Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Masada and the Dead Sea

I actually went to Masada and the Dead sea last Friday but I haven't had the energy or time to post. I have now finished my course in Elementary Biblical Hebrew and I will be waiting for my grade to show up over the next week or so.

Our tour group wanted to see the sun rise over Masada so we got up early and left the student village at 3am. The bus ride there is almost two hours and the rode twists and turns so if you are prone to motion sickness take some medicine before you go. A hat, sunscreen and a lot of water are necessities on this trip. During the afternoon the temperature at Masada was around 110 degrees.

Now for some background history of Masada. Masada was built by King Herod who ruled Judea from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. He was a genius when it came to architecture but he was a paranoid ruler. There was good reason for him to be paranoid none of his subjects liked him. Masada was his winter palace or a place he could retreat to if things got bad in Jerusalem. There is a saying about Herod that it was better to be Herod's pig than Herod's son. Herod had around 40 wives and 70 sons and he had most of them killed because he was afraid of being betrayed. This area of the desert only gets around 2 inches of rainfall a year. Herod's engineers built 17 huge cisterns at the base of the plateau to collect water several more cisterns are at the top.
Here we have a picture of the sunrise over the Dead Sea.

This was taken just a few minutes later and it's not zoomed in as much so you see the edge of the plateau of Masada.

Masada is very complicated historically because so much has happened here. I'm not quite sure how to order this post because I'm going to be talking about several different periods of history. Hopefully you won't get confused but if you do just post questions and I'll try to explain it better.

Here is Masada the winding pathway you see is called the rampart path. It was not there in King Herod's time. Several years after King Herod died the Jewish people rebelled against the Roman rule of their land. Most of what we know about this rebellion comes from the account of Josephus Flavius who was a Jewish rebel commander in the sea of Galilee area but later surrendered to the Romans. The revolt began in 66 A.D. by the Sicarii a group named after the curved daggers they used called sica. Their leader Menahem was killed in Jerusalem in 66 A.D. Then a man named Eleazar ben Yair took over and fled to Masada. The group that followed him contained Essenes and Samaritans. The last of the rebels joined him after Jerusalem and the temple was destroyed by the Roman general Titus in 70 A.D. The rebels lived in rooms in the case mate wall. They constructed a synagogue from what used to be Herod's stables. The synagogue contained a special room that was used to bury old worn out copies of the Torah. Old manuscripts of the Torah are supposed to be buried like a human. Masada was the last rebel stronghold in Judea. In 73 A.D. the 10th Roman legion led by Flavius Silva surrounded the mountain to prevent the rebels from descending to get more supplies or go for help. The Romans built a ramp so they could use their siege equipment to gain entrance into Masada. That ramp is what you see in this picture. I think the angle of the ramp must have changed over the centuries because climbing it I felt like it was straight vertical. I took about 30 minutes to climb this by the time I reached the top I was gasping for air. The record for running up the ramp belongs to a man from Kenya who ran up in 18 minutes.

This is a reconstruction of what some of the Romans siege equipment might have looked like. Now try to imagine pushing this up the ramp to try to break the walls of Masada.

The Jewish rebels had constructed a wooden inner support wall to try to brace the stone against the battering rams of the Romans. The Romans tried to set fire to the wall but the wind changed and the rebels hoped they were delivered as the siege tower caught fire. The winds in this area are temperamental and the wind changed again setting their wooden wall on fire. Night was falling and the Roman confident of their victory in the morning went back to their camps.

This view is looking down the rampart path from the top of Masada. Those black dots near the center of the picture on the pathway are people to give you some perspective of how high up Masada is. This is the view the rebels would have had watching the Romans bring up the siege equipment.

Back to the time of King Herod. This is one of many dovecots on the plateau. The pigeons were kept for meat and for fertilizer. Even though this is in the middle of the desert Herod had lavish gardens here.

One of the spectacular views of the surrounding desert.

