as the place of the birth of Jesus.

Fast forward to the 4th century when Constantine became Emperor of Rome and declared himself and the Empire as formally Christian.

His mother Queen Helena was a devout Christian and, with the approval of her son, set out to identify and preserve all of the sites that were connected with the Christian story.

Local tradition in Bethlehem pointed her to a cave which  tradition indicated  was the place where Jesus was born. And she built a, now famous, church over that site in the early 300s AD.

It was and is called the Church of the Nativity and is probably accurate in its representation.

The church she built was destroyed in the 500s and then rebuilt by the Roman Emperor Justinian  in the 600s AD and that is the church that is visited today.

When the Muslims took over Bethlehem around 637 AD the Caliph promised that the church would be preserved for Christian use and so it has for an additional 1400 years.

TOMB OF RACHEL

It is located on the on the outskirts of Bethlehem and is believed to be the burial place of the Biblical matriarch Rachel, wife of Jacob, and mother of 2 of his sons. Genesis 35:19 records that Rachel died giving birth to her son Benjamin, and that “Jacob set  a pillar upon her grave”. This tomb structure was built around 1620 by the Ottoman Turks.

For security reasons the tomb itself that was open to see when I first went there in 1967, is now enclosed in a much larger building.

Because it is located in a politically sensitive area near the check point for entering the now walled off town of Bethlehem, it is very difficult to visit this site.

 

SHEPHERDS FIELDS

This refers to the fields that drop down into the valley from the town and are where the angels appeared to the shepherds and announced the birth of Jesus. The same fields were earlier owned by Boaz of the book of Ruth in the Old Testament and used by young David when tending his father Jesse’s sheep there.

DEAD SEA                   

The Dead Sea, aka as the Sea of Salt, is thus called because of its heavy concentration of salt and because nothing can live in it and its shores are barren and salt encrusted.

It has no outlets so the water that flows in  just accumulates there, primarily from the Jordan River and the springs of En Gedi and other minor sources. Once it enters the Dead Sea, water is destined to succumb to evaporation, and this results in greater and greater levels of salinity so that it is now about 6x the salinity of the Oceans.

Some the accumulated solids are of value and are actively mined on both sides of the water. This includes potash for fertilizer and also special cosmetics and skin treatments.

The waters are reputed to be useful in the treatment of various skin diseases and conditions including psoriasis, rhino sinusitis and osteoarthritis.

Some also use the mud baths for treatment of conditions of the skin.

The ancient Egyptians got their embalming chemicals from the Dead Sea

There are also huge solar farms there due to the almost uninterrupted supply of sunlight year round.

Most groups stop there and allow time for the unique experience of swimming/floating in the Dead Sea, a totally unique experience.

This is entirely voluntary.

What is it like? Similar to swimming in kerosene. Rather unpleasant but different.

The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth at about 1300’ below sea level and is about 11 miles wide and 42 miles long, at least it used to be this size, but in recent years, it has shrunken because most of the water that used to flow down the Jordan river and into the Dead Sea, is now diverted for irrigation upstream.

I was quite amazed at the amount of shrinkage to the Dead Sea during our recent visit.

Hotels that used to be at the water’s edge now are quite far back from the earlier edge with walkways built now to reach the water.

It is said to be about 1200’ deep at its deepest.

Somewhere near along its banks or under its waters are the ruins of the ancient infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

 SODOM and GOMORAH

As stated above, somewhere alongside or under the Southern waters of the Dead Sea are the ruins of some of the ancient  Canaanite cities called the “Cities of the Plain” (Genesis 13:12)

The most infamous of them were Sodom and Gomorrah where Abraham and Lot chose different paths after they arrived there about 4000 years ago.

Archeologists have striven for over 200 years to relocate the sites of these places with some success in recent years.

From the Bible record we know that they were places of great evil and were ultimately condemned and destroyed by God in a hail of brimstone. Interestingly volcanic rock is everywhere to be seen there.

Liberal scholars try to explain away the homosexual understanding of the inhabitants behavior claiming that their great sin in Sodom and Gomorrah was not sodomy but a lack of hospitality for guests, a very important principle known well to those who have ever traveled in the Arab and Bedouin world.

That argument seems more motivated by political correctness than by history.

Abraham and Lot arrived here on the Jordan River plain about 2000 BC.

Due to the size of their extended families they decided to settle in different parts of the area.

Abraham chose the hill area and Lot chose the already settled plain area where these established cities already existed.

