Shabbat Shalom from Israel! (Sabbath began at sundown today, Friday). Today we paid a lot of attention to water, but not in the same way as yesterday when we were hyper-focused on staying hydrated. We are still jetlagged and saw sunrise at the Dead Sea, went to Ein Gedi, visited Qumran (where we learned the Essene community was fanatical about cleanliness and had an absurdly high number of mikvehs, or ritual baths, per capita), attempted but ultimately failed to visit Qasr al-Yahud (the traditional site of Jesus' baptism which, it turns out, is actually on Jordanian land and the gate was closed due to its being a weekend), and finished with sunset at the Sea of Galilee.
It's not a major Biblical site, per se - at least not yet... not until the prophecies of Ezekiel 47 come true and its vastly oversalinated water (33% salt) turns fresh - but its sunrises are spectacular and our time-zone-challenged body clocks keep waking us up for them. So as long as we were up, we took some pictures!
We looked longingly at this site - a true oasis in the desert whose lush greenery can be seen for miles - from atop Masada yesterday. It's best known from 1 Samuel 24 when David hid from Saul in a cave and cut off the corner of Saul's robe, unnoticed, while Saul was... shall we say, relieving himself. We hiked up to the "David Waterfall" - the roof of the cave has long since collapsed, but the waterfall is still there - and it's very easy to imagine how Saul could not notice David and his men with the roar of the waterfall echoing around the cave. It's quite a powerful experience to read the story, and Psalm 63 (possibly written there), afresh after our visit... it jumps off the page!
After a brief dip in one of the lower falls (ahhhhh... so refereshing!), we came down to discover a herd of 15 or so ibex near the entrance! These goat/deer-like animals are, as we learned, the only reason acacia trees can exist here... they come from Africa, and only after the ibex have eaten, digested, and then deposited the seeds is the coating removed and the tree can grow!
Dan also showed us the Ziziphus Spina Christi - or "Christ's crown of thorns" tree. It's not for sure that this is what Christ's crown of thorns was made of, but apparently when they analyzed the Shroud of Turin (a linen cloth said to have covered Jesus in the tomb), it contained pollen from this tree, and once you see the thorns, it's not at all a leap for the imagination.
Dave, as is his manner, left us with a haunting question based on his (Dave's) contemplating Biblical David's refusal to kill Saul, the "Lord's anointed....": who really is the enemy, and what is our responsibility on the battlefield and in the cave? (If you want to know more, you'll just have to come with us next time or come to the Old Testament Blue Gospel Scripts show on Saul). :)
In the winter of 1947, a shepherd boy threw a rock into a cave (likely because he was bored) and started a sequence of events which reportedly ended with Pope John Paul II dancing on the roof of the Vatican: the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls! Why were Christians so excited? As Dan succinctly explained it, Christianity is based on prophecy, but right after the religion got started, people accused them of falsifying prophecies and placing them into the ancient texts to make it look like Jesus' life fit the story (like someone had written Isaiah 53 in the centuries after Jesus' life then put it in all the Torahs). At the time the scrolls were discovered, the oldest written Bible was from 900 AD (the Aleppo codex). But the writing on the scrolls dated back to the 1st century AD and earlier... so the Pope danced, because this discovery disproved the notion that Isaiah was written after Jesus' life! In the caves at Qumran, they found copies of every book of what we'd call the Old Testament (except Esther)... which is crazy considering it took TWO YEARS for a scribe to make a single copy of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). And in some cases, a seemingly excessive number of copies - 7 copies of Isaiah, 5 copies of Genesis... It was a priceless discovery.
According to the parchment-sized tables and large amount of abandoned inkpots, the Essenes were scribes. But they were also obsessed with purification, both ritual and spiritual, believing Messiah was coming soon and they must be ready. It's thought John the Baptist was part of this community, and was the first to preach about a baptism of purification at the nearby River Jordan since (according to the ancient mosaic map on the church floor at Mabada in Jordan) there was a ferry crossing there so that's where the people were.
Some thoughts from fellow travelers...
- one was amazed to contemplate the abundant fresh water we saw at Ein Gedi... it comes from an aquifer under Jerusalem and somehow flows underground all the way out to Ein Gedi.
- Another really appreciated Dan's metaphor about how putting the thousands of Dead Sea Scroll fragments together was like trying to do several 5000-piece jigsaw puzzles at once, except with no picture to work from and without knowing to which puzzle any particular piece belonged. Since each scribe made his own ink from his special recipe, and had his own style of writing, they made piles of particular letters shaped in a particular way to at least identify the scribe who did the writing... amazing.
- The Essenes' devotion to cleanliness was kind of shocking... they weren't allowed to use the bathroom on the Sabbath, and any other time they wanted to, they had to hike 2 miles outside of camp (through the very desert-y-est desert) and dig a hole before they could relieve themselves! Their mikvehs had separate entrances and exits because if a "clean" person brushed an "unclean" person's shoulder on the way out, he had to start the bath all over.
- One traveler was particularly moved by seeing the "crown of thorns" tree and feeling the extreme pokiness of the thorns for herself... how amazing that no one else could love us the way God does!
- Another traveler remembered having seen the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit as it came through Denver and was amazed to see where they came from and to better understand the lifestyle of the scribes who wrote them.
- My favorite was something Dan said about why David chose to cut off the corner of Saul's robe; by cutting away the tasseled corner (which had tassels made of 613 strings, one for each law, a reminder to the wearer to keep the Law), David was cutting God away from Saul. "As I cut the hem, so will the kingdom be cut from you." He also said that when the woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus' robe, she touched the tassel because she knew where the power came from. :)
Tomorrow we begin with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Gonna be unreal. Wish you were here!
Featured Signature Tour
Sep 3-14, 2023
Experience Israel for 11 days in the context of biblical history and personal faith.