Another beautiful view. King Herod and later the Jewish rebels would have woken up to these views everyday.

Here is one of the cisterns on the top of Masada. Notice the smaller hole in the upper left corner this was added by the Jewish rebels. The smaller hole is called a mikveh it is a ritual bath.

This is the entrance to King Herod's Roman style bath. A Roman style bath has three chambers the first chamber which is what you are looking at would have cold water in it. The black lines on the stone mark the level of the reconstruction below the black line is original above it is modern reconstruction.

This is the second chamber of Herod's bath this would have been filled with luke warm water. The stucco on the wall is original and give you a hint of the grand scale of this bath.

This is the third chamber of King Herod's bath this would have been filled with hot water and would have been similar to a sauna. The cylinders would have had wood piled around them to heat the water above. The tile in the right corner of the picture shows how high the floor would have been in Herod's time. Now remember this is in the middle of the desert so Herod had to have all the wood for the bath brought in.

This is a Byzantine era monastery. I think it was built in the sixth century A.D. it was abandoned sometime around the Rise of Islam. This would definitely have been a quiet retreat for the monks that lived here.

Now back to the story of the Jewish rebels. That night they knew that they would be defeated by the Romans in the morning. Their leader Eleazar ben Yair gave a couple of speeches to the 960 rebels under his command. He told them it would be better to take their own lives than to live and became slaves and see their women defiled. Each man killed their wife and children. Finally only 10 men were left they wrote their names on pieces of pottery and drew lots. One man killed the other nine then himself so there was only one suicide at Masada. So when the Romans climbed up the next morning they were met with silence. Legend says the reason Josephus Flavius knew about what happen is two women and five children who hid themselves in one of the cisterns to escape death. That day was the 15th day of Nissan which is the first day of Passover. Passover celebrates the deliverance from slavery in Egypt that must have been weighing on their minds when they decided it would be better to die than become a slave. The pottery sherds from the lottery have been found by modern archaeologists and they have the names on them that Josephus Flavius gives in his account which leads some creditability to the account.

The Jewish rebels did not destroy their provisions or contaminate their water supply. They wanted the Romans to know that they did not decide to kill themselves because they were starving. Pictured here is one of seventeen food storage rooms on Masada. After Masada fell Judea ceased to exist as an independent nation until the modern day. Today the new members of the IDF (Israeli Defense force) as soon as they finish their basic training make the hike up Masada. When they reach the top the all shout "Masada will not fall again!" its symbolic of their willingness to fight and die for this country. The continuation of the nation is more important than a single individual. Masada is a powerful symbol to the Jewish people.

This view is from the other side of the plateau. The square structure below is the remains of one of the camps of the tenth roman legion that surround the plateau.

Another dazzling view off of Masada. These pictures don't really capture the beauty of this place.

Another view of the Dead Sea from Masada. The sun was so bright I could hardly see what I was taking a picture of on the camera I think these shots turned out well however.

This gives you an idea of how isolated this fortress was in ancient times there was nothing for miles.
We hiked down Masada using the Snake path which as the name suggests is a winding pathway down. The snake path existed in King Herod's time and anyone who wanted to see Herod would have to climb it. It was a horrible experience climbing down especially if you are slightly scared of heights. The stairs are ancient and uneven and some are missing chunks. Sometimes there are no stairs just a pathway with rocks sticking up and some loose rocks just waiting to trip you.

Here is a picture halfway down the path shot looking back up at the top. There is a cable car that runs up and down but it costs extra money. The guardrails were not consistent and would disappear at sections that looked very dangerous. I think it took about 40 minutes to climb down. Imagine going down stairs for 40 minutes straight. I could hardly move the next day and my legs are still sore today but it hasn't been a week yet.

