This was our last day in Israel, and we made it count. Staring at Tamar at 9AM, we drover north to En-Gedi. This is the canyon where David hid from King Saul in 1 Sam 24. While there are plenty of caves, I doubt any of the current caves are the place where David was hiding when Saul came to “cover his feet.” With a supply of water, shade, animals and defensive lookouts, it is little wonder that David would have used this canyon as a base of operations in the Negev. The Israeli Parks service has made this an easy hike, although there are a few scrambles up rocks. We started about 9AM, so the park was not really crowed, only a few small groups. We had a few photo ops with rock badgers, but the wild goats were all in hiding from the heat. We did see an unusually large fresh water crab.
After drinking water (and eating ice-cream, just like David did I am sure), we continued north to Qumran. The site is little changed from previous visits, but this time there were almost no other visitors. It was about noon by this time and quite hot. Most groups do not even go out to the site, they stop for the buffet and shopping area. This is sad, because Qumran is one of the most significant sites for the study fo the New Testament. Since the Dead Sea Scrolls were found near the site, I usually take the time to talk a bit about the Essenes and the problems with the relationship between the villa at Qumran and the presence of the scrolls. I tend to accept the “standard” view that the villa was used by some Essenes and that they collected the scrolls and stored them away in the caves prior to A.D. 70. Because of the heat, we walked the site quickly and spent some time in the shaded area near the cave view talking about the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls and why they are important to the study of the New Testament.
After some lunch and shopping, we drive to the Inn of the Good Samaritan, a relatively new site on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. This was a new site to me since it was only recently added to the National Parks pass. The main attraction is a nice museum of mosaics from various synagogues and churches. There is a room dedicated to the Samaritans as well. The museum is built on the site of a crusader era church dedicated to the Good Samaritan. If you have an hour or so, and do not have a group of tired college kids with you, it is worth a stop.
After the Inn of the Good Samaritan, we drove to the Jaffa Gate for a final few hours of shopping in the Old City. Since it was a Friday afternoon, the crowds were a bit lighter than our previous visit. While most of the students had shopping lists of souvenirs they wanted to buy for people back home, I really just wandered around watching people. I listened to a Guide give an explanation of the Holy Sepulchre which was sad indeed. He gave far more time to the story of the Keeper of the Key than to Jesus. His talk was devoid of real history (mostly legends about the building) and he had no real idea who Jesus was. I guess it did not matter, most of his group were playing on their cell phones and not really paying attention.
After we re-gathered we headed to the airport. As I said, this is Friday evening. Ben Gurion Airport was in Shabbat mode. Only a single coffee stand was open and the place was as silent as a grave. This was a pleasant change from the usually midnight flight crowds. Since our fight did not leave until 12:40 AM, we had to hunker down for a few hours. Passing through security was a big part of that time, since several of our people had to open bags and explain their 30 tiny jars of honey (or other odd images). Our return flights were smooth and on time. In fact, we got to Chicago before our drivers arrived to pick us up!
This was a great trip overall. The students were excellent, attentive, and well behaved (at least in front of me). I thoroughly enjoyed the trip despite being sick for most of the time. Thanks to all of you who have been reading along. I obviously finished this last installment after I caught up on some sleep over the weekend!