Day 8: Jericho, Masada, Qumran, & the Dead Sea
Our group was able to put away our scarves and winter hats and gloves for this day! The weather was warm and sunny. We woke up in Jericho, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, believed to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world!
We started our day with a drive near the Dead Sea south towards Masada. This drive can very easily become flooded from the mountains to the west and we were very lucky to have dry weather on this day (not to be expected in the winter months!).
Masada is an ancient Jewish fortress and the site of Herod the Great’s palaces. It is best known as the site of of a mass suicide by 960 Jewish rebels and their families when the Roman troops were overtaking the city. The Jewish rebels chose death instead of slavery to the Romans. Masada is an important site for Jews and the State of Israel. The Israeli army holds the swearing-in ceremony of new Israeli soldiers on the top of Masada. The ceremony ends with the declaration: "Masada shall not fall again."
After Masada, we went shopping at an Ahava outlet for cosmetics and skin care products made from Dead Sea mud and minerals. Then across the street we toured the ancient archaeological site of Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were hidden and later found around 1950. We learned about the Essene community, a Jewish sect during the Second Temple period, toured their living areas and saw the caves in which they prayed and where the Dead Sea Scrolls were later found.
After a hot day out in the sun, we made our way down to the Dead Sea for a dip (read: float) in the salty water! We had fun spreading the Dead Sea mud on our faces and arms for smooth skin.
Back to Jericho we caught a glimpse of the Mount of Temptations and a sycamore tree which many believe is the tree Zacchaeus climbed in order to get a glimpse of Jesus. It is unlikely that this is the exact tree, but it sure is fun to imagine that it is! We ended our evening in the hotel lobby gathered as a group for vespers with Fr. Kelly, discussing our experiences so far.