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Journey through the Holy Land

Masada and the Dead Sea

sunny 90 °F

We left Jerusalem this morning for our sojourn to the Masada and the Dead Sea. The on the way to Masada we passed the cliffs where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. There were many caves - are there more?

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We then arrived at Masada where we took a tram from well below sea level to 33 meters above sea level. Herod the Great built two palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. According to Josephus, the siege of Masada by Roman troops from 73 to 74 CE, at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War, ended in the mass suicide of the 960 Sicarii rebels who were hiding there. However, the archaeological evidence relevant to a mass suicide event is ambiguous at best and rejected entirely by some scholars. In 73 CE, the Roman governor of Iudaea, Lucius Flavius Silva, headed the Roman legion X Fretensis and laid siege to Masada. Another source gives the year of the siege of Masada as 73 or 74 CE. The Roman legion surrounded Masada, building a circumvallation wall and then a siege ramp against the western face of the plateau. The ramp was complete in the spring of 73, after probably two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April 16. The Romans employed the X Legion and a number of auxiliary units and Jewish prisoners of war, totaling some 15,000 (of whom an estimated 8,000 to 9,000 were fighting men), in crushing Jewish resistance at Masada. A giant siege tower with a battering ram was constructed and moved laboriously up the completed ramp. According to Josephus, when Roman troops entered the fortress, they discovered that its defenders had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide or killed each other, 960 men, women, and children in total. Josephus wrote of two stirring speeches that the Sicari leader had made to convince his men to kill themselves. Only two women and five children were found alive. Masada was last occupied during the Byzantine period, when a small church was established at the site. The church was part of a monastic settlement identified with the monastery of Marda known from hagiographical literature.

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After lunch, we headed to an abandoned military base for a swim in the Dead Sea - a most remarkable experience. The lake's surface is 430.5 metres (1,412 ft) below sea level, making its shores the lowest land-based elevation on Earth. It is 304 m (997 ft) deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. With a salinity of 342 g/kg, or 34.2% (in 2011), it is one of the world's saltiest bodies of water – 9.6 times as salty as the ocean – and has a density of 1.24 kg/litre, which makes swimming similar to floating. This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which plants and animals cannot flourish, hence its name. The Dead Sea has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean Basin for thousands of years. It was one of the world's first health resorts (for Herod the Great), and it has been the supplier of a wide variety of products, from asphalt for Egyptian mummification to potash for fertilisers. Today, tourists visit the sea on its Israeli, Jordanian and West Bank coastlines. The Palestinian tourism industry has been met with setbacks in developing along the West Bank coast. The Dead Sea is receding at a swift rate; its surface area today is 605 km2 (234 sq mi), having been 1,050 km2 (410 sq mi) in 1930.

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Posted by rpickett 15:45 Archived in Israel Tagged sea and the dead masada

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