The main thing that's exciting about this area of Israel is Massada. This is a huge chunk of stone on top of which Harod built a sort of Roman-era fallout shelter -- a place Harod could go if one of his enemies overthrew his government and hide out until the Romans saved him.
After Herod's death some Jewish malcontents took it over and used it as a base of operations to harass and annoy the Romans. The core of these malcontents were the Essenes; more about them in minute.
The Romans were a bad group to piss off (sort of like hiding in Ruby Ridge and waiting for the Feds to come get you). Massada was an incredible fortress with years of water and food out in the middle of a huge dessert.
The Romans were an incredible military force, however. They came in, built 5 "camps" (I looked at one of these "camps" -- they were quite large and permanent enough to last 2 thousand years) and a wall all the way around the fortress. A huge army of Jewish slaves built a 300 foot high ramp from the nearest point to the fortress. The Romans must have brought in massive amounts of water and food -- the nearest fresh water is 20 miles away.
When the ramp was finished the Romans charged up and set fire to the gates. As they burned the day ended and the Romans went back to their camps to finish the job the next day.
Up in Massada the thousand defenders (including women and children) had thought that God would protect them from the Roman legions. This belief had been the whole point of staying in Massada -- to be that portion of the Jewish faith and culture that would survive, with God's help, the Roman occupation. Now it was over and what happened next was absolutely unbelievable: the Jewish defenders killed their wives and children and then committed suicide. When the Romans marched into the camp the next day they found nothing but dead bodies. This was, more or less, the end of Jewish resistance to the Romans; the Jews were scattered all over the world (the Diaspora) and were without a homeland until Israel was founded in 1948.
Several miles from Massada is the place where the dead sea scrolls were found. Near there is an Essene compound. The Essenes were an extremely orthodox ("fanatical" probably wouldn't be too far out) Jewish sect that believed that God would smite their enemies (i.e. the Romans). There is some thought that John The Baptist was an Essene and some thought that the donkey that was provided to Jesus on which to ride into Jerusalem was provided by Essenes.
|Room from Herod's palace at Massada. The black line just under the window is the original height of the wall (the building fell in above that line and has been rebuilt recently). The white is recent plaster; the pattern on the plaster is, believe it if you can, the original wall that Herod put in.
|Here I am at Herod's Temple in Massada. Behind me you can see a restored room.
|This is another picture of Herod's palace at Massada. The plaster has been restored to what scientists think it looked like (perhaps a bit faded after a few thousand years).
|This is yours truly on Massada. Behind me is the Dead Sea.
|This is my guide up on Massada.
|From Massada you can look down on the Roman camps (to the right of the red arrow). This one is 500 feet down and several miles away -- and two thousand years old -- but you can still see it clearly. You can also see the trail that leads down from Massada winding back and forth across the mountain.
|Model of Massada on top of Massada. The US Parks service could learn a few things from the way that the Israeli government treats it's historical sites. There were two of these metal models of the whole mountain plus two or three other models plus a huge model in the visitor center below the mountain.
|This is a picture of the cable car that leads up to the top of Massada. The building on the left is the old cable car.
|One of the caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Notice the similarity between this and the landscape in New Mexico. My guide said that this cave had fairly complete set of scrolls that were well preserved with duplicates. She suggested that this was the place they buried the old, worn scrolls while the other caves were hiding places.
|The Dead Sea and nearby hills. We're far below sea level here.
|These are some hills near the Dead Sea. You can see a dark spot in the middle toward that top -- this is a cave very similar to the caves in which the Dead Sea scrolls were found. Apparently there are hundreds of similar caves in these hills.
|These are the ruins of the Essenes near the caves where they found the Dead Sea scrolls. In the distance you can see the Dead Sea.
|Hills near the Dead Sea: You can see at least one cave; these hills are riddled with caves and it was in caves just like these in these very hills that the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
|The Dead Sea from the side of the road. The vegetation is all wetlands that surround the Sea -- probably there are springs that feed them fresh water. Notice that there are no boats on the Dead Sea -- apparently the chemicals in the Sea eat both wood and metal.
|The hills near the Dead Sea: this is remarkably like some of the terrain in New Mexico and Arizona. You can see dark spots that might be caves.
Back to Israel Index
Last changed 6/8/03.
This page (including all images) Copyright © 2001 Dave Menconi.