The latest episode of Israel Explored talks about our transfer day from Northern Galilee to Jerusalem took us along the Jordan river towards the Dead Sea. Highlights of the day were visits to Jesus’ baptism site, iconic mountain palace Masada, the discovery site of the Qumran Scriptures and finally a bath in the Dead Sea. For the images and a bit of history continue after the jump.
According to Christian tradition, the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17) took place on the river Jordan, north of the Dead Sea and east of Jericho. For centuries, al-Maghtas was the principal baptism site for pilgrims, situated on the Jordanian site of the river.
Since the Six-Day War, Israel has occupied the west margin of the Jordan river, including the area immediately opposite the Jordanian site, known as Qasr al-Yahud. While the majority of the guest houses and monasteries are on the Jordanian site, also Qasr al-Yahud provides access to the river for pilgrims and tourists.
While many of our group entered the muddy water of the baptism site, I fought with the Leica SL2-S that quit on me with a system error exactly at this location. Since the problem is, according Leica service, a hardware failure of the shutter, I had to turn to my iPhone and the backup vintage Leica M240 for the rest of our Israel trip. All images in this post were captured with the iPhone 12 Max Pro.
Soon after leaving the baptism site, we reached the Dead Sea, a salt lake bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. The lake’s surface is 430.5 metres (1,412 ft) below sea level, making its shores the lowest place on Earth. We continued along the western shore until we reached famous Masada just beyond the south end of the Dead Sea.
On a summit plateau at the edge of the Judean Desert, high above the Dead Sea, infamous King Herod had himself a palace fortress built. This royal retreat was completed around 15 B.C.
Some 70 years later, during the Jewish War, many people used Masada as a refuge rock. Coming and going was possible for some years until Legio X Fretensis under Flavius Silva appeared in front of Masada in 73 or 74 AD, enclosed the fortress with a rampart and raised a siege ramp. According to the account of Flavius Josephus, the Romans finally succeeded in tearing a breach in the outer wall. In a hopeless situation, the commander of Masada, Eleazar ben Jaʾir, had convinced all the rebels to commit suicide with their women and children.
The fortress rises about 450 m above the western shore of the Dead Sea and can easily be reached with an aerial tram.
The ruins of the fortress and the palace area are spectacular, as are the views down to the Dead Sea. Some rooms still show parts of the original wall decorations.
Herod offered his guests a special attraction with water luxury in the form of a thermal bath complex and a swimming pool.
In the above panoramic view, you can see the still existing gigantic siege ramp rising up from the valley to the left. Visible at the right of the panorama photo (the iPhone is awesome at going panos) you can see the foundation of the camp of the Roman soldiers.
Since the 1920s, Masada gained symbolic significance for the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine: in Yitzhak Lamdan’s verse epic Masada (1927), the desert fortress and the tragic end of the Jewish fugitives stands metaphorically for the Zionist project.
In 1966, Table Mountain and the surrounding area with the Roman siege complex were declared an Israeli national park. In 2001, UNESCO included Masada in the World Heritage List.
Next stop, back in the Westbank, was Qumran, an archeological site near the northwest Shore of the Dead Sea. Already in the Iron Age there was a settlement, which is proved by numerous ceramic findings. After its end, the marl plateau was inhabited again from the Hellenistic period until the Jewish War. A distinction is made between a main building with a tower and two economic areas to the west and south of it. There is also a large cemetery with over 1000 burials east of the settlement.
The claim to fame for Qumran are the Dead Sea Scrolls, or Qumran manuscripts, are a group of ancient Jewish texts found inside eleven caves in the cliffs behind the ancient settlement. You can see on the caves in the photo above. Ab Bedouin boy discovered the first scroll in a cave in 1947, more were found during the archaeological investigation of the caves. About 15 scrolls are still recognizable as such. The rest, an estimated 900 to 1000 scrolls, have disintegrated into more than 15,000 fragments. Based on the letter forms, the manuscripts are dated to the period from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD. Most of the texts are written in Hebrew, almost all have a religious content.
Last stop, and a fun one, was on a beach of the Dead Sea. The water has a salinity of 34 %, about three times as much as the ocean, allowing people to fully float in the water. The Significant Other and I had already the opportunity to enjoy the floating experience on the opposite banks of the Dead Sea during our 2019 trip to Jordan.
After finishing the dip into to hot, salty water, we continued our tour to Jerusalem, driving up from minus 420m to the 900m altitude of the Holy City on the mountains behind the Dead Sea.
After the initial shock of losing the Leica to a failure of the shutter system (and the bad experience with their customer service) I settled in shooting only with the iPhone.
Stay tuned for more editions of Israel Explored!
Have a great Wednesday!