After Masada we went for a dip in the Dead sea which is 1,373 feet below sea level. The salt content is nine times saltier than the ocean. You have to wear flip-flops when you go in because the bottom is very rocky and covered in salt crystals that will slice up your feet. Of course it is called the Dead sea because nothing lives in it. The water has a slimy feel to it almost like oil. When you first get in the water will burn in any scrap or scratch you have on your body and it is quite painful. The Dead sea also makes you more buoyant, you float easier and you try to over compensate because you are used to having to work to keep yourself afloat.

If you look closely you can see the salt crystals that have formed on the metal. The rocks close to the shore are also covered in salt crystals. After we got back to the student village I spent the rest of the day in bed sleeping. All the time in the sun gave me a bad migraine headache. It was worth it though to see Masada and the Dead Sea

I wanted to mention a Jewish holiday that occurred on July 26th which was the 15th of Av. It is almost the equivalent of Valentine's day in the United States. It comes from the last chapter of Judges. All of Israel is fighting the tribe of Benjamin and they swear they will never given their daughters as wives to the tribe of Benjamin. After they make peace they cannot go back on their word but if they don't then the tribe of Benjamin will cease to exist. So they tell the men to hide in a vineyard outside the city of Shiloh during a festival. The women of Shiloh come out to dance in the vineyard and they take one to become their wife. That way the men of Israel are not breaking their oath and the tribe of Benjamin will not vanish. This is not a commercialized holiday like Valentine's Day is in the United States. I don't think it is widely celebrated either or if it is it's not celebrated in the same way we celebrate Valentine's day.

Questions from the last post:
Uncle Joe- I haven't seen any billboard like signs inside the old city they do have them outside the old city along the highway. I'm glad you like my tour guiding style. Its hard trying to present the the sites I've seen and explain the pictures. It's a lot of information to remember.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tisha B'av

The fasting day of Tisha B'av or literally the ninth of the month of Av began last night at sundown. Av is a month in the Jewish calendar which is a lunar calendar so the dates change every year. I went on a tour of the old city last night. The tour was through the Overseas Student Association we had a security guard with us and an official tour guide so it was very safe.

Tisha B'av is a day of mourning for the Jewish people. During the fast which is from sundown yesterday to sundown today there is no eating, no drinking (not even water), you can not wash or bath yourself, no deodorant or perfume, no marital relations, you can't wear leather shoes, no sitting in chairs you must sit on the floor, no working, no greeting others and no smiling. Traditionally the book of Lamentations is read on this day some sects also read the book of Job. It is a day of grieving as if someone close to you has died. I have the day off from school.

Many important events in Jewish history have taken place on the ninth of Av. The Babylonians destroyed Solomon's temple in 586 B.C. on this day. The Bible actually gives two different days for the destruction of the first temple 2kgs 25:8 says the 7th of Av and Jeremiah says the 10th of Av. The Rabbis compromised on the 9th. 656 years later the second temple build by King Herod was destroyed by the Romans lead by Titus. It is also the day that the 12 spies Moses sent into the promised land to scout came back and the people were afraid so they had to wonder the desert for the next 40 years. Bar Kokhba's revolt failed on the 9th of Av in 132 A.D. The Jewish people believe that their messiah will be born on the 9th of Av.

We began our tour at the Jaffa gate which is the one tourists most often enter. It is called Jaffa gate because it is in the direction of the port city of Jaffa near Tel Aviv. Jaffa was the port city most of the Crusaders came to and they entered Jerusalem through the Jaffa gate. I learned that the current walls of the city were built by Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire in 1538. The walls were built very thin and they were designed to be pretty not to be fortifications. The impressive looking guard towers on the wall are empty inside. Suleiman didn't want anyone to find out that the walls were so thin so he killed the two engineers that built the walls for him. The engineers are buried just inside Jaffa gate next to the wall.

We got to go up on the ramparts are walk on part of the outer wall of the city. It was kind of creepy walking up all those stairs in the darkness and noticing how narrow the walkway is. Now they have guardrails for safety but back in the 1530's there were no guard rails for those in charge of walking the walls. This is a picture I took from a guard platform. The tower is known as David's tower, however it was not built by David. I can't remember who built it but I think it was the Crusaders who incorrectly named it. Off to the right in the picture is where the ancient jail used to be located today it's stables for the horses of the mounted police. So standing up here it smells like horses.

