Dead Sea & Masada

Holy Land Journal: Dead Sea & Masada

Zack Shavin takes us to Masada, Sodom and Gomorrah, Ein Gedi where David hid from King Saul, Ruth the Moabite, Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, Moses on Mount Nebo, & Inn of the Good Samaritan


Dead Sea: Therapeutic waters and mud at the lowest spot on Earth

Dead Sea cure & mud

After Jerusalem, today was totally different: Dead Sea – lowest spot on earth, King Herod’s palace fortress at Masada, Ein Gedi oasis where David hid from Saul, Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered then a quick jaunt to the Elah Valley in the footsteps of David and Goliath as well as Samson and Delilah!


Judean wilderness & Good Samaritan
It was bright and sunny as we boarded the bus – Zack Shavin brought three of his boys to join us for the day: Netanel, Samuel, and David – we had morning prayer on the bus and sang “Jerusalem, My Destiny” as we descended into the Judean Wilderness from Jerusalem to Jericho, passing the Inn of the Good Samaritan and remembered the teaching of Jesus on the commandment “love your neighbor”. Zack explained that the Samaritans were enemies of the Jewish people at the time of Christ and Jesus was teaching that they too were “neighbors” and God’s children. That  it was the greatest of commandments since God created the world and humanity and an act of pure love and we need to do the same as His  children created in His image.  Zack also explained the Bedouin nomads and some of their traditions, reminiscent  of the lives of the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years during the Exodus. We then drove south along the Dead Sea shores – lined with high cliffs all along.

Qumran, Essenes, & Dead Sea Scrolls

Qumran: Caves where Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered

Qumran: Dead Sea Scrolls

We went first to Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered who seemed to be have been influential on John the Baptist – there was no one else there. We toured the Essene community ruins and saw the caves where the original scrolls were found. Zack Shavin explained the significance of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and about the scroll called the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness.

Mass in the Judean wilderness

Judean desert wilderness: Dargot canyon

Judean desert

Then driving up a steep winding road into the mountains into the Judean Wilderness – Zach explained about the meaning of the desert in Hebrew and in biblical revelation. That “to desert” is “to speak” in Hebrew – how the desert is about profound stillness so that we can listen – the desert as the freedom of space – from the straitjacket of Egypt (bondage) – we need stillness and silence to listen – it was quite a journey up to an overview site which was breath-taking and awe inspiring. We celebrated Eucharist on a mountaintop in the desert, amidst this barren grandeur in the Judean wilderness.

Sr. Pat and Sr. Mary proclaimed the scripture stories of Moses and Jesus in the desert – confronting God and themselves – how we need to find sacred desert space in our lives to confront and listen to God and our deepest selves. God calls us to the edge of life sometimes. This Holy Land is the landscape of our soul. We ate Manna in the desert! The overpowering presence of God was tangible as we closed singing “How Great Thou Are!” Some quiet time to listen to the silent starkness and stillness – God calls us to the desert, as the Holy One called our ancestors to be purified, listen and discern.

Ein Gedi: Footsteps of David & King Saul

Ein Gedi oasis: David hid from King Saul

Ein Gedi where David hid from Saul

We had lunch at Ein Gedi oasis. After the David and Goliath story, David fled here to hide from the anger and jealousy of King Saul. Saul pursued David to Ein Gedi and then, while Saul was sleeping, David snuck into the camp and cut off a corner of his royal robe in order to prove his loyalty. The area is a national park and nature reserve for hiking, swimming in natural pools of spring water with herds of wild Ibex and Rock Hyrax

Masada: Herod’s palace fortress

Masada: Palace Fortress built by King Herod

Masada: Palace Fortress built by King Herod

Then on to Massada. We saw a movie of Massada’s history – and then a cable car ride to the top of this Roman fortress built by Herod – a breath-taking view of the Judean wilderness and the evaporating Dead Sea – incredible what was there.  Zack explained it was the place the Zealots and possibly members of the Essene Sect hid and held out against the siege of the Romans (73 A.D.) – and committed suicide rather than surrender to slavery – the ruins of the Roman camps still stand – the siege road up. It was Israel’s last moment of freedom and possession of the promised land until 1948. A powerful symbol to them – in the synagogue there at Massada, they recently found the ruins of their Scripture scrolls, with the story from Ezekiel of God raising up the “Dry Bones”. The cable car ride down was easier – some Ahava shopping at the end.

