Saturday, March 10, 2018

Masada and the truth about Herod the Great

Sunrise on the Dead Sea
Our guide, Yossi, insists on an early start this Saturday. So we're headed to Masada at 7:30 am.

At 1200 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea loses half a metre (1.5 feet) of water every year. Now dangerous sinkholes are appearing close to the shore. 
In 800 years, the Dead Sea will be gone. 
That might sound like an eon, but considering it has been mentioned Biblically and extra-Biblically for thousands of years, 800 years are, if not a blink of an eye, a very short time.

The hills to the west of Masada

A planned pipeline from the Red Sea down to the Dead Sea is supposed to alleviate the problem by ‘filling up’ the Dead Sea again, but critics warn the amount of water is a drop in the bucket and the plan is merely political. The Dead Sea produces not only minerals but also tourist dollars, so the politicians must be seen doing something. 

A view of the Dead Sea from our bus.

Masada looms ahead. Only because I’ve been here before do I know how to pick it out of the flat-topped mountains ahead. I spy the cable car that will take us to Kind Herod’s fortress. He may have come to the Dead Sea for his health, or to ensure those who mined the salt behaved themselves (after all, the word ‘salary’ comes from the word ‘salt’, that’s how important the mineral was), or perhaps he was here for both reasons.

Looking down in the cable car

Panoramic from Masada. Can you see the Dead Sea?
Herod was an ugly man, we’re told, having suffered from leprosy and elephantiasis. And he was as ugly inside as out. Although he loved his wife, he hated her ethnicity and murdered her then, preserved her body in honey so he may still look upon her beauty.

The Jews of today have a problem with the Zealots who died here in 71 AD, we're told. Were they cowards, hiding from Roman soldiers who were conquering the country, only to murder their families to prevent them from being captured? Or were they heroes, so much so that national fealty was sworn at the top of Masada, which was once a symbol of Jewish pride? Today, thanks to that controversy, fealty is sworn at the Western Wall. 
Well, let’s be honest here. You can't blame them. Zealotism is related to religious fanaticism, something recent history has not found favourable.

We also learn that the historian Josephus didn’t believe what had happened on Masada in the first century, but interviewed an old woman and others, who, as children, survived the massacre by hiding in a cistern. Later, archeologists found fragments with the names of the men assigned to kill everyone, proving the horror had existed.

In these cases are the names of those men who were assigned to murder the Zealots

After leaving the relative dark of the museum, I stare out at the view, a spectacular one encompassing the hills to the west, and the Dead Sea to the north, east and south. It’s misty today, and the Tristan’s Starlings, bold birds like their North American cousins, aren’t as abundant, but the air is fresh and the sun is warm. 
Tristan's Starling
Our guide points out that Israel is sitting on the Syrian-African Rift, one of the world's major fault lines. They are due, overdue even, for another big earthquake. He also points to the fact that the Dead Sea is expanding about half an inch a year.
Such apocalyptic talk doesn't make me nervous, though, and I enjoy the cable car ride down. Our next stop is En Gedi, where David hid from King Saul. But what I don't realize is how much more is coming up.

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