Greeks learn in order to comprehend.
Hebrews learn in order to revere.

~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

Monday, November 10, 2008

Off to the Desert!

Well, this weekend lent itself to yet another outstanding week of travel. This time, it was off to the desert to the locations of En Gedi and Masada. Again, we rented a car on Friday afternoon after our archaeology class and headed down to En Gedi.

En Gedi is a desert oasis located near the southern part of present day Dead Sea. I say present day because in antiquity and even just 50 years ago, there was a whole other southern basin of the Dead Sea that is completely dried up today because of lack of rainfall. We stayed at a youth hostel right near the park…pretty much the only place to stay there other than a campground. On Friday, by the time we arrived at En Gedi, we only had a little over an hour because of darkness, but we made the most of our time by playing in the waterfalls and small pools in the oasis. It was a wonderful way to cool off and as my dad would say, “…very refreshing!”

The oasis is home to a number of wildlife species including the Nubian ibex and little rock badgers (aka conies). These two species we saw in abundance. The ibex are amazing in their ability to climb the cliffs and mountains with grace and ease. The badgers scurry around on the paths, trees, and cliffs and are quite cute. The plant life is beautiful as well and the oasis is visible from quite a distance away because it’s the only green you can see for miles and miles within the desert. The En Gedi spring is what feeds this oasis and it runs off into a series of large waterfalls which are beautiful!

Unlike some of our other trips, this one was more relaxing and low key. Because we were in the middle of the desert, when the parks closed, that was it for the night pretty much. We enjoyed relaxing in our room as a family, watching the sunset and seeing the beautiful colors painted by the sunset on the mountains across the Dead Sea in Jordan. The meals at the hostel were delicious and I especially enjoyed them because it gave me a break from cooking!

One of the challenges of staying in a one-room hotel room is getting Denyon to go to sleep at his bedtime when we’re not going to sleep. It doesn’t work if he can see us. Typically we have to come up with some sort of contraption made of chairs and blankets/sheets to make a wall so that he can’t see us. Even then, he can hear us and we don’t like to turn out all the lights either, so it’s definitely a challenge. He just wants to know exactly what’s going on. So Friday night, he actually found a way to reach the sheet that we had put up and pull it back and play peekaboo! He thought it was hilarious and we actually couldn’t help but laugh either. He was just so happy that he’d finally found us! What a silly little guy! We made some modifications to the contraption and he did eventually go to sleep!

On Saturday, we headed south about 17 km to Masada…Herod’s large desert palace and city in the middle of the desert. The city was taken by the Romans in 74 AD after the Romans were able to build a siege ramp into the city. As Josephus tells it, to the Romans surprise, all of the people of the city were already dead by way of suicide once they entered the city. This Zealous group of Jews believed it was better to commit suicide than to die at the hands of the enemy. What remains today is one of the most impressive sites of antiquity and some say the most impressive site in Israel. Herod built two palaces here with a large bathhouse, including pipes and underground heating systems to create what we would call a sauna room. The palaces also included large storehouses, guest rooms, meeting rooms, and watchtowers. Many of the walls and floors were plastered and elaborately painted, some of which still remain in tact even today. Also, some of the floors were decorated with tile pictures. The tiles were tiny pieces of colored stone (maybe one square centimeter each) that were arranged in a way to make whatever picture desired. They are incredible and Herod was the first person to bring this type of art to Israel. In addition to this, Herod built enormous cisterns for water (one large enough to hold one million gallons of water) and was able to channel rain water to flow directly into the cisterns. Adequate water supply is obviously the biggest challenge to surviving in the desert and Herod was able to sufficiently supply water for the whole city (and even had enough left over to have a swimming pool that was 550 cubic meters)!

We spent the majority of our day at Masada before heading back to En Gedi. Again, we didn’t have too long at En Gedi, but enough to play again a little bit in the water, enjoy the beautiful cliffs and landscape around us, watch the animals, and just enjoy ourselves. After the park closed, we headed back to our hotel to rest (Denyon definitely was ready for a nap…we always seem to really mess his nap times up when we travel but luckily he just goes with the flow and does pretty well with adjusting), shower, watch the sunset, and eat. It was another relaxing night for us in our room.

Sunday, we got up and out the door as soon as we could to spend several hours hiking through En Gedi. We explored some areas that took a little more time and hiking to get to. We discovered one area that we remembered from being here two years ago. We looked for it the previous two days but didn’t really have time to explore well enough. One thing that Brad does when we go to places is scout out areas that would be good for teaching, hiking, and leading trips when he (Lord willing) gets to do so in the coming years. This is definitely one of those locations and the place we went to was a beautiful area in the cliffs with small pools and a cave tucked back under a waterfall. The place is absolutely gorgeous. We did some other hiking and happened upon a temple from the Calcolithic period (4th & 5th century BC), a tel that we weren’t sure about it origin (tel is a man-made mound made up of city upon city remains), and an ancient synagogue from 3rd-6th century BC. We are continually amazed at how these structures can still remain after all this time.

We left En Gedi at about noon to head back to Jerusalem. Brad had a short field study at a local museum that we had to get back for. The weekend was ever so enjoyable and quite relaxing. We were grateful to spend time at such a beautiful location as a family. I’m sure we’ll be back!
Until next time…Shallon

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