The tower from the previous picture is just to the right of this picture. Most of the pictures I took turned out blurry but I'm still figuring out the night settings on the camera. I think it looks beautiful. See the bright light towards the right edge of the picture? There is a monastery there that marks the line of the Israeli controlled area in 1948 between that area up to the outer wall was a no man's land for 19 years. The mayor of Jerusalem had his office in this area and he decided to live in his office during those 19 years and everyday the Jordanian army would take shots at him they never hit him. Our guide told us an interesting story that I'm not sure is true but I'll share it anyway. There was an elderly lady that lived close to the boundary line and one day as she was leaning out the window her teeth fell out and landed in no man's land. Our guide said it took the United Nations four months to work out a solution. One Jordanian general, one Israeli general and one U.N. general walked in together to return that poor woman's teeth. I'm doing my best to recount the historical events but I may have confused some of the details this tour was in the evening after a long day of class.

Once we got down from the walls we went through the Zion gate pictured here. If you look closely you might be able to see the bullet holes left from the fighting between the Jordanian and Israeli armies in 1948 for the control of the Jewish Quarter. After this we went to see the tomb of King David which is near one of the places the Upper Room from the last supper might have been. There were signs here asking that no pictures be taken so sadly I can't show it too you. I did get to hear a group of Jewish men reading a special lamentation prayer for Tisha B'av near David's tomb.

Now this is in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. This is the oldest Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem...sort of..technically its the site of the oldest synagogue since the site keeps getting destroyed in the fighting because the enemy knows its important. This version was built around 2005.

This is a minaret to the left of the previous picture. A minaret is part of a Muslim mosque at prayer times a man climbs to the top of the tower to sing to let Muslims know it's time to pray. So what is a minaret doing next to the synagogue in the heart of the Jewish Quarter? Of course there is a good story involved. Once the land the synagogue sits on belonged to this Jewish lady whose son got into an argument with the elders. The argument got so heated that the son no longer felt comfortable in the Jewish Quarter so he converted to Islam. The mother was so angry at the Jewish elders for causing her son to become a Muslim that she sold the land to the Arabs. The Arabs evicted the Jews from the synagogue and built a mosque on the site. The mosque was destroyed sometime later and the land once again belongs to the Jewish people but the minaret remains.

A traditional part of Tisha B'av is visiting the Western Wall to pray. You aren't supposed to take pictures around the wall on the Sabbath Day or holidays so this one was snapped quickly before we went through security. I don't think you can really tell how many people were there let me just tell you it was very crowded. And this picture was taken around midnight to give you some idea of the importance of the visit to the wall and more people kept coming in through security. We got back to the Student Village close to 1 am.

Questions from the last post:
Nikki-I spend a lot of time in my room. Right now if I'm not in class I will likely be in my room studying or taking a nap. We have not had any drills for the bomb shelter. There is a speaker right outside my bedroom that I think is used to warn us to take shelter. I haven't figured out anything else it could be for. I do have a wireless internet connection and I have notice the connection is slower with the window closed I haven't tried it with the blast door closed.

Uncle Joe- Based on what the tour guide told us I think the crenelations at Damascus gate are just for decoration if I find out anything different I'll let you know.

My teddy bear was bought for me by Trevor. Her name is Adaya Tikva both are Hebrew names their meanings put together mean God's jewel of Hope. Her t-shirt has the symbol of world peace on it. She traveled here in my carry on giving extra padding to my computer.

The cacti outside my window are wild I've seen them growing elsewhere in town. The keystone structure over the windows on the construction site is just for pretty decoration. You can't tell from my zoomed in picture but more than one window doesn't have the keystone yet. The tall skinny trees on the sides of the staircase are not Cedars of Lebanon I don't think we are in the right climate for those. I think they are some kind of pine tree but I'm not sure which species.

