Israel Study Tour with More Than Music

October 31 - November 11, 2022

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Day 02 - Negev: Masada, Tel Arad, Dead Sea

What a day it was!  Only two sites (plus the women slathered each other in mud and frolicked in the Dead Sea), but a lot of time in the sun.  (I don't know about anyone else, but I had finished my 2 liters of water before lunch!) The second night of sleeping seems to be the hardest in the battle against jet lag, so many of us watched a breathtaking sunrise over the hills of Jordan and the Dead Sea.

Site 1: Masada
This consumed our entire morning, and despite not being an explicitly Biblical site, it was deeply impactful to all of us. It's quite clear why it should be a UNESCO world heritage site! We began by stuffing (and I'm using that word quite literally) ourselves and about 60 of our new best friends into a cable car to ride from the Dead Sea up to the top of the fortress. At the top, surrounded by the Madness of King Herod, our guide Dan gave us an impressively concise but deeply informative history of Rome and its interactions with Judea during the 100-ish years surrounding Jesus' life.  Understanding the Rome-Judea relationship was key to being able to take in the enormity of why Masada is so important, and why Rome would spend so many soldiers (8000!), time, and money ($2 billion in today's reckoning) retaking a hilltop fortress from a few hundred Jewish rebels... basically Rome, a nation of conquered minorities, couldn't allow itself to show weakness on any front. Our guide recited the final rallying speech of the Jewish rebel commander, and as he went on to describe the rebels' heartbreaking, heroic fate, I think we all had goosebumps hearing such a gifted storyteller illuminate our surroundings. We saw the massive (it's really quite enormous, and a dizzying feat of layered construction) siege ramp the Romans used to bring their siege tower and battering ram up to this mountaintop fortress... when they built a road, they Built a Road. No one is quite sure why Herod built this place - summer home?  Fortress?  He probably never even visited? - but it is Deeply Special.

Site 2: Tel Arad
Most of us hadn't heard of this place before visiting, but it holds an important place in history as the first meeting point between the Israelites and the Canaanites. From here, the Israelites copied many aspects of the Canaanite civilization - pottery (they kind of sucked at it), architecture, Baal worship, and Molech worship (which involved sacrificing children in fire). God finally had to specifically tell them to quit doing that through Jeremiah!! Here we also find a big "No-no" - the remains of a Jewish temple (not synagogue, temple). Remember, the Hebrews were only supposed to worship Yahweh in the place HE specified - which was definitely not Tel Arad. Most intriguing, when archaeologists excavated it, they discovered the temple had been deliberately filled in...  one of the reforming Kings of Judah (Hezekiah or Josiah), in his zeal to obey God's directive to only worship Him and to do it in the appointed location, covered it up with an impressive amount of dirt. Not the sands of time, the dirt of deliberation. 

Some thoughts from our travelers today:
- One was struck by the difference between the mind of Herod (a man), and the mind of God.  Herod was intellectual, politically driven, but because his ambition was not God-driven, his masterpiece at Masada is abandoned. Consequently, when the spies entered the land they were afraid and initially ran away, because it was God's desire, Israel is inhabited today.
- A couple commented on how they loved the thoroughness of Dan's storytelling at Masada - it was very powerful.
- Another was really struck by the description of Molech-worship, and its parallels to the abortion debate.
- Another appreciated Dave's commentary at Tel Arad, on the dangerous nature of compromising one's principles and the difficult balance between tolerance and truth and love.
- I was amazed to get to see a Rabbi scribe copying the Torah at Masada... what an amazing calling.  He was so very kind and wrote some of our names in Hebrew for us!
- Dave sang for us in a HUGE underground (empty) water cistern, and it was worth descending and climbing the treacherous (original) stairs to hear!
- Also we might have formed a new band today... "Desert Dave and the Masada Janets" (there are 3 Janets on this tour!)  Check out their album cover photo. :)

Site 3: The Dead Sea
Oh, the joy of wading in, sitting back as in a recliner, and watching our feet come rocketing to the surface!  We women slathered each other in famous Dead Sea Mud and 20 minutes, a lot of giggling, and a good scrub later, found ourselves with baby-soft skin! We've so enjoyed swimming here the last couple nights, but our sadness in leaving will be tempered by anticipating the new view: the Sea of Galilee. 

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September 3-14, 2023

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