Monday, May 9, 2011

The Trip of a Lifetime! (Day 11)

Monday, May 9th

Today we left the beauty of Jerusalem and the Olive Tree Hotel and traveled to Masada on our way to the border of Israel and the Sinai.  We drove south down a road bordering the western side of the Dead Sea with the Dead Sea on our left and the mountains of Qumran on our right.  In the picture below you can see some of the caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were found.  The easiest one to make out is in the center of the picture in the shadowy portion...

The mountains of Qumran is also where the young David (soon to be king) hid from King Saul:

"And it came to pass, when Saul was returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, Behold, David is in the wilderness of En-gedi. Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats. And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and Saul went in to cover his feet: and David and his men remained in the sides of the cave." 

"And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily. And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt. And he said unto his men, The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord. So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul." 

"But Saul rose up out of the cave, and went on his way. David also arose afterward, and went out of the cave, and cried after Saul, saying, My lord the king. And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed himself. And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men’s words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt? Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the Lord had delivered thee to day into mine hand in the cave: and some bademe kill thee: but mine eye spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed. Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand: for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it. The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee." (1 Samuel 24:1-12)

Towering 1,500 feet above the shores of the Dead Sea, the palace at the natural fortress of Masada was originally constructed by the Hasmonean king, Alexander Jannaeus - but that was completely rebuilt by Herod the Great.  Ever fearful of a revolt against him, and of Cleopatra's dream of rebuilding the Egyptian Empire that once included Judea, Herod made the almost inaccessible mountaintop his fortified refuge in case he ever needed a safe retreat.

Around Masada's summit Herod created a casement wall strengthened by watchtowers.  He cut two extensive systems of cisterns into the rock to provide water in time of siege.  These held over 40,000 cubic meters of water, all of which had to be carried up Masada's winding paths by hand (one of the cisterns is the 2nd picture below).  Herod crowned Masada with two sumptuous palaces furnished with every conceivable luxury to while away the time.  However, although he never used Masada's massive defenses, its fortifications were put to the test just a generation later.

After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the last remnants of Jewish resistance to Rome fled Jerusalem under the cover of nightfall to the desert stronghold of Masada.  Less than a thousand defenders called Zealots held out for three years against a siege of over 10,000 well-equipped, battle hardened soldiers.  In the end the Romans threw up mounds of dirt to create a huge wedge-shaped ramp of earth rising to Masada's summit.  Under the protection of an ironclad tower erected on a stone platform at the ramp's top, the Romans pounded Masada's wall with a battering ram.  When it collapsed they found another, wooden wall that they set ablaze.  Then the Romans slept that night, knowing the next morning they would take Masada.

According to Josephus (a Jewish historian), that night, knowing the next morning their defeat would be inevitable, the leader of the Jewish Zealots, Eleazar ben Ya’ir, gave an impassioned speech persuading his companions to cast lots to kill each other rather than be taken prisoner and live life as slaves or die for Roman sport in one of the amphitheaters:  

"My loyal followers, long ago we resolved to serve neither the Romans nor anyone else but only God, who alone is the true and righteous Lord of men: now the time has come that forces us to prove our determination by our deeds.  At a time like this, we must not disgrace ourselves: hitherto we have never submitted to slavery, even when it brought no danger with it: we must not choose slavery now, and with it penalties that will mean the end of everything if we fall alive into the hands of the Romans.  For we were the first of all to revolt, and shall be the last to break off the struggle.  And I think it is God who has given us this privilege, that we can die nobly and as free men, unlike others who were unexpectedly defeated.  In our case it is evident that day-break will end our resistance, but we are free to choose an honorable death with our loved ones.  This our enemies cannot prevent, however earnestly they may pray to take us alive; nor can we defeat them in battle."

"Let our wives die unabused, our children without knowledge of slavery: after that, let us do each other an ungrudging kindness, preserving our freedom as a glorious winding-sheet.  But first let our possessions and the whole fortress go up in flames: it will be a bitter blow to the Romans, that I know, to find our persons beyond their reach and nothing left for them to loot.  One thing only let us spare -- our store of food: it will bear witness when we are dead to the fact that we perished, not through want but because, as we resolved at the beginning, we chose death rather than slavery." (Josephus Flavius, Jewish Wars Book 7, 8:6)

Eleazar ordered that all the 960 Zealots were to be killed. That speech being insufficient to motivate the entire assembly, Josephus relates that Eleazar made a second speech.

