Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Jordan River and the Dead Sea

On December 31, we used our hotel in Jericho for our visits to important sites at the Dead Sea and finally on the Jordan River that feeds into it. We then drove up to Jerusalem for a brief visit to the olive wood shop, though our real visits to Jerusalem still lay ahead.


As we drove from Jericho down to Masada on the west side of the Dead Sea, Grant Belnap gave quite a nice devotional on the bus, after which we sang “He Sent His Son.” After the long drive, we arrived at the visitors center, watched the cheesy historical video, a then took the tram up to the top of the plateau, where Herod had built a virtually impregnable fortress and two palaces in the middle of the Judean desert.

The site was later held by Jewish rebels, and it was the last place they held after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The Romans built a large siege ramp up the western side of the plateau, but the zealots committed suicide before the Romans broke through.

Some fresco from the Herodian bath
The Roman siege ramp
One of the Roman military campus below
Part of our group in Herod's northern palace

Remains of a later Byzantine church


Qumran is the site of an ascetic group of Jewish sectarians who had withdrawn into the desert to worship the Lord apart from the world and the rest of Judaism. Most scholars think that they were the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were found in caves nearby.

The sectarians at Qumran were very preoccupied with ritual purity, so they immersed themselves in miqveh baths several times a day

The Baptismal Site of Jesus

We ended our day by driving to Qasr al-Yahud, the Israeli-controlled Palestinian side of the traditional baptismal site (an older site is maintained by Jordan on the east side of the river). 

We had a very special devotional at or near the place of Jesus' baptism. I talked about Joshua and Elijah before moving to the baptism of Jesus, reading from Mark 1 and Matthew 3 and then bringing in 2 Nephi 31. We sang the children’s song baptism, after which I offered a prayer

Because it is winter and rainy season, the river at the baptismal site was about as high as I ever saw it
Looking across at the Jordanian side of the baptismal site
Our great group right after our devotional

The Dead Sea

We next took a swimming---or better, "floating"---break at the Dead Sea, which is the lowest place on earth. The water is so saline that one easily floats.

Jimmy's Bazaar

We ended our day by a trip to Jimmy's olive wood shop in East Jerusalem. This quick trip was our first "visit" to Jerusalem, although we did not stop to see any historical site at that time. I played the Tabernacle Choir's version of "The Holy City" as we dove up to Jerusalem and through the tunnel in Mount Scopus, which have us our first views of the BYU Jerusalem Center, the Dome of the Rock, and some of the Old City. The couple of pictures I took through the bus windows are not particularly good but might remind some of our group of the excitement of those first views of Jerusalem.


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