RTW 2011: Day 24

First stop today: Qumran, the ruins in the desert where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. From here we had a great view of the Dead Sea. Qumran was a very hot, dry, and remote place. The men who hid the Dead Sea Scrolls when the Roman army was coming lived lives of austerity and regulation. There was also a little museum at Qumran, giving more information about who they were and how they lived. One interesting thing we learned was that they stored all their water for the year in the winter, when there were brief flash floods. Otherwise it is hot and dry.

Our next stop of the day was Masada, which is a mountaintop fortress built by King Herod. He built a large palace and huge storehouses for food and reservoirs for water. The more significant story about this place is that it was the last of the Israelis who fought against the Roman army. Since Herod had stocked his storehouses full of food and more drinking water than you could imagine in the middle of the desert, the Zealots could hold out against the armies of Rome indefinitely. They poured water over the side of the mountain, showing off to the army.

The Romans decided to build a siege ramp after they realized that they weren’t going to starve the Jews off of the mountain. They used Jewish slaves to build the ramp, so the Zealots didn’t attack them as they built. The Romans built the ramp all the way up to the top, ready to destroy the last of free Israel the next day. In the night, the Zealots decided that it was better to die free than to become a slave, so the men were given the job of killing their families, then killing themselves. They drew lots to determine who would be the last to die, making sure that everyone else was dead first.

In the morning, the Roman army entered Masada and discovered that everyone was dead except for one woman and her children. They were the only survivors, and they told the Romans what had taken place. Now, many in the Israeli Army take their oaths on Masada, swearing that the slaughter and slavery that overtook their people should never happen again.

After lunch we visited the Dead Sea, for floating and mudding. It was a really cool thing to do. It is hard to stand up in the water of the Dead Sea, it makes your legs want to just pop to the surface. You have to be very careful to not splash or rub water in your eyes. The water is 33% salt. Comparatively, the oceans are only 3% salt. If you get the Dead Sea in your eyes it will burn until you rinse thoroughly. I avoided that, thankfully.

We had fun slapping mud all over us. It’s a little bit tricky digging it up without falling into the water or mud, but we managed. There are some laughable photos of us all black and muddy. I’m sure we looked years younger afterwards.