Day 5: Lots of driving today. This morning we left our hotel in Tiberius and headed toward the Dead Sea. We stopped at QumRan, where the Essinses lived in caves in the mountain sides. This is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, although they are no longer here but are in a museum in Jerusalem. From QumRan we went to Masada, a fortress built by Herod the Great but he never used it. It was used by Zealot Jews when they revolted against Rome. The fortess was built on a plateau and was very well protected, Herod was a genius engineer and had aqueducts and cisterns placed along the plateau and the Jewish refugees lived well for the 2 years they resided there. Due to it’s isolation there are 2 ways to get to Masada 1) walk up the plateau 2) cable car and due to our time constraints we took the cable car.
After Masada we went on an adventure looking for lunch. There isn’t much out around the Dead Sea. But once we found a place and filled our bellies we went to the Dead Sea for a float. It was about 70 degrees F that day so the water was a bit cool. After applying the therapeutic mud and getting in the sea for a bit, I retreated to the heated sulfur spring. It was much warmer and more my style. I floated in there for a while, people slowly joined me as they got cold in the sea.
After the Dead Sea we began our way towards Jerusalem, but our tour guide Dan made a surprise stop for us to ride the camels on the side of the road. It was pretty cool.
Day 6: First Morning in Jerusalem. We started our day on the Mount of Olives at the Pater Noster Church where Christ taught his disciples how to pray. From there we took the Road of Passover closer to the Old City to the Garden (orchard) of Gethsemane. There were Olive trees in the Orchard over 2000 years old, and they looked it. The root system has for sure been around since before Christ. There is a church in the Orchard built over the place where Christ prays to God to let this cup pass over him the church is called The Church of Agony. The front doors looked like the Olive Trees outside, sturdy and with multiple branches and roots. Inside the church was very dark, the ceiling painted Navy blue with stars on it. Depictions of Jesus in the Orchard on the walls. They were having Mass that morning, on top of the stone, where Jesus prayed. A woman got up to sing, I have no idea what song she sang but this was the place I felt God. It brings me to tears thinking about it now. This was place I felt convicted and at peace. There was a moment inside that church that I stood listening to this woman sing, my friend Chris came over and put her arm around me and let me weep.
After this we visited the Church built over the dungeon where Christ was likely held before his trial and crucification. (There is a church at every potential moment in the New Testament, in case you have not noticed) Then off to a Museum to see real Dead Sea Scrolls. From here we headed to Bethlehem, which is occupied by the Palestinians, so our guide Dan could not go with us. However, we picked up a new one once inside, George. He first took us to lunch, we were hungry and we actually got to sit down! It was amazing, we didn’t have many sit down lunches.
After lunch we went across the square to the Church of the Nativity, which housed 3 separate churches: Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox. There was a line, a hour and a half long to see the place of the nativity, which housed the Greek orthodox church (done in the very early Byzantine Style), then we walked out of the nativity into the Armenian church which was mostly empty and was done in the typical early church style. The Catholic church was supposedly over the initial place where the Inn was during the Nativity story.
After this we went to the Shepherd’s fields, we sang Christmas songs on the bus on our way there. Including my favorite Hark! the Herald Angels Sing and Angels we have heard on high. These weren’t too far from the church but I am guessing on foot the 2 miles made it far enough out of town for them and their sheep. There was another church here designed and built by the same architect that did the Church of Agony, this one was the Church of Angels, as we same Come Let Us Adore Him, we sounded angelic.