Sodom and Gomorrah
From the top of Masada Zack pointed out the area of Sodom and Gemorrah. The cities the God destroyed in the days of Abraham were at the southern end of the Dead Sea. Zack mentioned that the area is still an earthquake zone – inside the Syrian African Rift Valley – so God used fire and brimstone to destroy the evil cities. There is still a great Pillar of Salt that looks like Lot’s wife with a long dress and she’s looking back at the destruction.

Ruth the Moabite
Leaving Masada Zack showed us the  ancient natural land bridge across the middle of the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab on the other side (Jordan today). Ruth and her mother in law Naomi would have crossed here when they went to Bethlehem. Ruth then married Boaz from whom both King David and Jesus descended.

Dead Sea float & therapeutic mud treatment

Dead Sea mud treatment

Dead Sea mud treatment

From there went back to the Ein Gedi public beach so that we could swim in the Dead Sea – rather “float” and smear therapeutic mud all over our bodies – it was fun, playful and earthy experience! It is the lowest point on earth! Returning to Jerusalem, Zack talked about Ruth the Moabite as a role-model to the Jewish people of real faith in God, her journey to Bethlehem and becoming the great grandmother of King David.


Fr. Bob Colaresi, O. Carm., Chicago, IL

Fr. Bob Colaresi, O.C., Chicago, IL

The long flights home to the USA seemed endless – goodbyes and hugs at Kennedy airport as we went our separate ways. Memories were beginning to stir: wondering if it was all real. How much would I remember? But it was time to return home to the holy land of our own life experience. We struggled to absorb it all, to embrace each other and the Holy Land, and begin the next steps in the pilgrimage of our life journey.

Good-byes are never easy – especially when we were going to have difficulty explaining to others what we had experienced – these pilgrims knew and we’d never have to explain to them – finally, mercifully, we arrived back home for sleep and beginning to process all that the Lord God had done for us and within us in the Holy Land.  We had experienced the Holy Land, through thousands of years of history, and all the stones, springs and walls began to look alike. We had seen many levels of ruins and civilizations, experienced a modern nation struggling with an ancient dream and promise, in conflict with the historic heritage of other peoples. We walked through the land of Jesus of Nazareth – listened to the Lord in the normative Word of God. Our biblical faith is challenged. – the silent times were wonderful as it was deep and welcoming.

We had had the Holy Land to ourselves – what a gift! We had such an intense, exhausting, peaceful and powerful experience. We gained a new awareness of our roots. New questions arise – deeper presence is experienced! We are children of the covenant – people entrusted with the keys to God’s kingdom – the people of the end of days! People called to listen deeper to the divine voice within us, freeing us in truth. Israel is the first-born son of God in our Scripture tradition. Jewish Jesus is the only Son of God, our brother, one of us. 21 of us, with open minds, different faith experiences and theological views, with faithful hearts, experienced the Holy Land, and Jesus. It is a Great Experience of roots that we might have the wings of the Spirit of Jesus to create God’s Reign.

Zack Shavin our Israel guide & Tour Manager

Zack Shavin our Israel guide & tour manager

We saw the Holy Land through the eyes, heart, heritage and mind of a Jewish man – our guide- named Zach Shavin.  We were aware that Yahweh (“The One Who is”) was with us. Jesus, Emmanuel is “God with us” and was with us. We will never read or listen to Scripture the same again, ever! Words cannot capture the strange but powerful presence. We visited the Holy Land and God visited us. Words and pictures can record what we saw and did, but not what we experienced in our hearts, as the Lord God, Yahweh, Abba, the Father of Jesus, walked with us through his promised land, and speaks to us to be the new Israel, the living stones of the new Temple. Jesus as Messiah had announced the End of Days – we are now to create it, as we listen, deep within…


Fr. Bob Colaresi, O.C. Chicago, IL
Zack Shavin Jerusalem, Israel

Contact Zack Shavin
Have you enjoyed reading this Holy Land Pilgrimage Journal Day 10 about our visit to the Dead Sea, Masada, Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls? Would you like to personally experience Israel and the Holy Land? Contact Zack Shavin, veteran guide & biblical archaeologist at Land of Israel Tours and get started planning today!