We started our day with a drive to Mamshit, a Nabatean caravan city near Arad. I had never been there before today, although I did visit Avdat in 2005. Both cities (along with Petra) are along Spice Route and were built by the Nabateans to service caravans traveling from Yemen through Petra and on to Gaza. When we arrived some bedouin boys were herding sheep on the opposite hill, so our young ladies made friends and tried out their basic Hebrew phrases. I expect they are now Facebook friends now.
There are two churches at the site, both with nice mosaics. These are among the oldest in Israel since both date to the early 400’s. The western church has a deep cistern excavated in the atrium, the east has a cover of the cistern so you can see more how the room might have looked. The western church has a cross-shaped baptismal wth very narrow steps. There were two dedications in the eastern church, but the floor was fenced off so it was hard to get a good photograph.
A large Nabatean home has been restored, including stables and a number of other rooms. There are some frescos which are partially preserved whch are worth seeing. A coupe of rooms were filed with unused stones, many of which had interesting carvings or other decorations. One was a square with four round holes, although we could not really tell what it was used for (I suggested “cup-holder” but no one was buying it).
From Mamshit we drove forty minutes to tel Arad. Usually this is one of my favorite sites since it is so well-excavated for both Canaanite and Israelite levels. The contrast between the Canaanite Sacred section and the Israelite temple in the fortress is quite amazing. The site gives me a chance to talk a bit about Canaanite religion which appeases the gods and attempts to cajole them into sending the rains and the worship of the Lord. The God of the Bible will bless his people, but only when they are obedient to the covenant. There is no appeasement or manipulation as with the worship of Baal.
One problem with Arad was that it was extremely windy and cold. Around the Dead Sea the temperatures were in the 70’s and less breezy, so fool that I am I left my coat behind.
We drove back to the Dead Sea for lunch and a swim, or at least a float. Most of our group dared enter the waters, although it was quite cold and breezy. I think that the Dead Sea is a great expereince, but it is better in the spring and summer! (In the interest of full disclosure, I sat on the shore and drank a coffee while everyone else froze in the salt water.)
Tomorrow we travel to Caesarea and then on to Galilee. I will be at a hotel in Tiberias, near the Sea of Galilee. Hopefully I can get to the internet for a few blog entries before we cross over to Jordan and visit Petra. I enjoyed the stay at Tamar, Derrick and Kate are excellent hosts. The food was great and the group seems to have liked “sukkah life” after dinner.