Today was an all-Negev day, beginning with a drive to Mamshit (or the Greek Mampsis for those who are sensitive). Mamshit is a Nabatean trading post built in the first century AD as a caravansary. There are two old churches at the top of the hill; the Nilus church has several interesting mosaics (including the dedication by Nilus) and the western church has a small baptismal font that is worth seeing. It is very small indeed, but is not for infant baptisms nor is it a font for holy water since there as steps down into the cross shaped pool.
The second highlight of Mamshit is the large Nabatean merchant home. We entered through the upper door to a large courtyard and explored the “stables.” The gate to the frescos were open, so we snuck a few photographs of Eros and Psyche (no flash, of course). One of the largest coin hordes was found inside this home, and I had trouble restraining the students from digging for next year’s tuition.
From Mamshit we drove about an hour to Arad, one of the highlights of the tour for me. One reason is that it is so very well preserved and presented, a visitor can see the layout of the Canaanite city as well as a citadel dating to the Israelite period. A second reason is that few people visit Arad so we almost always have the entire archaeological park to ourselves.
We walked up the hill in the Canaanite city, examining the walls and sitting for a few minutes in the restored Canaanite home. I compared this style house to the four-room house at Tamar, pointing out the differences between Canaanite and Israelite designs. We walked through the west gate to the “palace” (a bit of an ambitious name for the administrative center) and the sacred district.
Up the hill is the highlight of Arad, the walled citadel. The massive Solomonic gates are nicely restored, but the parks department has done a wonderful job restoring the Israelite temple. I have visited this small temple on six other occasions, and finally all the restorations are complete. The temple has a main altar, holy place, and holy of Holies. This holy of Holies is reproduced in the Israel museum to display the original standing stone and incense altars. What is new in this restoration is an staircase leading to a chamber down below the temple. I know this has been an ongoing project for many years, but it looks to be complete now, with the exception of explanatory signs. If any readers have information on the chamber, please leave a comment. Is this a Canaanite high place? Was anything of significance found?
After a lunch break (Aroma coffee is excellent), we drove to Masada. This is one of the most impressive sites we visit, Herod’s fortress by the Dead Sea. Like most visitors we worked our way up to the northern buildings including the bathhouse and the palace on the north end of the mountain. The students thoroughly enjoyed the two+ hours we spent on the top of the mountain (more than half went down he Snake Trail while the less intrepid (like me) took the tram.
I will update this post with a few pictures later, the Internet is free but slow here.
Tomorrow we visit En-Gedi, Qumran and the Dead Sea.