Supposedly, 10 men killed the others, then one of the remaining ten killed the rest, and then he committed suicide. This was to avoid, insofar as possible, actual suicide, which is contrary to Jewish law.

After three years, the Roman Legionnaires breached the defenses of Masada and were amazed to find all the defenders dead - 960 corpses of men, women and children who had died in freedom.  Two old women and five children survived by hiding in a cistern.  They lived to tell the world the tale, one that has become a symbol of the spirit of modern Israel.

Some might consider it easy to judge the people of Masada for their acts of elective murder/suicide - I for one am grateful that God does the judging in the end.  Those poor people were faced with an awful decision.  The Romans were known for lining their prisoners up, children included, and taking turns using them for target practice with their spears.  The women were ravaged.  As a parent, can you imagine trying to choose how your children, husband, wife would be killed?  It wasn't a matter of if...but how.  Again, I am so glad I will not be the one to judge the decision the Jewish Zealots made on that fateful night.

Masada has become a symbol of resistance for the people of Israel.  In the early decades of the Jewish state, recruits to Israel’s armed forces — in which service is compulsory for most citizens, male or female — climbed the snake path for a torchlight swearing-in ceremony ending with the declaration: “Masada shall not fall again!”

Visitors have the option of reaching Masada's summit by two ancient footpaths or by modern cable car.  Due to time constraints and wanting to get as much as we could out of our visit - we took the cable car...

One of the two incredibly large cisterns located at Masada...

Our view from the top of Masada looking out toward the mountains of Qumran with the Dead Sea to the right...

The two pictures below are of two of the 8 Roman siege camps built around Masada during the siege.  You can also make out the wall the Romans built surrounding Masada to prevent escaping.  It was 6 feet thick and 7 miles long.

The black lines you can see drawn on the walls of some of the pictures I took at Masada were drawn to show what was original (everything below the line), and what was restored (everything above the line).  It is amazing to me all of the color and plaster and mosaic tile floors that have withstood the test of time and can still be seen today!

Herod had several private bathhouses built at Masada.  The caldarium depicted here had a heavy floor suspended on 200 pillars.  Outside the room a furnace would send hot air under the floor.  When water was placed on the floor, steam was created.  Pipes were built into the walls to help to heat the room. 

Fifteen long storerooms kept essential provisions for time of siege.  Herod filled them with food and weapons. Each storeroom held a different commodity.  This was attested by different storage jars and inscriptions on jars in rooms.  Wine bottles sent to Herod from Italy were found. 

A path leading around the side of the mountain to where Herod's palace once can see the Dead Sea in the distance.

Here you can still see the earthen siege ramp the Romans built in attempt to capture the Jewish zealots of Masada - it is in the center of the picture...

The next two pictures show two mosaic tile floors (there were others) which were almost perfectly preserved!

A Jewish Ritual Bath (similar to the one we saw at the archaeological dig of Beit Lehi mentioned earlier)...

From Masada we said goodbye to John and Bonnie Lund.  They were going back to pick up another tour group while we continued on with our other tour guide couple from Fun For Less Tours.  We drove to the border town of Taba, Egypt to cross over into Egypt.  There we met up with our new local guides from Egypt.

Some of the Egyptian locals...

After crossing the border we drove about another 20 miles to get to our hotel - the five-star luxury Taba Heights Marriott Beach Resort located on the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba (part of the Red Sea).  On our way we passed this beautiful island where we could see the Castle of Saladin.  The castle was built by Saladin Al Ayoby in 1171 AD to protect Egypt against the attacks of the crusaders coming from Europe.

Once we reached the resort that afternoon we were able to rest and relax at the beach and around the pool.  It was much needed - we were exhausted!  With as much fun as we were having we stayed very busy...but we were loving every minute.

This was the lobby of our hotel - it was a very serene and relaxing resort!

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