Desert Day 1: Jericho to Qumran to Ein Gedi

Great day in the desert!

On the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, we stopped at a look-out point.  The Judean wilderness before us was stunning.  This was the area of Jesus’ temptation.  This was the setting for the Good Samaritan.  This was the land of Promise, with Jericho mere miles away.

A short drive to Jericho, and we wound through town.  We were in search of a tree.  A big tree.  An old tree.  A tree too high for short tax collectors to climb.  Claiming to be from the first century (No idea whether that’s accurate or not, but it’s not the first tree in this region with that estimated age.), this sycamore tree is recognized as THAT tree.  And in its shade, in Jericho’s streets, we read two stories of Jesus in this place.  Luke 18:35-43 and 19:1-10 tell of a blind beggar crying for mercy from passing Jesus, and of a despised tax collector being noticed and sought out by Jesus for his own efforts to seek Jesus.  A touch of healing is extended to both, and lives are changed.

I washed down those thoughts with a glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice from a street vendor, and on we went for a short stop at a local shop specializing in Hebron glass. an art form that dates back to 330 AD in this region.  With purchases packed, we moved on towards Qumran.

If you’re searching for the Dead Sea scrolls, just find the Dead Sea.  Then head to its northwest edge, and cross the highway.  The caves scattered throughout the rugged landscape will affirm that you’re in the right region.  Your only trouble will be that you missed discovering the scrolls by sixty-plus years!  One can hardly overestimate the significance of the discovery, and it sheer “surprise factor” certainly has helped it make headlines, particularly over the past thirty years or so as more scholars have had access to these materials.

The exhibit set up at Qumran is simple enough, but it has an interesting little movie to set the tone for your experience there.  Much of what is presented about the Essene community that appears to have called Qumran home is speculative but not outlandish.  There is even a theory that John the Baptist may have spent time here prior to his public ministry.  That’s a wild thought as one walks the rocky pathways.

A short drive down the road delivered us at Ein Gedi for a break in which we had two things to do: 1) Eat lunch, 2) Bob (not really swim) in the Dead Sea.  Having soaked in the Dead Sea two years back, I concentrated my efforts on the lunch.  However, I took it upon myself to act as photographer for others in the group who needed their initial responses to the Dead Sea captured on camera.  It was the perfect day for this: Calm, windless, warm, but not scorching.  Beautiful!

But even better than the Dead Sea soak was our next stop, right across the highway.  The Ein Gedi Nature Reserve provides a lovely little hike up inland from the Dead Sea coast.  The vegetation in the area hints at what you shortly confirm by sight: There are springs in the region.  And as they come down the rocky land, they form waterfalls and ponds, flowing one to the next below, all the way down from the heights to the lowest place on Earth.

Ein Gedi also gets biblical mention as the hiding place of David when Saul was hunting him down (1 Samuel 24).  More than a couple of us commented as we trekked, “If I were David, I might have picked this place too.”  It’s lovely.  Rugged and secluded and easy to hide, but lovely all the same.  We arrived at a small pool with a waterfall dropping from the heights.  Swim time again—this time without the briny, sliminess of the Dead Sea.  This was cool and refreshing, and one couldn’t help but wonder, “We’ve walked where Jesus walked.  Are we now bathing where David bathed?”

Our hostel for the night was two minutes away.  A wonderful supper was followed by a quick overview lesson by guide Allan, using a spectacularly helpful concrete model of Israel, with all it topography in accurate detail.  The rest of the evening was ours, to do with as we wished.  Me?  Some reading and some journaling—predictable fellow that I am!

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