Lot then got caught up in their rancid cultures

God condemned these cities and their inhabitants

The Bible records (Genesis 18) Abraham’s famous conversations with God bargaining for the sparing of the cities if an ever declining number of righteous people could be found there.

Finally the bargaining ran out and Lot and his wife and family escaped with Abraham by the skin of their teeth. Ordered to not look back, Lot’s wife disobeyed and turned in longing to look back and ended up as frozen in time as a pillar of salt.

And along the Dead Sea you can see encrustations of salt that look like human figures and are jokingly called “Lot’s wife”.

 

 

QUMRAN                           

Close to the North end of, and overlooking the Dead Sea, are the ruins of the Essene community at Qumran which we will visit again on the February 10, 2014 journey.

This is where the ancient scribes spent their lives meticulously copying the Bible documents and other texts by hand.

It is possible that Qumran may have been the Biblical city mentioned in Joshua 15:62 as the “city of salt”

Among the documents that they copied are the scrolls we now know as the Dead Sea Scrolls..

They were discovered some 65 + years ago, hidden in caves in the mountains above the community, in order to secure them from the approaching 10th Legion of the Roman army led by Titus that, following the destruction of Jerusalem was now heading for Masada and would pass their way. As feared the Romans did pillage Qumran around 70 AD and it virtually ceased to exist.

The story of the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1946 is very interesting as to how these treasures finally found their way into the public consciousness.

Their discovery was quite accidental  by a young Bedouin boy who literally stumbled on them when, while tending his goats.  He threw a stone into a cave where some of them were stored. He heard the sound of breaking pottery.

The scrolls were not immediately recognized as having any special value and nobody seemed much interested in them.

Some were actually sold off for a few dollars and dismissed by others as having no special value.

They eventually found their way to the back room of a strange little Arab guy that I knew named Mr. Kando who had a shop next to the St George Hotel in East Jerusalem, when it was still in Jordan.

Kando was a part time cobbler and part time antiques dealer.

I met him many times over several years and purchased items from him for my own personal collection.

Among his regular customers was the famed one eyed Israeli general, Moishe Dayan, who bought from Kando regularly for his own private collection of antiquities.

Kando did not look like someone who would get caught up in the intrigue of the most important archeological find of the last 500 years or more.

A short swarthy man, always seen wearing a dirty ankle length cloak, black skull cap  and sandals, he could be found most days in his nondescript, humble shop, next to one of our favored hotels in East Jerusalem.

Usually documents and archeological finds like this are made by the locals rummaging about in the desert, who then shop their discoveries to the local antique dealers for whatever they can get for antiquities, and if they turn out to be of any value, these find their way eventually into the hands of the scholars who study them.

There is quite a black market for such finds.

Often such treasures are not initially recognized for the important documents that they end up being.

This collection of scrolls contained many types of literature such as, regulations by which the Essenes were to live in community, and apocalyptic literature about the final end of the world in a catastrophic battle between the sons of darkness and the sons of light.

This stuff is all very interesting to historians of course.

But the major important part of the Essene collection was the many Old Testament books that were contained there.

These Old Testament scrolls found there are very important because they push back the date of the earliest copies of the Bible books that we have available for translation of the Bible, by  hundreds of years closer to the time that the “autographs” were first produced.

Prior to 1945, the oldest Old Testament documents we had for translation were dated to about the 10th century AD.   That is up to 2400 years from the time some of them were first recorded by their Old Testament writers.

The Dead Sea scrolls presented scholars with documents that now went back 1200 years earlier to about 200 BC. And thus much closer to the time when they were first recorded yet still a long way from the autographs.

By “autographs” I mean the original documents written by the prophet or whoever.

No autographs of the Bible books exist…… None.

What the Dead Sea scrolls demonstrated was just how meticulously careful the scribes of old were as they copied the sacred texts.

Even though hundreds of years passed between the time the Dead Sea scrolls were copied in Qumran (before the time of Jesus) and the later documents that our Bible translators were dependent upon up to the mid 20th century, scholars found that the variations between these varied sets of documents were, with few exceptions, miniscule and non essential. They were mostly essentially the same.

Those scrolls are now considered among Israel’s most valued treasures and are housed, primarily, in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem and also in a unique building that looks like one of the jars in which they were discovered,. It is called the Shrine of the Book and is located near the campus of the University of Jerusalem in New Jerusalem.

The people who lived at Qumran were a monastic group with unique beliefs.

