Mount of Olives panorama

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

Monday, May 20, 2019

Holy Land Day 4: Masada, Qumran, the Baptismal Site, and Floating in the Dead Sea


After along drive southward along the Dead Sea, we arrived at the visitors center of Masada, 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.

Originally the site of a Hasmonean fortress, Herod greatly expanded it after he had been forced to leave his family there in 39 B.C. while he went to Rome to gain recognition. He never wanted them, or himself, to need to stay in anything less than luxurious accommodations!

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.

The main Roman military camp below the site
The ramp that the Romans built to take Masada


Qumran is the site of an ascetic group of Jewish sectarians who had withdrawn into the desert to worship the Lord apart from the world and the rest of Judaism.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.

Cave 4, perhaps the most famous of the Qumran caves
One of the many mikvaot, or ritual baths, at Qumran

After Qumran, we drove back to Jericho for lunch at the Green Valley/Samar Cafe, which featured a local Palestinian dish of chicken on spicy pita.

The Baptismal Site of Jesus

We then went to Qasr al-Yahud, the Israeli side of the traditional baptismal site, where we held a devotional where I talked about the connections of the site with nearby Gilgal, where Joshua and the Children of Israel crossed into the Promised Land, and the translation and ascension of Elijah. We then talked about baptism according to Mark 1, Matthew 3, Luke 3, and 2 Nephi 31 before singing “Baptism” from The Children’s Songbook, after which I offered a prayer.

The Jordan River
The traditional baptismal site on the Jordanian side of the river

The modern facilities on the Israeli side
The Tabernacle Choir contingent at the Jordan River



Floating 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.

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