Baptism day! Woot woot!
I woke up with a beautiful view of the Sea of Galilee one last time. We headed a few miles down the road to the Yardenit baptismal site on the northern part of the Jordan River. “Yardenit” is the Hebrew name for a baptismal pool in a church – obviously in a Messianic church. It literally means “tiny Jordan”. The thing that struck me as funny is that I got baptized in the “tiny Jordan” but it was in the Jordan River. The water was chilly as I walked down the steps into the river. Dave and Pastor John did the honors of baptizing me. It was really amazing to be baptized in the same river that Jesus was baptized in.
After an inspirational morning of watching members of our group be baptized, we cleaned up, got back on the bus and headed south. We found ourselves at the city of Biet-She’an. The bus driver pulled over just outside of the ruins were were going to see, so that we could get a look at some newly uncovered ruins. Not even open to the public yet, we got to see an uncovered fighting arena. We weren’t allowed to get out, so we all snapped a few pictures from the bus, and finished the drive to the ancient city.
When I saw Beit-She’an I was immediately reminded of my visit to Ephesus. And for good reason, too. The cities were both built around the same time, just when Romans were using a new technique to design cities. This way, no matter what city a Roman citizen traveled to, they would have an idea of where everything of importance was. We explored the large amphitheater, walked the wide cardo (main street), visited the bath house, and discovered tile mosaics. One of the significant things that happened here has to do with the death of King Saul. When he was killed, his enemies brought his body here and hung it on a tree at the top of the hill. This was such a disgrace to the Israelites. But a few days later, they were allowed to take his body down and give him a proper burial.
When we stopped for lunch that day, we saw something we are not accustomed to here in the US. Because we were so close to the Palestine boarder, there were soldiers with M-16s strolling around. It was a reminder of the uneasy peace that currently exists in that part of the world.
Our first stop with a view was at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered – Cave #4 (creative name, huh?). We saw the ruins of the community of the secret society that lived there and wrote the scrolls. There were also numerous caves in the sheer cliffs where other items from that society were found. It was very hot atop the mesa where we were standing… about 112F, to be exact. Unfortunately, I was feeling a little over-confident that day and had not put on enough sunscreen. Standing at Qumran, I could feel my neck and shoulders getting burnt. Oops. Lesson learned.
After standing in the scorching sun, our next stop was such a treat! Ein Gedi. A true desert oasis. A natural fresh water spring feeds the land and wildlife here, and is the only fresh water for miles. It was here that David and his men hid from King Saul and his army. As we walked into the park, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I kept noticing people in their swimsuits walking out. The path took us to the lowest pool before the water flows into the Dead Sea, and I was amazed. The waterfall rumbled, and the water was clear, cool, and crisp. A few of our group members were so hot that they sat down in the pool… clothes and all! But Dave, Grace, Katie, Kyle and I decided that we wanted to see more. So we began the hike up into the mountains to follow the series of streams, pools, and waterfalls. Each waterfall got better and better. And the final waterfall, named David’s Falls, was the best. It was tall and made a beautiful sound as it hit the pool below. It was so gorgeous! Reluctantly we turned around to head back down the mountain. But it still held surprises for us. The trail down takes you another way, and we got to see a few more small waterfalls and some ibex in the rocks. An ibex is kind of like a goat and a deer mixed together. After such a hot day, with our brains so full of new information, Ein Gedi was an oasis both mentally and spiritually.
The Daniel Hotel was just a little ways south of Ein Gedi and right on the shore of the Dead Sea. As tired as we were, we all ran to our rooms, threw on our swimsuits and headed for the Sea. I think what surprised me the most was how hot the water was – like a hot bath. And floating was so funny! You really do float on top of the water. The other thing that surprised me is that you expect such salty water to feel a bit gritty. But it was quite the opposite – it feels very oily. It was a great way to relax at the end of a very busy day. And I got to watch the water change colors as the sun set over the mountains to the west.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Israel stories. September 5’s involves an Australian Abraham and camels!