A Day Below Sea Level

October 24, 2009

Notes from Saturday, October 24 . . . A Holy Land tour always takes on a rhythm of its own. In the beginning and for several days, adrenaline keeps everyone running in overdrive. Eventually a combination of jet lag and sheer fatigue from the long days leads to a bit of a slowdown.

No matter how hard I blew, I couldn’t play the shofar.

This is entirely natural, and in large part is due to the fact that you are in a foreign land, seven or eight time zones from home, eating unfamiliar food, sleeping in unfamiliar beds, traveling in close quarters with people you have mostly not met before, dealing with a brand-new culture, getting up at 6 AM, eating breakfast at 6:30 AM, getting on the bus at 7:30 AM, spending the entire day visiting one site after another, trying to listen to Malcolm’s explanations, dickering with the Bedouins who want to sell you camel bone necklaces, taking pictures along the way, adding up how much money you have left, gazing out the window as the bus descends back toward Jericho, looking at the ibex out the window, nodding as Malcolm points out a new settlement, an ancient building and a group of wandering Bedouins, wondering how anyone can float in the Dead Sea, marveling at Herod’s massive building program that transformed the Holy Land, studying the massive sycamore tree that is “only” 600 years old but must have like the one Zaccheus climbed (Luke 19:1-10), and discussing the intricacies of the extremely complicated political situation with Malcolm.

King David and John the Baptist were both familiar with the Judean wilderness.

We spent nearly the whole day below sea level. We started in the Judean wilderness, a beautiful, barren place, with little vegetation and rocks everywhere. You wonder that anything could live there, but the Bedouins have learned to survive and thrive in the desert for thousands of years. Malcolm has pointed out again and again the importance of water in the Middle East. In every ancient settlement you look for the cistern or the aqueduct or the nearby spring or stream that supplied the water.

Sharon, Katie and Bev take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

Masada never fails to impress. Though Herod the Great built it as a refuge from Cleopatra, there is no evidence he ever lived there. And “there” turns out to be a mountain near the Dead Sea that is as nearly impregnable as any defensive position could be. But the Romans figured out how to build a earthen ramp so they could use a battering ram to knock down the doors to the fortress. When they finally breached the gate, they discovered over 900 men, women and children who chose death over slavery. “Better to die as free men than to live as slaves.”

These Israeli teens covered themselves with black mud before swimming in the Dead Sea.

Qumran was incredibly crowded with tour buses. So far we’ve run into Michael Rydelnik’s group three times, David Hocking’s group twice, and the God TV mega-group (five buses) at least three times. They say if you stay in Jerusalem long enough, you’ll meet all your friends. 

Check out the White Sox, Bears and Cubs in Hebrew.

Around 1:30 PM we stopped for lunch near En Gedi where David hid from Saul in the caves that dot the mountains around the Dead Sea (1 Samuel 24). A few brave souls decided to go swimming in the Dead Sea, an experience that everyone should have once and probably not more than that. Because of the high salt content, you cannot sink. You float even if you can’t swim a lick. As an added bonus, your body gets covered with a slick mineral residue that probably is good for you but if you have any cuts or sores, it stings. Among our group, Bob and Irene Danson, Howard and Judy York, Bev Barner and Katie Westcomb decided to take a dip in the Dead Sea. I am happy to report that everyone floated, no one sank, they all thought it was great fun, and no one volunteered to do it again.

We watched this man carefully copy the Old Testament one letter at a time.

 As I said, today was part of the normal rhythm of a tour. People looked a bit tired when they boarded the bus, and everyone looked bedraggled when we got off. Aside from needing a little more air conditioning in the back of the bus, we are rolling right along.

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