April 23 – Jerusalem

Our second full day of touring! We walked the Wadi Kelt, visited an Ahava Factory, swam in the Dead Sea, listened to the ‘Mount of Temptation’ talk on the bus, stopped for a great lunch, saw Jacob’s Well, toured Shiloh, and then returned to hotel for dinner.

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Wadi is Arabic for “valley.”  The Wadi Kelt is a beautiful gorge in the desert where the Greek Monastery of Saint George was built in the late 5th century C.E. by John of Thebes. It was destroyed in 614 by the Persians, but rebuilt in the Crusader Period.  In 1878 a Greek monk, Kalinikos, settled here and restored the monastery around 1901.

The gorge is very deep and runs west to east across the Judean Desert.  It begins in Jerusalem and ends near Jericho, near the Dead Sea.  The valley parallels the old Roman road to Jericho. One of the oldest synagogues in the world is believed to have been built in the area as part of a Hasmonean royal winter palace, dated to the 2nd century B.C.E.

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Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is a salt-water lake located in the southern end of Palestine, in what was biblically called Judea. In Bible times, to the north of the Dead Sea was Jericho, to the west was Qumran and the Masada Fortress, and to the east was Mount Nebo, where Moses was thought to have looked over into the Promised Land.

The “Salt Sea” is the name used for this body of water in the Pentateuch. The New Testament makes no reference to the Dead or Salt Sea.

In the northern Dead Sea area, rain falls at only four inches a year. The southern region gets merely two inches a year. The Dead Sea is 47-53 miles long and 10 miles wide. It is the saltiest body of water in the world, having perhaps five to ten times the salinity of any other ocean on the planet. Approximately 1,350 feet below sea level and 1,278 feet deep, it is the lowest point on the earth’s surface. It is fed from the Jordan River and also from dry stream beds, called wadis in Arabic, that fill up with water during rainstorms and come rushing down the hillsides. Seven million tons of water evaporate each day from the Dead Sea. Bitter and distasteful to the mouth, painful to the eyes, and oily to the touch, the Dead Sea has absolutely no marine life existing in its depths, although there are some forms of life on its edges.

Archaeologists think they have found the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah on the southern edge of the Dead Sea.

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Mount Gerizim / Nablus

Mount Gerizim is one of the two mountains in the immediate vicinity of the West Bank city of Nablus (biblical Shechem), and forms the southern side of the valley in which Nablus is situated, the northern side being formed by Mount Ebal. The mountain is one of the highest peaks in the West Bank and rises to 2,849 feet above sea level, 228 feet shorter than Mount Ebal. The mountain is particularly steep on the northern side, is sparsely covered at the top with shrubbery, and lower down there is a spring with a high yield of fresh water. A Samaritan village (Kiryat Luza) and an Israeli settlement (Har Bracha) are situated on the mountain ridge.


Shechem

Shechem first appears in the Bible in Genesis 12:6-8 [Sichem], which records how Abraham reached the “great tree of Moreh” at Shechem and offered sacrifice nearby. At Shechem, Abram “built an altar to the Lord who had appeared to him . . . and had given that land to his descendants” (Gen 12:6-7). This Biblical account, considered by some to be the first place Abraham, Sarah, Lot and their party stopped upon their entry to Canaan. The Bible states that on this occasion, God confirmed the covenant he had first made with Abraham in Harran, regarding the possession of the land of Canaan. On a later sojourn, the sons of Jacob avenged their sister’s rape (or by another interpretation, seduction) by “Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land” of Shechem — by massacring the city’s inhabitants. Later, following the Exodus, Joshua assembled the Israelites in Shechem and encouraged them to reaffirm their adherence to the Torah.

Owing to its central position, no less than to the presence in the neighborhood of places hallowed by the memory of Abraham (Genesis 12:6, 7; 34:5), Jacob’s Well (Genesis 33:18-19), and the tomb of Joseph (Joshua 24:32), the city was destined to play an important part in the history of Israel.

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Shiloh

The site of ancient Shiloh, a city in the Ephraim hill-country, was the religious capital of Israel for 300 years before Jerusalem. Shiloh is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as an assembly place for the people of Israel. The “whole congregation of Israel assembled . . . and set up the tabernacle of the congregation . . .” (Joshua 18:1), built under Moses’ direction from God (Exodus 26) to house the Ark of the Covenant, also built under Moses’ direction from God (Exodus 25).

Shiloh was the center of Israelite worship. The people assembled here for the mandatory feasts and sacrifices, and here lots were cast for the various tribal areas and for the Levitical cities. Generations later, Samuel was raised at the shrine in Shiloh by the high priest, Eli. Shiloh assumed messianic attachment amongst Christians due to the verse – “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Genesis 49:10). Shiloh is believed to refer to Jesus.

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