Summary: Today we spent the morning visiting Masada and had an afternoon to rest and relax at our hotel in the Dead Sea.
Masada: Today we took a cable car up from the Dead Sea to a desert fortress called Masada, built by Herod the Great. The Hebrew word for Masada basically means “stronghold.” It was located on the Southeastern side of his kingdom to protect from the Nabateans, a desert dwelling people who controlled a lucrative spice route in the South. They built the city of Petra (think Indiana Jones) and were not conquered until 106AD (over 100 years after Herod’s death).
The desert fortress is 102 feet above sea level, towering above the Dead Sea which is 1400 feet below sea level. There is no natural water supply, but water was channeled into huge cisterns (40 million liter capacity) which were filled using slave labor who carried it up on donkeys from nearby aqueducts or Ein Gedi. They also imported food all the way from Rome. They found weapons for 10,000 soldiers here. They had a dove house where bird poop was collected for fertilizer. A Roman bath house was located here. He even had a swimming pool! It was a grand fortress. Kind of like Las Vegas in the dessert. Unnatural for the location.
The site is a national symbol for Israel today. According to the story as recorded by Josephus, when Rome put down the first century Jewish rebellion, 960 people including men women and children took refuge here in 66AD. After Rome destroyed Jerusalem and a couple of the other areas of resistance, they turned their attention to the last group of rebels, building a massive siege ramp up the side of the mountain to take the site. It fell in 73AD, the formal end of the rebellion. When Rome entered the fortress they found a mass murder suicide where each man killed his family and then voluntary offered his throat to be slit by the remaining men. There were 7 women and children that hid and escaped the slaughter. The rest killed each other rather than being taken into slavery by Rome. Archeologists found a room with pot fragments that had names scribbled on them where they believe the last men casted lots for who would die last. Rather than be a slave, they chose to die free. It was the idea ‘We will never be ruled by a Gentile.’ Israeli fighter jets flying by will tip a wing to Masada even today in a sign of respect. We saw two fly over head and tip the wings. Now archeology does not entirely support the story because there was a second siege ramp on the site that appears to show that they fled into a smaller fortress on the site after the larger fortress was taken, fighting to the end. An area of the complex was converted to a synagogue by those rebels. In that spot, archeologists found fragments of Ezekiel 37, which contains a prophecy that dry bones would one day come back to life speaking of the nation of Israel. It is fitting that the last holdout of the first century Jewish revolt, which marked an end to Jewish life in the land of Israel for almost 2000 years, were finding hope in an eventual nation reborn in the land, which happened in 1948, literally fulfilling the prophecy.
The Bible stories that occurred in this area include Sodom and Gomorrah and David’s flight from Saul.
Sodom and Gomorrah: Zoar is a city mentioned near Sodom and Gomorrah in scripture. The medeba map in Jordan dating to the 5th century locates Zoar to the plains just south of here which is why most believe the events occurred in this vicinity. In Genesis 18 Abraham intercedes for them while in Hebron to the north, asking God to spare the cities if even 10 righteous men are found there. God then dispatched angels who head to the city, finding Lot in the city gate (the place where elders sat). The men of the city want to have sexual relations with them (the angels). Seeing the great wickedness, the angels take Lot from there and destroy the cities. There is a cave you can visit near Zoar believed to be where Lot subsequently has incestrous relations with his daughters, giving birth to the nations of the moabites and ammonites.
David’s flight from Saul: In 1 Samuel 18, David flees from Gibeah to Samuel in Ramah. In Ch20, he flees to Jonathan (probably back in Gibeah). In ch21, David goes to Nob, which is thought to be on the Mt of Olives because Isaiah mentions that Jerusalem is visible from it. Also in Ch21, David then flees to Gath with the Philistines. In Ch22 he goes to the cave of adulam, where he begins to collect his mighty men. He then goes to Mizpah of Moab where he leaves his family protect them (where his grandma Ruth was from). Finally David went to a stronghold. Some believe that the stronghold was here in Masada, which is close to our the place where you would travel over to Moab. Nothing has been found to suggest dating to David’s time, but it is certainly a possibility that he fled here briefly.
“And he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold.” – 1 Samuel 22:4 ESV
We finished the visit by descending down the snake path, a narrow path that was used in ancient times to ascend the giant island in the sky. In the afternoon, instead of swimming in the Dead Sea, known for its life giving affects, we headed to the local McDonalds and consumed something with the opposite affect, which required an afternoon nap to recover from. While sleeping, an extremely rare rainstorm passed through the area, leaving behind an amazing rainbow for us to appreciate when we awoke!!! The evening ended in a sweet time of worship with the group.
Hike the Good Hike!
Sherpa and Porter (and Cheerio)