First stop: Beit Shean. The ancient city is the place where the Philistines hung the bodies of King Saul and his sons after defeating them in battle on nearby Mount Gilboa. Righteous men from Jabesh Gilead, across the Jordan River, came at night and took the bodies, burned them, and gave them a proper burial. Below the ancient city lies the largest city of the Decapolis known as Scythopolis. This impressive city included a country club style bath house; a large temple for worship; a public bathroom with running water; an amphitheater, theater and hippodrome. Sidewalks of mosaic tile and streets of marble demonstrate the wealth and importance of the city. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 A.D.
We then climbed Mount Gilboa where the battle took place. This gave us an amazing view of the Jordan Valley. We could see where the Jezreel Valley connected. We saw the other end when we were up at Mt. Carmel and Nazareth. Karen read the story of the battle, followed by Nir reciting in Hebrew the lament David wrote in honor of Saul and Jonathan. You can read it in 2 Samuel 1. We also saw evidence of the prophecy that says there will be blooms in the desert!
Lunch came next at Cafe Cafe near Kibbutz Almog. While waiting for our food, several brave souls took camel rides. It was an entertaining experience. You can share the experience here: https://youtu.be/HoztXqTp6uc
Next came a very short visit to the site across from Jericho where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. The Jordan is very muddy here, and very narrow. It is the border between Jordan and Israel. The emphasis was made that the Holy Spirit drove Him into the wilderness to be tempted after His baptism. This region called the Mount of Temptation lies above Jericho to the west.
We ended our day at Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found in 1947. How extraordinarily simple, yet very profound. Water was very important for ritual washings here and we saw how they went to great lengths to collect it and store it. The records of the community give us a tie to John the Baptist and contain pieces of every Old Testament book except for two. The community was destroyed by the Romans in 73 A.D. on their way to Masada.
Because of the use of water from the Jordan River by Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea is dropping by 2-3 feet per year. One sign along the road shows the water level 100 years ago. It was to the right of the road and the shoreline is now a half mile or so to our left.
Tomorrow, En Gedi and Masada!