They appear to have lived rather like the Christian monks of the Middle Ages in their chosen life style and emphasis and they preferred a solitary life style.

They were called the Essenes. The Essenes have come to be considered, by some historians, as a third large branch of Judaism, in addition to the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

According to the historian Josephus there were thousands of Essenes in Judea at that time.

There is no direct mention of the Essenes in the Bible but their influence is clearly quite marked as we discover from extra Biblical sources like Josephus.

Among their communal practices  were vows of poverty, they held their possessions in common, they abstained from what they identified as worldly pleasures, they ate together in a common dining area, they practiced celibacy and engaged in daily ritual bathing i.e. baptism.

They devoted themselves to the study of the ancient texts and to the careful recopying of the same.

They also engaged in predicting the future in rather apocalyptic language with writings about the ultimate war to be fought sometime in the future between the sons of light and the sons of darkness.

Some have speculated that John the Baptist might have been a member of their community.

EN GEDI                             

Traveling south along the Western shores of the Dead Sea you come to the oasis of En Gedi.

Its existence traces back to before the time of David, about 1000 BC.

It is also prominently mentioned in a famous Bible story.

But it can actually be traced back even further to about to the time of Abraham about 4000 years ago.

It is one of those rare places that provides fresh water in the entire Dead Sea region. It also  provides for a wonderful green oasis as the water makes its way down  into the Dead Sea.

One famous Bible story records the conflict between King Saul and the young shepherd boy David from Bethlehem who had killed the giant Goliath and, in the process, earned the admiration of the population and the jealousy of Saul who then set out to kill young David and eliminate a possible rival.

The story reports that, coincidentally, both Saul and David ended up sleeping in a large cave at En Gedi , which was one of David’ hiding places.

This was a long way from Jerusalem and David felt safe there and then Saul and his hunting party arrived.

The story relates how, during the night, when David could have easily killed Saul.  He opted instead to cut off part of Saul’s clothing while he was asleep  so that in the morning he could show Saul that he, David had spared Saul’s life.

This decision bought David some respite and Saul backed off in gratitude. (1 Samuel 24).

The region can be viewed from below or, for the hardy who have the time and strength, it is possible to actually climb up to the cave.

On the February 10, 2014 journey, chickens that we are, we will view it from below, when  on our way to Masada.

MASADA                                 

This fortress refuge was built by Herod the Great around the time leading up to Jesus’ birth. It is on the Western side of the Dead Sea to the South of En Gedi and Qumran.

Herod lived in constant fear that the Jews would arise up and overthrow him and so he had to have his escape route planned out in advance.

Masada was for him the perfect refuge. It was an isolated mountain that was easily defended and he lavished detail upon it including a beautiful palace and storage facilities and a bath and even a synagogue.

He did this with the understanding that the day might come when he would have to flee there for his life.

As it turned out, Herod never used Masada, from what we know.

It basically sat unused for about 70 years till long after his death, and the story of its later use is like straight out of fiction.

Herod died about 4 BC in Jericho.

The year is 70 AD and the Roman 10th legion is destroying the temple that Herod built in Jerusalem, the same one that Jesus knew. About 960 survivors of the Roman siege managed to escape down into the Jordan valley and up onto the top of Masada.

It was the perfect place to hole up they thought.

They felt invulnerable there.

The only way up was via a narrow “snake path” that must be navigated in single file.

They lacked for nothing as Herod had well provisioned the place, and great cisterns collected the water that they might need, and they felt very confident in their ability to withstand the Roman seige.

What they failed to understand was the commitment that Rome had made to put down any and all such rebellion so as to expunge any thoughts of such from breaking out anywhere else in the Empire.

So the Romans could not afford to allow Masada to win this standoff.

The Romans, upon arrival at the base of Masada, immediately proceeded to build a stone wall all the way around the bottom of Masada in order to prevent anyone from escaping.

That wall can still be seen clearly from the top of Masada.

They then established a series of camps that are also still visible 2000 years later.

Then, using slave labor from Jerusalem they began to heap up stone and rubble against the side of Masada at a place where there was a rocky escarpment that already provided the start of a ramp. The work continued with the Jews on top throwing down stones on the workers as they saw the wall inexorably gaining height.

Finally, as the wall reached close to their level,  it became apparent that the Romans were about to breach the top walls with their great war machines and take Masada and its inhabitants. What to do?

Now the Jewish historian Josephus, who had strong feelings of loyalty to Rome as well being a Jew himself, when he wrote his

History of the Jews, included the fascinating story of what transpired on the top of Masada as the Roman breach neared.