I think I covered the night pictures request pretty well in this post but I'll try to snap so more if I'm ever out after dark.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Where I live

This is going to be about where I live. To the left is the view I have walking down the hill to school in the morning. If you look closely to the right of the light pole you can see the Dome of the Rock.

Here is the South Gate as you can see it's a
secure gate. There is a guard there all the time
who checks your id and can check your bag before you enter.

This is the massive staircase I have to walk up and down several times a day. Most of the other students had to carry their luggage up these stairs.

This is my building 12D also known as Casa Argentina. All the buildings are named after countries.

My room is a special room as I have mentioned before its the sealed room. Basically my room is the bomb shelter in case something happens. My room has two doors the blast door which is white in this picture and a normal door. The blast door is around 1and a half to two inches thick.

I took a picture of the door frame to give you an idea of how thick the walls of my room are. They are made of solid concrete and are about a foot thick. When the window is shut and the door is closed the room is pretty quiet. Except for last night I heard all the screaming and yelling from the people watching Spain vs. Netherlands in the World Cup last night. Even if I had the blast door closed too I still think I would have heard them.

My window is unique as well. When the window is closed it forms a tight seal that also cuts down on the noise level from outside. The glass is thicker than the other windows in the apartment. I don't know if it's bullet proof or not but its pretty thick so it might be.

This picture is with the glass part of the window open. I took
the picture at an angle so you can see the space between the shutters and where the glass would be if the window were closed. The shutters are made out of metal if there is a strong wind they close themselves. While this is annoying when doing homework and suddenly finding yourself in the dark it is designed so if there was a blast outside while my shutters were open the force of the blast would close them for me. With the shutters closed the room is pitch black you can't see anything at all even if it is the middle of the afternoon. This works out great for taking naps but not so great if you are used to relying on the morning sun coming through your window to wake up to.

This is the zoomed in look at part of the view outside my window. Most of my view is the student parking lot but these buildings are on the other side of the parking lot. I'm not sure if they are part of the dorm housing or not since they are behind a separate fence. I zoomed in because I want you to notice the white cylinders on top of the brown colored building. Those are hot water heaters. Most of the residential homes in Israel and the apartment buildings have their hot water heaters on the roof. They also have solar panels as well. The gray building in the front is currently under construction. Construction works differently here. If this was Texas A&M and they had to do construction near the dorms they would usually wait until 8am or if you are lucky 10 am. Here these guys get started earlier some mornings its before my alarm goes off a 6:30am. They are trying to get a lot of work down before the afternoon when it really gets hot. They work everyday but Saturday.

Here is my bed and nightstand. The mattress is made out of some type of foam and its only an inch and a half thick. I'm still not used to sleeping on it yet. The reason my comforter is two colors is because it is a sleeping bag. I want to go on some archaeological digs while I'm here and that requires a sleeping bag. In order to save space in my luggage I decided to use it as a comforter as well.

Here is my desk and bookshelf. Homework is out on the desk for that authentic student look. The Israeli flag was given to me by Yael the lady that works in the gift shop of the Regency Hotel. Note the blue water bottle on the desk this is a very important item. If you are coming to Israel you need one of these. It gets so hot here you always need water with you. Almost every student on campus has something similar to this. Next to the desk is my wardrobe that has a built in floor length mirror. I decided not to take a picture of the closet because I didn't think that would be very exciting to see.

My light switches and electric sockets are cover up as shown. I'm not sure why but I'm going to guess it has something to do with the safety of the sealed room. The light switches and sockets in my room mate's room are not covered. The sockets in the kitchen are covered like this.

