Matt Hansen writes:
The incredible backstory, involving Julius Caesar, Antipater, and Marc Antony, much of which was recorded by Josephus Flavius, to the area of Masada really energizes the realities that were involved there. It was the Hasmoneans who first discovered the advantages of this particular site. Fast forward to when Herod (“the Great”) became involved, he demonstrated his political savviness after Octavian beat Marc Antony, Herod quickly shifted his allegiance and was made the “king of the Jews.” From here, his building efforts became unparalleled. He had big ideas that included everything big! His desire for a mountain fortress/palace atop of Masada not only demonstrated this, but also his growing paranoia. We considered how he felt when the Magi stated that they were seeking the “King of the Jews.” Herod desired to make Masada a refuge against his enemies and also as another of his palaces. This was all accomplished at an incredible expense. Besides being a fortress to protect his life, Masada was also far more extravagant than needed. The Western Palace had everything (and much more) than a king should have desired. But then, there was also an even more impressive Northern Palace, which included his private residential areas, a patio with beautiful views and the best breezes, a bathhouse/spa/pool. There were lower areas containing (probably) a library, and areas for banquets and receptions. He had hot steam spas with even heated walls. Several enormous water cisterns had to be filled by slaves as the annual rainfall quantity was greatly insufficient. All of the luxurious amenities may not have ever seen Herod in person, but they were all installed for his pleasure. In about 74 CE, a Roman legion of 8,000 warriors laid siege on Masada. They strangely used their proven tactics of building a large ramp to employ their tower and battering ram. The people inside the fortress chose suicide rather than to become slaves.
The summit of Masada sits 190 feet (59 m) above sea level and about 1,500 feet (470 m) above the level of the Dead Sea. The mountain itself is 1950 feet (610 m) long, 650 feet (200 m) wide, 4,250 feet (1330 m) in circumference, and encompasses 23 acres. The “Snake Path” climbs 900 feet (280 m) in elevation. From the west, the difference in height is 225 feet (70 m).
Tel Arad was the southern most border for habitation for the Kingdom of Israel and it was the guardian city of eastern Negev. With its 13’ thick walls, it was in a strategic position to guard both the N-S and the E-W routes. The center of the region, Beersheba contains a great water well, and this is the area where Abraham was prior to going to Egypt. This was a major city that contained thousands of people, living in cookie-cutter style homes, but found to have had advanced locking systems. It contained a water well that fed the same containing system that was filled from above, as well. From this location, we discussed how Biblical archaeology either compliments, clarifies, or complicates what we know from Scripture, but ultimately, that God can defend Himself so all we need to do is affirm all truth. We can humbly admit that we don’t know everything. So, we continue to seek the truth and “dig” for more and deeper answers.
Like many cities in the Holy Land, Arad was repeatedly settled because of its strategic geographical location. Though situated in an area with little rainfall, Arad was inhabited frequently in ancient times because of its position along the routes coming from the east and southeast.
Ein Gedi is a beautiful nature preserve with large water springs, water falls, and wild life. The precious water, provided by God, naturally provides life in abundance for many types of plant and animal life. Ein Gedi was visible from Herod’s Northern palace.
En Gedi is the largest oasis along the western shore of the Dead Sea. The springs here have allowed nearly continuous inhabitation of the site since the Chalcolithic period. The area was allotted to the tribe of Judah, and was famous in the time of Solomon (Josh 15:62). Today the Israeli kibbutz of En Gedi sits along the southern bank of the Nahal Arugot.
The dryness of the environment was exceptionally important to the areas we visited today. People cannot live without water and the efforts required to provide the people water were incredible. Beyond just drinking water to sustain life, Herod had swimming pools, etc, to fill.
We learned that God wants to show His strength and glory through people whose hearts are like His. He will do unusual things to make His plans happen, despite our “broken expectations.” Living water is vital to us! Just as water our bodies need water, our souls need God. We must never become “dehydrated Christians,” making us Spiritually weak, confused, and sick. See: Ps 42, 63; 2 Chron 16:9; 1 Sam 24; 15:16; Ezek 3:3; Ps 119; Matt 4; Jer 2:13; Matt 2; Luke 1
Aaron Knapp writes:
Today I climbed some stairs. Sounds easy right? Well, climbing the snake path to Masada was harder than I thought it would be.
Masada sits on the edge of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the planet. We began our hike not far above its salty waters. For the hike up, I envisioned a series of switchbacks. There are some of those, but mostly, the Snake Path was a series of ascending stone stairs, of all different sizes, heights, and angles. About 1300 feet worth of hiking.
