Friday, June 10, 2011

Holy Land: The Jordan River, Dead Sea, & Arrival in Jerusalem (Day 4, 1 June 2011)

After breakfast at our hotel in Tiberias, we packed up our belongings and started a new day of adventures.  Our first adventure led us to the site on the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist.  The Jordan River was peaceful and blue (we're used to brown water rivers in Nebraska!).  It was much narrower than I had imagined.  It was surrounded by tall, leafy trees.  We had the opportunity to renew our Baptismal Promises and be sprinkled with water from the Jordan River.  A curious muskrat popped out of the water and crawled around Father's feet as we prayed. 

From the Jordan River, we traveled to the beautiful Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration of our Lord.  Mount Tabor was MASSIVE.  We expected it to be smaller than what it was.  We had to exit our tour bus and board shuttle buses because our tour bus would not have made it up the mountain.  It was interesting for us to think about Christ, Peter, James, and John hiking up this would have been a tough climb by foot!

Mount Tabor with the Church of the Transfiguration on its peak.

The Church of the Transfiguration was very was fun looking at the sky above the church and imagining Jesus, Moses, and Elijah talking...right there!

The Church of the Transfiguration

From Mount Tabor you could also see Nazareth and Mount Precipice--the spot where the Nazoreans led Jesus so they could throw him off headlong.

We then journeyed by bus through the desert.  The green, lush terrain we had seen earlier was replaced by sand, rocks, and the intense desert sun.  Tradition has it that Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness occurred not far from here.  Our desert travels led us to the Dead Sea, the lowest point of elevation on earth.  The Dead Sea was surprisingly beautiful and radiantly blue.  It looked like a mirage in the dry, colorless desert.  We grabbed a bite to eat and changed into our swimming suits to experience the Dead Sea for ourselves.  Since the water was too salty for Peter, Dan and I took turns floating in the salty sea and feeling the squishy Dead Sea mineral mud in our toes.    Peter dabbled his toes in the sea for a few moments and then splashed in the outdoor showers on the beach with mommy.
Our hour on the beach passed quickly and soon we were back on the bus: salty, tired, and hot. 

Dan floating in the buoyant Dead's very easy to float because of all the salt!

Peter fell asleep on my lap as we drove to ancient fortress built by Herod the Great.  It was later taken by the Romans and then the Jewish Zealots after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.  Masada was the Zealots' last stronghold.  The Roman Army encircled the fortress on top of the mountain and began a siege that would lead the Romans to build a giant earthen ramp to the top so they could engage their Jewish foes.  With the prospects of slavery or death at the hands of the Romans facing them, the Jewish garrison chose mass suicide (killing each other) so that the Romans would not get them first.  When the Romans finally broke into Masada, they found that the fortress's 960 inhabitants had killed each other...with the exception of two women and five children who had hid in a cistern and therefore lived to tell the tale.  Today, Masada is a symbol of nationalism for Israel.  When new Israeli soldiers are inducted into the Israli military, their induction ceremony ends with the declaration:  "Masada shall not fall again."

Some of the ancient strutures built on Masada with the Dead Sea in the background

The group took a cable car to the top of the mountain to explore the fortress while I stayed in the air conditioned ticket building with my sleeping boy.  Peter slept for almost two hours and I was able to "people watch" and relax. 

After the tour of Masada, we journeyed to Jerusalem that evening and checked into the beautiful Olive Tree Hotel.  The staff welcomed us in the lobby with a sugary, Tang-like orange juice (we were welcomed with this drink at all of our hotels).  We were eager to take our keys, shower, and rest after our Dead Sea adventures.  We finished our day with a scrumptious dinner at the hotel (rice, fish, chicken, hummus, watermelon- yum!) and wrapped up Day 4.

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