Day 7 Suicide Squad

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Mike and Bone rose with achy bones, not from old age, but single-sized beds with cardboard cushions, qualified as cruel and unusual punishment! The very Spartan room was starting to annoy the Boys! After another buffet breakfast, the Road Scholars were finally hitting the Road! They were heading out to the magnificent mount fortress of Masada!  The drive took a few hours north of Jerusalem to Masada, which took the Road Scholars along the Dead Sea!


The Dead Sea is really Dying!

The Dead Sea is dying, and its banks are collapsing. The water level is dropping close to 4 feet every year. The main part of the lake is now around 950 feet deep, about 15% shallower, and a third of the surface area, compared to its shape half a century ago.  Being one of the few water sources in a desert region, Israel and Jordan are constantly taking water out of the Dead Sea. Since it has no replenishment source (like a river or other body of water), it continues to shrink back from its shores. All along the road to Masada Udi showed the Road Scholars resorts with fancy building and dying palm trees that fairly recently were on the shore but are now ¼ of a mile from the Sea. Plus, there are giant sinkholes all along the road from the rapid removal of water from the area. Most of the coast was fenced off due to the car size sinkholes everywhere! After an hour and a half the Road Scholar Bus pulled up to the Masada National Park.


Meandering the Hot Sun in Masada National Park

The whole story of Masada entails the Roman suppression of the Jewish Uprising, which lead to the destruction of the Temple and the expelling of the Jews from Jerusalem. But it started as a hangout for Herod!

So much of Masada really goes back to somebody who was not even there for the siege. The Fortress was also a set of palaces built by the very interesting King Herod. Ah Herod the villain! As portrayed in the Bible. He was one of the Hasmonean kings that retained their titles but became administrators for Rome after the conquest by Pompey in 63 BCE.  The Romans loved him, the Jewish population, not so much. For one they were never sure about his “Jewishness,” since his father was an Edomite who married a Jewish mother> Despite the families conversion to Judaism.

He identified both as Jewish and Nabataean (e.g. Petra!), which constituted the majority of the population of western Judea, where they commingled with the Jews and adopted their customs at the time. 

The other problem was his perceived intolerance. With Roman prompting, he allowed some level of self-governance, but within the limits of the Roman structure. Those religious zealots that went outside of that boundary were dealt with swiftly and severely, which did not endear him to the population.

At the same time, he was a great builder of his time. The Second Temple that Jewish to this day worship on the Western Wall, was built by Herod. All through out the Roman province of Judea, there are still remnants of his handiwork. One of which is Masada!

Wanting a safe place if the population rebelled, Herod outfitted this large, highly-defendable mesa in the middle of the desert with two palaces.  Seeing the very narrow steps up they have today and imagining what it must have been like back in the day, the work conditions for those who built the palaces must have been brutal!  They built bathhouses, ritual baths, store houses and a complete Roman Villa up there!

Udi gave an overview of the background on a trolley that took everybody up to the top!


The Dead Sea from the Masada Summit!

The story of Masada really picks up after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD to the Romans. A group of Jewish rebels, the Sicarii, overcame the Roman garrison of Masada with the aid of a ruse. additional members of the Sicarii fled Jerusalem and settled on the mountaintop. According to Josephus one of the best-known Jewish historians that aligned with the Romans, the Sicarii were an extremist Jewish splinter group antagonistic to a larger grouping of Jews referred to as the Zealots, who carried the main burden of the rebellion. Josephus said that the Sicarii raided nearby Jewish villages including Ein Gedi, where they massacred 700 women and children, truly religious idiots!

Back then, Romans simply would not allow a splinter group win or evade Roman rule, it would set a bad precedent.


Mike and Bone on the Masada Summit!

By 73 CE, the Roman governor of Iudaea, Lucius Flavius Silva, headed the Roman legion X Fretensis and laid siege to Masada. The Roman legion surrounded Masada, building a circumvallation wall (still there) and then a siege ramp against the western face of the plateau.

The ramp was complete in the spring of 73, after probably two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April 16.  The Romans employed the X Legion and a number of auxiliary units and Jewish prisoners of war, totaling some 15,000 (of whom an estimated 8,000 to 9,000 were fighting men), in crushing Jewish resistance at Masada. A giant siege tower with a battering ram was constructed and moved laboriously up the completed ramp. According to Josephus, when Roman troops entered the fortress, they discovered that its defenders had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide or killed each other, 960 men, women, and children in total. Josephus wrote of two stirring speeches that the Sicari leader had made to convince his men to kill themselves. Only two women and five children were found alive.

