Adventist Review news editor Mark A. Kellner is part of a select group of Christian reporters, editors and broadcasters invited to visit Israel as guests of that nation's Ministry of Tourism and El Al Airlines. During the course of the visit, the group will see many of the major historical sites related to Christian and Jewish history in the land. In this blog, Mark shares his impressions of an ancient land and its ultramodern environment of today.

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JERUSALEM, Israel – Two days after arriving in Jerusalem, we climbed on to the mini-bus and set off out of town! No, the trip wasn’t over, but Jerusalem is very centrally located and so going around isn’t a problem.

Where did we start? At the top! Masada isn’t the highest point in Israel, but it’s high enough to require us to ride a cable car to reach the summit, where a group of ancient Jews known as the “Zealots” withstood a Roman assault for many months. When the Romans finally were able to breach their defenses, a mass murder/suicide followed among the resistance, preferring to die as free people rather than be killed by the Romans or suffer as their slaves.

Masada and its story is not found in the Bible, but its example has resonated throughout Jewish history. Today, Israelis look at Masada as both an archaeological site and an inspiration.

Many things can be said about Masada – the remains of the fortress and earlier palaces built by Herod the Great are there – but I’ll confess two things: One, it’s very, very hot up there! Water is a precious commodity, and a necessary one!

Second, Masada is the only place in Israel where I saw a rat. Why? Back down on usual ground, cats rule! There are many wild cats in cities such as Joppa, Nazareth, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. But these felines aren’t hostile; they’re been “domesticated” enough, through the kindness of others, to come up to you and purr, and often let you stroke them. I’m guessing, at the same time, that all those cats keep mice and such at bay!

After Masada we made a brief stop at Kibbutz EinGedi, a blooming spot of the desert where about 400 people live communally. Originally, the kibbutzim were very democratic, with a small “d”: everyone shared all their earnings, very much like what we read in the book of Acts. But in recent years, different attitudes emerged and Zabu, our 71-year-old guide who’s lived there 50 years, isn’t all that happy with the developments. He prefers the old system.

Walking around on top of Masada, one can lose a fair amount of salt. The solution? A dip in the “Dead Sea,” which Israelis call the “Salt Sea,” because things do live in that highly salinized body of water – 32-percent salt content – although I’d rather not contemplate what those things may be.

One doesn’t spend a day at the beach here. One goes in the water for as long as possible, tries not to swallow any (impossible) and tries to keep it out of your eyes (also impossible). The Dead Sea’s mud has properties to help your skin, I’m told, but it’s quite hard to move around in or on. While it’s true that all the salt keeps people from sinking, it’s also true that it’s not enough to let you “walk” on the water.

After this human “pickling” process, the best choice is to shower and head over to the snack bar for a cold soft drink before leaving.

Next, we visited Qumran, the ancient Essene desert village where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The Essenes were another “zealous” Jewish sect, but they were very good in copying the ancient texts, which we had seen the day before at the “Shrine of the Book” in Jerusalem.

It was a full and busy day. And while most of what we saw didn’t have a direct biblical connection – apart from the Dead Sea where, I seem to recall, Mrs. Lot became a “pillar” of the community – it was a worthwhile reminder that there’s more to Israel than only the historic sites. Those who cherish the outdoors will find plenty to do!

Tomorrow, our final day in Jerusalem, including the “Old City” and its many, many Bible-themed sites.

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