This is a mezuzah attached to the upper right door frame. There is also one outside our front door and many of the offices and classrooms at school also have them. Every hotel room at the Regency had them as well. Inside is a piece of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21) These verses are part of the prayer Shema Israel. They are placed on the doorways in Jewish houses in order to fulfill the Biblical command of Deuteronomy 6:9

That completes the tour of the sealed room. I hope you found it interesting.

Questions from the last post: Uncle Joe- The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is another point of argument. The roof currently needs replacing but they cannot decide who owns the roof. Since it is an honor and a privilege to take care of the church they all want a piece of it. I'm guessing they will still be arguing about the roof until it falls down on them.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Return to the Old City

Yesterday afternoon Claire, Lauren and I went to the Old city. We rode the city bus it was my first time on one of the Egged buses. The bus was packed and more people kept getting on at each stop. We actually missed the stop by Damascus gate but it ended up working out okay. Instead we entered the city by the New Gate which hardly any tourists ever see. The area around the New Gate is a residential area I can't imagine what it would be like living inside the old city walls.

We returned to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre since Lauren had never seen it. This time some of my pictures from inside turned out. But first I'd like to tell you about another one of the arguments between the Christian sects that control parts of the Church. This one is equally baffling to me.
These stairs are another point of argument. The door to the church is just off the left side of the picture. You can see these stairs in my picture from last week. The plaza area in front of the church is controlled by the Greek Orthodox monks. Those stairs lead up to the Ethiopian monastery but the Armenian Orthodox church controls the stair case.

Here is a close up of the stairs look at where their feet are resting on the bottom row. Now ask yourself this question is that a stair or is it part of the plaza? Yes that is what the argument is about. Everyday when they are cleaning they meet at this spot and argue over who gets to clean it. The hostility is so bad between the Christian sects that the keys to the church are kept by a local Muslim family. The family comes twice a day to lock and unlock the church. I still can't believe the lack of cooperation in this church. Each sect has their own little chapel areas walking through yesterday I noticed some church pews stacked on top of each other they were chained together and then chained to a column. I guess whoever they belonged to was worried someone else was going to take them?

This is just inside the door of the church. Tradition says that this rock slab is were Jesus body was laid out to be prepared for burial. Well maybe there is a story circulating that about 300 years ago the rock got a huge crack in it and they replaced it. I don't know if its true or not. Unfortunately my pictures of the spot they believe the cross was placed did not turn out. Its just up a steep set of stairs to the right of this picture. The lighting up there is odd and there are a lot of gold covered objects that reflect strangely in the pictures and make them blurry. I'll try again the next time I'm there.

The site of the cross is upstairs from this spot. Above the table you see a window showing you a rock with a crack in it. Tradition says when Jesus was on the cross the ground split open and his blood ran down through the crack. The stone under the table is suppose to cover Adam's grave Jesus' blood soaked Adam's bones and cleansed him of sin.

Here is what I know you have been wanting to see this is the Sepulchre itself. Inside this structure is where Jesus was buried. This is the view from the side so you can get an idea of its size. You can also see the long line of tourists waiting to go in. The tomb itself is very small and only five people can go in at a time.

Here is the front of the Sepulchre above the arched doorway there are paintings of the apostles. I have no pictures of the inside of the tomb. It just didn't feel right to take pictures in there.

This is the dome ceiling about the Sepulchre. It looks like the rays of the sun. It allows sunlight to shine down on the top of the Sepulchre.

Here is the dome ceiling in one of the chapels I'm not sure who owns this particular chapel. However you might recognize this painting of Jesus its pretty famous.

This was a nice surprise outside of Jaffa gate there was a craft fair going on. They had the area blocked off so you had to have security check your bag before you could enter.

Nice music to listen to while you shop. As we were walking around we kept hearing a pitiful meows from cats but we couldn't find cats anywhere. It turned out that there wasn't a cat at all. One of the stands was selling cat whistles and all the kids had them and that's why we were hearing cats everywhere. I didn't even know cat whistles existed.

This was the best stand at the craft fair. Puppets and tiny finger puppets! Aren't they adorable?