Each day of our journey has had a different feel, each unique in a special way. Yesterday was definitely spiritually intense, pilgrimaging to the birth place and death place of Jesus. Today was a soul refresher, an oasis in the desert, the great salt sea at the lowest elevation on planet earth, and an enlightening visit to the cave area where the important ancient scrolls were discovered.
Date palms as far as the eye could see in every direction and a wonderful cool refreshing breeze greeted us at Ein Gedi, the desert oasis south of Jerusalem. Rolling barren, yet hauntingly beautiful, cliff-laden hills suddenly turned to palm trees, scrub brush, low growing trees and beautiful flowers. A rushing stream brought life-giving water to the area. Ein Gedi is the oasis, hidden in the desert, to which young David fled when jealous and suspicious King Saul tried to have him killed. The caves in which he and his men hid in the cliffs are clearly visible from the oasis. Walking the trail, one encountered Ibex, a type of mountain goat, and desert rats. The trail’s upward climb led to rushing water and beautiful waterfalls. For the first time in my life, I understood, experientially, how one feels when you come out of the desert into a refreshing oasis in life. The sound of rushing water, the gentle breeze, trees to shade your path, the calm. Life can be hectic and yet, God provides an oasis to bring us relief. I now have a reassuring mental picture to hold onto.
After lunch, we headed over to Qumran, a barren area where, in ancient times, an ascetic sect of Jews founded a community to separate themselves from the wiles of the world and lead a peaceful and communal existence. They built canals to direct flood rains that came from far away Jerusalem and that rushed through the rock canyons nearby into a vast system of cisterns where overflows were directed to their ceremonial ritual baths which they used daily for spiritual purposes. In this way, they had the water necessary to survive in an otherwise uninhabitable place. What makes Qumran so important, however, is that they were deeply committed Biblical (Old Testament) scholars intent on preserving the Old Testament manuscripts. As such they rigorously, 24 hours a day, had teams whose purpose was to copy and check Biblical manuscripts for errors, for preservation in that dry, warm climate near the Dead Sea. When Israel was decimated in the first century A.D. by retaliating Romans after their rebellion against Roman occupation, the community disappeared. Fortunately, the scrolls had been hidden away in caves in clay jars, left to be discovered by a shepherd boy in 1947. The discovery caused a world-wide sensation. What impact would these ancient Biblical scrolls have on the authenticity of the then known text? Amazingly, although older than other known manuscripts and kept hidden and independent from other Jewish sources, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were the same as other Jewish manuscripts. The Old Testament was authentic–no changes were made over the centuries. We can be sure that the Old Testament we hold in our hands is the same that Jesus held in His hands and the same that the prophets of old wrote under inspiration from God. Refreshing indeed!
We ended the day at the Dead Sea, the lowest elevation on earth–1,400 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea is also the saltiest water on earth. One’s body naturally floats, no exertion necessary, on the surface of the water! No life exists in the water and none can. Yet, the water is an unbelievably inviting blue, especially against the white/beige cliffs that surround it. Dead Sea salts and minerals are valuable commodities. A warm breeze refreshed us during our leisurely time by the waters. Yes, it was a refreshing day! WEG