Shalom! Israel practices daylight saving’s time at the end of March. And it just so happened that last night was our lucky night to lose an hour of sleep. So we’re now eight hours ahead of you, Birmingham. But, we’re not complaining with views and sights like this!

The photos above were taken at Masada: a fortress built in the year 30 BCE by King Herod. It’s positioned on an isolated cliff that overlooks the Dead Sea. To get there, you can walk up steep steps that have been kindly built into the mountain by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority OR you can take a cable car. We opted for the latter.

Masada has a tragic story. At the beginning of the great revolt against Rome in the year 68 CE, the site was conquered by a group of Jewish zealots, and Masada became their last stronghold. In the year 72, the Romans besieged Masada and instead of being captured and forced into slavery, the Jews committed suicide and the army could claim no victory.

Herod had the palace erected into three tiers. it contained a Roman bath, a sophisticated aqueduct system, a columbarium for doves (top left) and huge storehouses for food and essentials (bottom). The whole palace was covered with stucco (top right) and elaborate paintings which can still be seen today.

Our second stop was at Qumran. In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd in search of a lost sheep went roaming the mountains and its many caves. At the mouth of a cave (pictured above), he threw a rock inside and heard something break. The “something” was a clay pot–one of many inside the cave–that made up the oldest recorded version of the Old Testament that exist today, composed by Essenes (an intensely devout Jewish sect) in several languages.

Excavations of the area have revealed multi-level structures, reservoirs, pottery kilns and houses. The caves (like the one containing the scrolls) served as the sleeping quarters for the Essenes.

We had fun after lunch riding–and kissing–a camel outside the restaurant for $5 per adventure. Camels are in lots of places throughout the Southern portion Israel–we didn’t see any camels in the North.

Our devotion today was held at site where Jesus was tempted by the devil three times during his 40 days and nights (Matthew 4) in the wilderness. The monastery pictured above was erected in the 4th century A.D.

The Dead Sea was our final stop for the day. The lowest place on earth (422 meters below sea level), the Dead Sea is 300 meters deep, making it the world’s deepest hyper saline lake. Its harsh conditions make it impossible for any life to exist in it. However, the “life” the mineral-rich mud imparts on those who lather themselves is acclaimed and celebrated worldwide.

About 20 brave souls took a dip today (including myself) and it was truly an unforgettable experience. As soon as you lay back in the water, you float like a bobber and you cannot reach the bottom with your toes, no matter how hard you try. The water has a mineral sheen on its surface leaving your skin feeling truly “infused” with nutrients. It was such an interesting sensation–definitely my favorite part of the trip!

Tomorrow we visit Jerusalem: the Wailing Wall, Upper Room and Mount of Olives. Stay tuned!

God Be With You,

Day 5: Jericho, Qumran, Masada & The Dead Sea