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Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Holy Land Day 8 Part 1

Last night, I left you expecting that we would see the Old City. I was hoping too. We do have a schedule, but it's loose and flexible and this morning, we are on our way to Masada, via Ein Gedi and Qumran. Still, the trip is not without a glimpse at the Old City as we spied the Dome of the Rock, brilliant and glinting in the early morning sun off to the right of the bus.
We stop for a photo op at Sea Level, and some opt for a camel ride there at that rest stop. 

Then it's on again. We're headed back down to the Dead Sea, and we learn that when the British were here in 1917, they marked the water's height with two black lines, still seen high above the road. 
Since then, its level has dropped a metre a year, and there is still 250 metres to go below the surface of the Sea. We are now 400 metres below sea level and the sea is well below us as we drive along its western shore.
Israel harvest millions of metric tonnes of minerals from the Dead Sea, and yet, it is always replenishing itself, they say. But I am not sure if they can continue with everyone drawing upon the water from the Jordan. Already, we're told, the lower end of the Sea is now a salt flat, and water is channeled into it. 

Qumran was home to the Essenes, a strict sect who, like Jesus, were critical of the Pharisees and Sadducees and who escaped to the hills to study the Scriptures and live communal lives. It's interesting to note that the Essenes hid the Scriptures (what we now know as the Dead Sea Scrolls) the year that the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, thus eliminating Israeli as a country. The scrolls were not found until Israel became a country again, in 1947. They contain fragments of all books in the Old Testament with the exception of Esther.

The community had plenty of ritual baths and cisterns and most would be filled with captured rain water tearing down the mountain gullies during the winter. Rafe asks us how the Essenes kept their cistern water fresh, a question that has us stumped. No plants were used, no stirring, nothing but this one thing kept hundreds of litres fresh.
We also learn that on 9th of the 11th month 70 AD, 9-11, Israel fell to the Romans. Rafe tells us that there are other examples of this set of numbers used in Israel's history, but we have arrived at Qumran, and it's off to explore the site. I'm still amazed at the number of caves in this country. I'm sure there could be one for each person living here.
Our next stop before Masada, is Ein Gedi. It's a park that includes hiking trails leading up the mountain, and we learn that here, in one of the many caves that dot the hillside, 

 Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheepfolds on the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the inner recesses of the cave. The men of David said to him, "Behold, this is the day of which the LORD said to you, 'Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.'" Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul's robe secretly.… 1 Sam 24:3
David spared the life of his king. After Saul left the cave, David emerged from it and called to him, dangling the hem of his cloak. This allowed Saul to realize that David was not his enemy. 
I look around at the caves as we climb to David's Falls. Everything is so beautiful, and when I turn around, I can see the expanse of the Dead Sea behind me. 

Up high on the cliffs, sure-footed goats bound in and out of the caves, oblivious to the smaller hyrex shuffling around them, and I can see why it's called the Rocks of the Wild Goats.

At David's Falls, we stop and I gratefully peel off my shoes to cool my feet. It's very hot. Many of us are still firing answers at Rafe to this question on keeping the water fresh. Finally, one of our group gets the answer right. Charcoal. A piece of charcoal was dropped into each of the cisterns. 
Of course! Oh, well, now we know. Slipping back into my shoes, I prepare for the long hike back down. Everyone is doing so well, even those with previous injuries, and healing bones. It's a good feeling.
Now it's on to Masada, Herod's mountain fortress, where at the bottom, an interesting restaurant awaits.

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