How did he know what happened?

Some survived the event to tell the tale: two women and a few kids.

The leader of the Jews on top of Masada was named  Eleazar.

He was determined that, seeing there was no escape, they should not allow themselves, their wives and kids, to become slaves and be abused by the Romans who had a reputation for mistreating their prisoners.

And so Eleazar set out to persuade the other Jews to commit mass suicide in which action they would each kill their own families and then, chosen by lot, each other, and the final one would then commit suicide.

He is recorded as having made 2 famous speeches trying to convince the rest of the 960+ people there to follow his plan.

His first shot at it did not gain the full support that he wanted and so a second speech was delivered and it apparently did the job.

Here is his first speech as recorded by Josephus:

“Since we long ago, my  generous friends, resolved never to be servants of Rome nor to any other than to God himself, who alone is the true and just  Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obligates us to make that resolution true in practice. And let us not at this time bring reproach upon ourselves for self contradiction while we formerly would not undergo slavery though it were then without danger but must now together with slavery ,choose such punishments also as are intolerable. I mean this, upon the supposition that the Romans once reduce us under their power while we are alive. We were the very first that revolted from them and we are the last that fight against them and I cannot but esteem it as a  favor that God has granted us that it is still in our power to die bravely and in a state of freedom which hath not been the case of others who were conquered unexpectedly . It is very plain that we shall be taken within a day’s time; but it is still an eligible thing to die after a glorious manner together with our dearest friends. This is what our enemies themselves cannot by any means hinder although they be very desirous to take us alive. Nor can we propose to ourselves any more to fight them and beat them. It had been proper indeed for us to have conjectured at the purpose of God much sooner and at the very first when we were so desirous of defending our liberty and when we received such sore treatment from one another and worse treatment from our enemies and to have been sensible that the same God who had of old taken the Jewish nation into his favor, had now condemned them to destruction, for had he either continued favorable or been but in a lessor degree displeased with us, he had not overlooked the destruction of  so many men or delivered his most holy city  to be burned and demolished by our enemies. To be sure we weakly hoped to have preserved ourselves and ourselves alone still in a state of freedom as if we had been guilty of no sins ourselves against , nor been partners with those of others; we also taught other men to preserve their liberty. Wherefore consider how God hath convinced us that our hopes were in vain by bringing such distress upon us in the desperate state we are now in and which is beyond all of our expectations; for the nature of this fortress which was in itself unconquerable hath not proved  a means for our deliverance ,and even while we still have great abundance of food and a great quantity of arms and other necessities more than we want, we are openly deprived by God himself of all hope of deliverance, for that fire which was driven upon our enemies did not of its own accord turn back upon the wall which we had built; This was the effect of God’s anger against us for our manifold sins which we have been guilty of in a most insolent and extravagant manner with regard to our own countrymen; the punishments of which let us not receive from the Romans but from God himself as executed by our own hands; for these will be more moderate than the other. Let our wives die before they are abused and our children before they have tasted slavery and, after we have slain them, let us bestow that  glorious benefit upon one another mutually and preserve ourselves in freedom as an excellent funeral monument for us. But first let us destroy our money and the fortress by fire;  for I am well assured that this will be a great grief that they shall not be able to seize upon our bodies and shall fall of our wealth also; and let us spare nothing but our provisions for they will be a testimonial when we are dead that we were not subdued for want of necessities but that, according to our original intention, we have preferred death before slavery”  

And so, when the Romans breached the walls of Masada in that morning, they were met by silence and the smoke of burning walls and buildings ,and the smell of death and about 955 dead corpses of family groups lying alongside each other and it could be seen that each father had first executed his family and then laid down and turned his neck to the knife for the neck wound to be delivered by his friend. And there they lay in order family by family.

Even the hardened romans must have been moved by what they found.

Quite a story.

Jews have faced an ethical and religious  dilemma in understanding how to view this event.

Judaism forbids suicide.

This was mass suicide.

But Masada has come to represent to Israel much more today, as a national demonstration of courage in the face of tyranny that inspires Israelis today.

Young Israeli soldiers, as part of their training, now make a trek to the top of Masada via the snake path and vow that Masada will never fall again.

When we visit this impressive site we will speedily make our way to the top via a modern cable car that also offers an exciting view of the Roman ramp below and the snake path and parts of the circumlocution wall and some of the Roman camps.

What a day with the “Holy Land Guru”!

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