Since we are staying at Tamar we needed to leave at 8 AM to travel north to our three sites for the day. The first, Mamshit, was a Nabatean trading town developed in the first century. Walking up the hill from the park entrance we entered the reconstructed marketplace. It is remarkable how the style of close shops is similar to the Old City in Jerusalem. At one time (and in cooler months) people would come into the park and recreate the experience, but nothing like that was going on today. There are two wealthy Nabatean homes which have been partially reconstructed, but the highlight of the visit are two churches at the top of the hill. The eastern church is perhaps the oldest Israel.
From Mamshit we took a long drive (longer than it should have been, a wrong turn made for a long detour through modern Arad. There are two parts to this hike, a lower city excavated to the Canaanite period and an Israelite upper citadel excavated and restored to the eighth or ninth century. I take my group through the Canaanite section first, but many groups skip it entirely in order to get to the “good stuff” more quickly. I want my group to see the differences and similarities between Canaanite culture and Israelite. One example is the Arad House, a reconstructed Canaanite house. At Tamar there is a partially reconstructed Israelite four-room house. The contrast between the two is one of the indicators of when Israelite culture enters The Negev.
But the real highlight of Arad is the Citidel. There is a massive Solomonic gate and a number of smaller rooms, but the main thing to see here is a Israelite high place. It is similar to the Solomon’s temple, but much smaller. There is an altar for sacrifice, a holy place and a Holy of Holies. Inside the Holy of Holies is a Canaanite standing stone, which may indicate the site allowed for both the worship of the Lord and the local Baal. In 2 Kings 18:4 Hezekiah removed all the high places, perhaps shutting down this particular Temple. Josiah will do the same thing in 2 Kings 23.
From Arad we drove to Masada, a highlight of any Israel trip. Masada was king Herod’s monumental fortress on the top of a flat mountain some 1500 feet above the Dead Sea. To get to the top we ride a cable car (which claims to hold 80 people, but that cannot refer to 80 Americans!) We spent most of our time on the north end of the mountain, where we had several really good conversations about what “really happened” here and how Josephus knew (or did not know) the speech of Eliazer. Several students walked down the 180 steps to the rooms on the front of the mountain and others walked down the Snake Trail in nearly 100 degree heat. (Snake refers to the shape of the trail not the presence of snakes.)
I took a group of less adventurous (sane) people over to the synagogue where a rabbi was working on scrolls. Several people talked with him and he wrote Thier names in Hebrew on a little business card (for a small tip, no pressure). This was a very fun encounter and the people who did not come with me missed out. Most people were already gathered at the bottom of the mountain when I took the cable car down (eating most of the ice cream the shop had to offer). We drove to a restaurant and had an early, overpriced dinner near the Dead Sea, the drove back to Tamar.
One of the advantages of staying here is there is very little to do. In addition, the group blew through all of the data the park has for the internet (so I will have to upload pictures later). So we end up sitting around and talk about what we have seen and done on this trip. Alan the caretaker of Tamar remembered I love Bedouin Chai and bought a box for me, so I brewed a cup and sat around with a few people in the Souk talking about almost everything (seriously, the location of Sodom, what happened at En-Gedi, Bedouin life, and quite a bit of conspiracy theories, oddly enough).
Tomorrow is En-Gedi, Qumran and a swim in the Dead Sea. Only two more sleeps in the trip!