Our second-to-the-last day in Israel began at En-Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in a cave (1 Samuel 24). This is one of the more beautiful hikes on the trip since the Israeli Parks service has developed Wadi David as a nature preserve. The mile and a half walk is relatively easy since there are cut stairs and handrails, but there are a few steep flights and one passage through dark tunnel made of river reed. The walk also has several waterfalls and pools, the highlight being the final one at the end of the canyon. We saw a few rock badgers on the hike and a group of ibex on the way out of the park. An ibex is a wild goat common in the Negev.
For the first time that I have been coming to En-Gedi there was a security guard at the final waterfall to make sure hikers do not try to go under the waterfall. One of my students said he warned one person, “rocks fall with the water-do you want to die?” Perhaps there was an incident which forced the park to post the guard. (Not that any of my students ever went into that waterfall…)
From En-Gedi we drove north to Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The archaeology of the site is relatively simple, although the water system collects far more water that the site might need to survive. The reason for this is large number of ritual baths used by the community for purification. Almost everything at Qumran is controversial and the Dead Sea Scrolls have encouraged a wide variety of fringe ideas about the nature of both early Judaism and Christianity. Even the video at the beginning of the tour tacitly suggests a relationship between John the Baptist and the Qumran community. This provided an opportunity to talk about these theories with the students. At the viewpoint overlooking Cave 4 we had a good discussion about the contents of the Scrolls and their value for Biblical studies.
Since this was our last day in the desert, we ended with a Dead Sea float. The place I have taken groups in the past is a spa with a small restaurant which allows free swimming. We usually order some pizzas when we arrive and they are ready by the time we are finished in the Dead Sea. The spa has either changed owners or the owner has shifted his business model, because we paid a higher fee for the beach and a buffet. Although the food was good, they played glaringly loud techno music (which I approached less than some of the students) and we amused ourselves at dinner watching several drunken America servicemen drink on the patio. This was disappointing, and I am not sure I will return to this spa in the future.
We have two people who are sick, and all are tired. Tomorrow we return to the Old City for final shopping and our last night in Tel Aviv. We fly home Sunday morning and return to Grand Rapids later Sunday night. I hope to get a final post finished before we leave and add a few pictures to the previous posts.