Today, Udi told the Road Scholars the Israelis today consider their suicide a Jewish victory (?!?) The Sicari did not submit to the Romans and in 2022, it is now a part of a Jewish State! Gotta love religion!  

Remnants of the Roman Ramp

Today, Udi told the Road Scholars the Israelis today consider their suicide a Jewish victory (?!?) The Sicari did not submit to the Romans and in 2022, it is now a part of a Jewish State! Gotta love religion!  


View to the East from Masada

Remnants of Herod's Palace

A Jewish Scribe, Copying the Talmud the old way!

After Udi's speech, he gave the Road Scholars a choice, they could hang up here for 20 more minutes or for those who wanted to, they could hike back down! Mike and Bone and a few others bought the bait and boogied towards the very steep steps back down! On the way to the stairs, the Boys stopped to check out an old Orthodox Jewish Scribe, copying the Talmud the way they have for 3,000 years!


A Steep Hot Hike

There was a bit of a timeline involved here! The Bus was slotted to leave around 2:00, it was about 90 degrees and boogieing down was certainly not as easy as it sounded. 


Mike in the Lead!

Back on the Ground!

Remnants of the Roman Wall !

The Boys made it down without much drama and in fact beat many of the other back to the Bus. After a little water they were right as rain (rare in those parts !) Got back on the Bus for a lunch planned in Qumran. Qumran is the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves near K Qumran, on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea.


Booking to and Baking in Qumran!

The Road Scholars made it to Qumran and the Qumran Restaurant about 3:00 PM for a very late lunch. It was busy, packed and filled with flies, but better than the Hotels Buffet!! After a good lunch, Udi gave the Boys and the other Road Scholars tickets to see the actual scrolls in the Museum!


Seeing the Scrolls!

The Museum has three floors of manuscripts that are biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian. The biblical manuscripts comprise some two hundred copies of books of the Hebrew Bible, representing the earliest evidence for the biblical text in the world. Among the apocryphal manuscripts (works that were not included in the Jewish biblical canon) are works that had previously been known only in translation, or that had not been known at all. The sectarian manuscripts reflect a wide variety of literary genres: biblical commentary, religious-legal writings, liturgical texts, and apocalyptic compositions. Most scholars believe that the scrolls formed the library of the sect that lived at Qumran. However it appears that the members of this sect wrote only part of the scrolls themselves, the remainder having been composed or copied elsewhere. Mike and Bone reveled in checking out the ancient scraps that the Essene’s either wrote or stored all those years ago.  After a quick visit ( it really was a small museum) the Boys headed outside to check out where the Essenes tried to hide from the Roman Legions, but first who WERE the Essenes!


Scrolling through the Qumran Desert!

The Essenes were a mystic Jewish sect during the Jewish Revolt in Roman Judea. The aforementioned Jewish historian Josephus records that Essenes existed in large numbers; thousands lived throughout Judea.

The Essenes originally lived in various cities but congregated in communal life dedicated to voluntary poverty, daily immersion, and asceticism (their priestly class practiced celibacy). They believed that the rest of the world was too wicked, and the Roman War was the beginning of the end times.  So, the ancient doomsday preppers hid in the mountains from the Romans, unfortunately on the same road that the Romans (and the Road Scholars Bus!) took from Jerusalem, and they too were swept up and exiled so fast that they left most of their scrolls behind!   Mike and Bone headed out to check out the community the Essenes built!


Mike and Bone in Qumran!

Despite the fact it was pushing 5:00, the sun was still pretty pernious, it was still in the 90's! Udi gave the Road Scholars 30 minutes to check out the National Park.


The ancient Baths of the Essenes!

Despite the fact it was pushing 5:00, the sun was still pretty pernious, it was still in the 90's! Udi gave the Road Scholars 30 minutes to check out the National Park. 


The Famous Caves of Qumran!

It was readily apparent that Qumran was a Village, not a bunch of people living in Caves. They did use the Caves for certain uses, but they lived down in the Village.  While it was cool to walk around the village ruins of the Essenes (Destroyed by the same Roman Legion that destroyed Masada on their way back to Jerusalem). Unfortunately the caves themselves are still active archeological sites that restrict access, so Mike and Bone could see the caves, they simply could not go into the caves.

As the sun start grow long in the sky, Udi called the Road Scholars to the Bus for the several hour drive back to Jerusalem for a final (awful) buffet dinner and spartan night on the cardboard cushioned beds!