While the hike was difficult, the experience was worth it. It makes sense why the Romans decided to build a ramp rather than a staircase up the other side! I thought the fortress remains were stunning, even in there unfinished restoration. Herod the Great made it into a strong fortress, and a bit of a country club, complete with steam fed sauna, weight room, and a personal swimming pool. There were remnants of a synagogue, two palaces, and other buildings. One of the most important parts of Masada’s layout was its cisterns. In the arid climate near the Dead Sea, water is life. Masada had numerous cisterns for holding water. When under siege, Masada could survive off its reservoirs. However, it was not impervious; The Roman army built a ramp up the side of the cliff-face, and eventually breached the wall.
According to Josephus, some 960 men, women, and children were at Masada when Rome breached the walls. Rather than be taken as slaves, the inhabitants agreed to kill each other to the last so that they would die free.
Arad was a fortified city of perhaps 2500-3000 people. It was on the edge of habitable land, but the city was able to thrive because the people engineered a wall system to funnel all the available rainwater into a holding area underground. Once again, water is life.
The city also had what appeared to be a temple, complete with an altar built to the specifications of Exodus 20. It appears that Israel might have been worshipping another god alongside the Lord. The destruction of Arad’s temple could fit with the timing of Hezekiah’s reforms.
The Ein Gedi Wilderness reserve is an oasis in the desert. The waters of the Nahal David andNahal Arugot flow through it, and whenever the water touches, life springs. In 1 Samuel 22:1, David flees to the cave of Adullam. The cliffs along the river are full of caves. It was not difficult to picture David being able to hide him and his men. David could have killed Saul here, but he chose to wait on God’s timing rather than bring about God’s plan by his own means. Though David was hunted and harassed, he trusted the Lord to be faithful to His promises.
I have seen pictures of people floating in the Dead Sea, and heard it described as feeling “slick.” I was told you could not sink. However, there is no easy way to describe how strange it feels to lay down in water and have it feel like the water is trying to push you back out. Because of its high salt content, the Dead Sea is very dense. We are much less dense, so we float. The water felt interesting, and many people quickly found small cuts they did not know they had. The salt stings, but it also heals.
Known in the Bible as the “Salt Sea” or the “Sea of the Arabah,” this inland body of water is appropriately named because its high mineral content allows nothing to live in its waters. Other post-biblical names for the Dead Sea include the “Sea of Sodom,” the “Sea of Lot,” the “Sea of Asphalt” and the “Stinking Sea.” In the Crusader period, it was sometimes called the “Devil’s Sea.” All of these names reflect something of the nature of this lake.
Courtney Burrows writes
I arrived at Ein Gedi knowing that God was with us because our driver spent the last hour navigating a charter bus through a ridiculous number of extreme turns over roads narrow enough to accommodate go-carts without having an accident and I didn’t lose my Israeli lunch on the way.
Ein Gedi is one of those beautiful places that surprises you and reminds you of the pure satisfaction that comes when our souls connect with creation. Ein Gedi is surrounded by tall burnt-red cliffs with a scattering of caves with a winding trail of green foliage that leads hikers through rocky passes and by waterfalls. Ein Gedi is the type of place you want to get lost in all day because there is so much to see. Our God is one of detail and nature is the perfect example of the complexity of his work.
Ein Gedi isn’t just a beautiful example of Gods handiwork, it is a place rich in the history of our faith. At Ein Gedi Dr. Stowell shared a word on 1 Samuel 24 which starts with “ After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines are raiding the land he was told, ‘David is in the desert of Ein Gedi.’ So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.” I was struck by the reality that we were standing in the place that this scripture took place and were looking at the crags that Saul was searching in. I stood there wondering how many times I read 1 Samuel and breezed over these references without thinking about the context that my feet were now standing on in that moment. The intersection of experiencing the land and the theology we have been studying has been a powerful one.
After leaving Ein Gedi we were able to experience the Dead Sea and again marvel in the beauty of God’s creation. After this, in the evening, we were invited to join in a Bedouin experience. We learned about the Bedouin people, how they live, cultural expectations of their people and how these have changed over time. We sat around a fire making pita bread and drinking sweet tea soaking in the customs of another people and culture.
Today was a day marked with the humility that true education brings; the acknowledgment of how little we know. The understanding that the landscape scripture is written in is still very much alive has stretched me spiritually in ways I didn’t even know I needed to be stretched. It is a sobering realization to start understanding just how little I know. It is has been grounding to see how much my scriptural interpretation is impacted by my limited lens of experience. It is also exciting in the way that makes me want to learn more, to understand more and to always be open to knowing when it comes to interpreting scripture there is always room for more revelation. I left yesterday knowing that the acknowledgment that we are such a small piece of a larger narrative is not a weakness but the biggest strength we can bring to our ministries because it reminds of our total dependence on Christ.