Tuesday, July 9, 2013

NT Day 4: The Dead Sea

Looking toward the south end of Masada
Today we headed back down to the Dead Sea region, visiting Masada, the Dead Sea, En Gedi, and Qumran. Specifically at Masada and Qumran, we focused in on two of the four major religious sects of the first century – each with their own reaction to the political situation. At Masada, we have Josephus' "fourth philosophy," a philosophy with such passion for independence that they would rather die than be enslaved. Although some Iron Age remains have been discovered at Masada, it was Herod built the place as a palace fortress with all the modern conveniences the day could provide. Although this fortress was used to patrol the southern border with the Nabateans, Herod spared no expense to make this a palace fit for a king. On the northern end, Herod constructed his magnificent palaces with a few of the frescos still remaining to this day. In the Western Palace, Herod had elegant mosaics covering the floors. Masada has many cisterns and even a fresh water swimming pool. The largest of the cisterns could hold over one million gallons of water. Herod had his storage rooms filled with food and delicacies shipped from Naples, Italy with his name on it! Compared to the average tent and sheep kind of guy, Herod lived beyond imagination. According to Josephus, when Herod was young, he was big and strong. When he was older, he was just big. Imagine trying to carry this king up to the heights of Masada! Even if they used a donkey – that is a hard workout!
Roughly seventy years after Herod's death in AD 66, a group of Jewish Zealots took the fortress. They converted some of the buildings into mikvah baths for ritual cleansing and Herod's stable into a synagogue. As Rome worked their way back through the region squelching the rebellion, Masada became the last stand. Jerusalem fell in AD 70, and Masada was sieged three years later. Herod had well stocked the fort. Thus, it took the Romans roughly a year to take the fortress. When building the siege ramp, the Romans used Jewish slaves to put the Jews at Masada in a predicament. Do they kill their own people or let them build the ramp? Although Josephus states that Jews here preferred to die at their own hands rather than by the hands of the Romans, archeological evidence seems to indicate that there was some fighting that took place atop Masada. There is evidence of a second siege ramp to the Northern Palace. Additionally, suicide is NOT Jewish. It is a dishonorable way to die. The only suicide account we have in the Old Testament is that of King Saul – not a good example to follow. In Roman society however, suicide was an honorable way to die rather than to be taken by the enemy. Either way, this was the last stand for Jewish independence. Later a Byzantine Church was built on the site, but other than that, the place had been largely left untouched. This has made the site ideal for dating similar pottery and the like to the time period.

The Dead Sea across from En Gedi
Our next stop was at the Dead Sea for lunch and quick hike back up En Gedi to David's fall – long enough to put our feet in the water. We then headed back to Qumran. This time we were able to go walk through the Qumran village and note the various features. This region is significant for three reasons: the Qumran village, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Essenes. They may or may not be related. It is common practice to associate the tree, but this may or may not be accurate – just an important note to keep in mind. So why did the Essenes come way our here? It goes back to their underlying philosophy. Independence had been achieved by the Hasmoneans for a short time, but they too did as the Greeks and began to become very Hellenistic and "Western" in their practice. Rome eventually took control politically and the Hasmoneans took the priesthood – a position for which they were not qualified. This gave rise to the group of the Essenes. They rejected the Hasmonean control of the priesthood. The government and the priesthood were corrupt. What do you do? This group chose largely to withdrawal into the desert, but close enough to society that they could still keep in contact. According to Ezekiel 47, the Dead Sea would be healed and fish of the great sea will live here. In a sense, the Qumran community is getting a front row seat when God comes back and fixes his creation. He will find the that the Essenes have been a faithful remnant and put them back in charge. It has been speculated as well that perhaps Herod the Great helped to finance and build their small community. Herod the great was a political genius and weasel. The reason is that in case the temple authorities became too powerful, Herod could turn to the Essenes to back him up.

In these two political/religious groups, we see two different responses to the political situation. The Zealots responded by aggression and confrontation, and the Essenes by withdrawal into the wilderness to wait on God. Both had messianic hopes and expectations, and both parties were shattered with the destruction of Jerusalem and the final obliteration of the Jewish state. Without the temple, the Sadducees too disappear from the pages of history. However, the Pharisees had already worked themselves into the towns and villages. It is through the Pharisees of the first and second century that modern Judaism arises. How different things may have been if the any of these other three groups continued to exist and act as a check to the other. Of course it would all be speculation, but it is an interesting point to ponder. 
Driving toward Jericho - the Judean Wilderness - "Senonian Chalk"

The Dead Sea is within sight

Passing the Cliffs on the way to Masada

Look! There's Masada in the distance. 

Cable Car up ... no hiking it this time

Looking back toward the visitor center

Lecture atop Masada

"Lockers" for when you go swimming in the fresh water pool!

Another teaching moment

Herod's Amazing Mosaics - some of the best preserved
in the country

Looking west

Looking west toward the Roman army camp

Herod's Stables, but the Zealot's Synagogue 


Herod's Storage Rooms - Here he kept jars of such things as apples
and fish sauce shipped from Naples, Italy!

Looking Northward Toward the Dead Sea - Did you know the Dead Sea is
evaporating about a tenth of an inch each day? Since we were hear last
the water has dropped about an inch. Many remember when its shores
were significantly closer. Why is it dropping? Most of the water that
used to flow in from the wadi systems and the Jordan River is being
pumped out for water consumption in Israel and Jordan. Scientists
are not sure what to expect for the future of the Dead Sea - most
expect it to find and equilibrium at some point. 

Looking over Herod's Northern Palace

Back at the storage rooms

The entrance to the bathhouse

When looking at the remains, one has to imagine not just the plaster smoothing
the walls over, but the amazing frescoes throughout. 


This is the steam room room. ... No idea why you'd want to get any hotter in
this already very hot region! ... guess they thought it was healthy. After
you've sweat out all the impurities, one would seal the skin with oil.

After the Jewish Zealots took the fort/palace in 66 AD, they added many
mikvah baths for ritual cleansing.

Now that's a large swimming pool! Imagine hauling all the water up here for
that! Just from the cistern to hear would be task in itself, let alone from the
aqueduct up to the cistern.

What amazing views at the south end of Masada! Didn't have time to catch
everything the first time.

The million gallon cistern.

Is it a bit odd to walk down into a cistern with no one
around except one man sitting at the bottom staring at
you as each step you make echos throughout? I thought
so, but decided to go to the bottom anyway. 

Dead Sea for lunch ... Water, Water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!
But right next door is the En Gedi Spring

Looks extra small in the pictures ... not that it's too large though

King David's Waterfall ... Shower Anyone?

The sea looks so inviting, but so deadly

Lecture in the Qumran Visitor Center

Looking toward the wadi that would feed water to Qumran. If you look closely
you might be able to pick out remnants of the aqueduct system

The large cistern ... don't bend your head over too far - you might lose your
hat! ... and there is no easy way down.

Aqueduct running through the village
Standing in the parchment and ink room. It would have been here that many
of the scrolls were carefully copied.

Again, Cave #4 - the original entrance is that hole on top.

The mid-Qumaranian age village was badly damaged by an
earthquake - here it split the mikvah bath, rendering it

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