As many of you know today has been my birthday (25 and a bit-large bit!) and so to celebrate I had a lie-in until 6.00am as the bus was leaving for 7.00 am !
first of all we travelled to a hillside looking down into a ravine where we could see the still functioning monastery of St George’s, nestling on the cliff side and surrounded by the cliff face on either side. Even in this desolate spot there were trees in the shadows created by the narrowness of the ravines sides.
We were encouraged to think of the 23rd Psalm where the Psalmist writes, “yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”. This view certainly helps the thinking.
After that we journeyed to the mountain fortress of Masada, built by Herod, but more significantly the final siege as the Jews took refuge from the Roman army and (allegedly) rather than be taken as slaves 1000 of them committed suicide. Fascinating place and, for me, the highlight. 20+ years ago at college this was a story shared with us and it has always gripped me since. The question of mass suicide, ritual slaughter, abject surrender has long been debated but to the Jewish people it’s a sign of pride and determination never to surrender. To have the opportunity to visit, travel up by cable car, and have the site explained to us by Rabi our guide was truly a birthday treat.
Please have a look at the pictures on FaceBook or on my photo page on this site at some stage.
we also visited the site of Qumram, where what became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls were found hidden in a cave as recently as 1947. These scrolls hidden by the Essene community contain the earliest known manuscripts of the Bible. Most have been torn or damaged in some way, but there are fragments from every part of the Bible except Esther. Again, as with Masada what I liked was the combination of history intermingled with faith, rather than brash commercialism.
The afternoon was spent lazing and going into the Dead Sea. Whilst those with costumes spent time floating on the sea (salt content-33%) Alison and I did what any self-respecting northerners would do; we had a ‘plodge’ in the sea. In other words we went for a paddle.
Finally, tonight at the evening meal I was presented with a postcard of Masada signed by everyone in the group and a birthday cake from the chef complete with candles to blow out (4 and one had already gone out just in the transportation !). Rounded it off with a local beer in the bar.
All in all it’s been the best of birthdays and I really don’t want it to end, but we’re up early again in the morning as we travel west to the Benedictine church of Abu Guosh, associated with the Emmaus resurrection appearance, then onto Mount Zion. It will also be our final day at this hotel, for we journey up towards Tiberius and the Sea of Galilee, and the Ron Beach hotel. The Golden Walls hotel have looked after us well and I’d happily recommend them to anyone coming to Jerusalem.
Its all go, go, go but I am loving every minute of it.