Day Four—A Lesson in Contrast

It was an especially early start as we rolled our bags to the van for a long drive through West Bank to Shiloh. What different scenery as we left the lush Galilee area and headed south to the Judean dessert.

West Bank is largely Arab, of course, and the difference is striking. As an aside, huge amount of humanitarian dollars get spent there including in new construction. We could see the evidence in the form of many large homes and apartments that are newly built but empty. West Bank and the other “occupied territories” present all kinds of complicated issues.

But first, Shiloh.

Shiloh was the home of the tabernacle for three hundred years between the Exodus and the building of Solomon’s temple. What an awesome dig and find! Your friends have not been here.

The team working the dig has done a thorough job (see Associates for Biblical Research) and that makes it extra cool. You can actually see where the tabernacle was erected and it is surreal to think the Ark of the covenant was in that very spot. All around in the surrounding hills, the twelve tribes would have camped prior to their conquest and when they traveled to make their sacrifices three times a year.

In the last few days, we had covered thousands of years from about 64 BC to present history. Now we were stepping another 1400 years back in time from the first century sites we had been largely focused on. I was thankful Curtis was constantly working to help us understand the full timeline of Israel’s colorful history.

And Shiloh definitely holds its share of colorful history. Those hills could tell so many stories over the centuries…from the days of Joshua to more recent civilizations. The site of the tabernacle has been especially convincing through the many pottery finds and even some rare finds such as 8 scarab beetle—the seal of the Egyptian pharaoh which to me is strong evidence for biblical account of the Exodus.

Hannah would have stood there at that tabernacle and prayed in desperation that God would give her a son. A few years later, she would have returned with little Samuel.

I regretted that we didn’t have more time to linger at Shiloh. There have been other civilizations at that site over the years as well (mostly irrelevant to biblical history) and so we really only scratched the surface at that hallowed place.

Masada was our next destination and we soon found ourselves peeling off layers of clothing…some of us eventually making it down to our shirt sleeves for the first time this trip.

What a fascinating place Masada is. Thanks to Herod’s wealth and ingenuity, two thousand years later, we can still appreciate the genius of his water collection and storage enabling a mountain on the top of the desert to house a garrison of men that would virtually never, ever run out of water.

I had been here once before and surprisingly, I think I actually found it more fascinating the second time. There are battling theories about its usage a hundred years after Herod for the last stand of the Jews against the Romans siege (now we are back to 70 AD). I pulled up the history on this and read one lady’s opinion that this has been a mere occupation of days or weeks. Clearly, this “scholar” had never been there to see the synagogue erected on the top, the Torah rooms, and the converted Mikvahs. Jews had definitely made this their home. Not only that, but the Romans trying to lay siege outside had clearly spent some time there as well—they built walls and cities around the city…conquering this hilltop fortress was clearly a substantial effort.

As you know, the Romans eventually did conquer the massive fortress and the story is that the Jews inside had committed mass suicide the night before the Romans entered.

Several of us really wanted to hike the Snake trail down the mountain from Masada, but by the time we were leaving, the trail was closed and we had to ride down in the gondola like your friends did. Nonetheless, Fitbit was pretty happy with me as a job well done.

Our final stop was by the Dead Sea. Only a few of the guys would brave the water considering it was not super warm or super sunny. Since I had been in once previously, and since the changing rooms were locked, I chickened out.

In one day we went from the lush Galilean countryside, through the dirty streets of West Bank, to the simple green valley of Shiloh, up to the dry barren heights of Masada, down to the lowest point on earth dotted with luxury resorts. And we weren’t quite done.

After a quick dinner, we completed our last drive pulling in the Jaffa gate in the dark and winding our way through the narrow streets of the Old City of Jerusalem.

I loved that we were staying in the Old City. Your friends have not stayed in the sold City…they stayed in the modern city just next door that most people refer to when they say, “Jerusalem.” That is, I would soon love that we’re we staying in the Old City. At that moment, I was much too tired to soak in the lively atmosphere between the high walls and stone streets.

One good shower and day four was in the books.

Day 4. In a Dry and Weary Land


Our first stop of the day was a bit of a drive from Jerusalem so Gilad kept us entertained by helping us understand more of the complicated political history and current issues of Israel. There doesn’t seem to be any end to them. Seeing as it was Israeli Independence Day, we also got a history of the country. Gilad’s version was a whole lot different from what I learned in school. It was interesting hearing it directly from a native though.

Our first stop was Qumran–the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We had to talk Gilad into letting us stop there and were so glad we did. What a fascinating place to help connect the dots for these incredible copies of Scripture so well preserved for a thousand years. I don’t really have time to tell the whole story in this blog, but it’s worth reading. In fact, I’m inspired to study up on it further myself.

We saw ibex beside the road on the way from there to the Dead Sea. I tried to get a good shot of the ibex and failed dismally. They are sort of a cross between a deer and a goat. Very graceful looking and believed to be the inspiration behind Psalm 42:1.

Masada was our next stop…one of Herod’s palaces–built as a fortress on top of a relatively flat mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. It looks like the top of a mountain next to the Dead Sea anyway. It is actually not much of a mountain…about 60 feet above sea level.

Masada had two lives. The first under Herod, the second as the refuge for Jewish resistance to the Roman rule just before the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Masada was the last place taken by the Romans, and given the unique military advantages of the fortified mountain and the provisions left by Herod one hundred years earlier, it took a huge Roman army months to conquer the tiny Colony. There’s an Alamo-like ending to the story which our guide has his own variation of. Whether the last stand ended by committing suicide, surrendering, fighting to the death or escaping is now a bit of a mystery. Hollywood tells the story of a suicide pact, so…there you have it: a reason to doubt that version.

One the most amazing achievement for the architects of this historic site is their means of capturing and storing water. The state of California could probably benefit from some of Herod’s engineers. It is truly amazing how an arid place with no natural water source and two inches of rain a year can survive, but that was true of Masada and Qumran.

The Dead Sea had a lot of attributes of any other beach…lots of people, not so much clothes, and loud music. There were a bunch on nuns in the changing room though. That was a little different.

Stephen and I got in the water and everyone else stood on the side and laughed at us and took pictures.

The Dead Sea is basically everything you’ve heard it described as. Salty.

Perhaps the best diversion of the day came after that when Curtis decided he and Stephen would ride camels. That turned out to be 100 shekels very well spent. Ask Anita for the proof. If ever there were priceless photos, she has them. That’s all I’m gonna tell you.

Just driving back to Jerusalem was interesting. It put a backdrop to so many passages of Scripture. From David as a shepherd to him hiding in caves…to the Psalms about a dry a weary land. There are still huge open spaces doted with sheep, goats, and wandering shepherds. In the thousands of years since his life, much has changed.  Some things have gotten very complicated. But much has not.

I suspect the road from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem largely has not.