A new spin on an old story - and a surprise within the mountains of Masada. That's how our day began. We left our hotel in Jerusalem, once again driving along the West Bank. This time, we passed several Bedouin settlements in the desert. The Bedouins are a group of nomadic tribes who have lived in Israel’s Negev Desert for many hundreds of years, They still choose a simple way of life.
We passed the city of Jerico, in the Palestinian Territories, and saw the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered at Wadi Qumran near the Dead Sea.
The early morning sun glistened through the haze over the Dead Sea - not too far ahead, Masada, our first stop. Due to the day's extreme heat and to save time, we took the cable car up 350 meters (1,148 feet) to the ruins.
Masada is an ancient fortress, built in 30 BCE by King Herod. Among the ruins are Herod's sprawling Palace; a black line separates the actual structure below from the reconstruction above.
During the great revolt against Rome in 68 CE, Masada was conquered by a group of Jewish Zealots and became their last stronghold. The story, according to Josephus Flavius, an ancient historian and the only one to record what happened on Masada, goes like this - after being under siege by the Roman Army for several months to a year the Zealots knew they were about to be overtaken. Trapped in their fortress they preferred to die rather than surrender into slavery, setting fire to all the buildings and committing mass suicide. There were only a handful of Masada survivors left – 2 women and 5 children.
Our guide Zvi made us question this theory.
First, there was only ONE account, and Flavius wasn't even there when it happened! There were discrepancies between his account and what archeologists found. Second, according to the Talmud, suicide in Jewish law is a very serious offense. And finally, what if it wasn't suicide at all, but a mass killing that the Romans hid? Food for thought.
Before leaving this historical site Zvi had a wonderous surprise for our group. Be sure to have the volume up when you play the video!
We left Masada with anticipation toward our next stop - The Dead Sea. At 430 m (1,412 ft) below sea level, the shores of the Dead Sea are the lowest point on earth. With a 33.7% salinity, the Dead Sea is one of the world's saltiest bodies of water - it's called the Dead Sea because no fish can survive its salty waters!
On the other hand, the salty water of the Dead Sea is known for its health and healing properties, and the unique feature that one can float naturally in the water.
We had one more stop on this already jam-packed day - Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. It is the second largest oasis in Israel, and one of few places in the Israeli deserts where streams run all year long. With the temperature reporting 46 C (114 F) at the Dead Sea, the waterfall at Ein Gedi was beyond refreshing!
Ein Gedi is called a nature reserve because of the wealth of bird and wildlife, most commonly seen and our favorite, the ibex!
It would have been very hard to leave this beautiful oasis if we weren't so hot and tired from the desert heat!