The last day of the 2022 Israel tour 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 hyrax and a few ibex on the way into of the park, but it seemed to me that there was less wildlife than previous visited. The water lever at the King David Waterfall seemed lower as well.
From En-Gedi we drove north to Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The last time I was at Qumran, the new visitor’s center was under construction. It is now complete and has a very nice reception area, but the vido and small museum is the same. The film was not working, which is good (in my opinion) because it is a bit strange.
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. The video at the beginning of the tour 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 we have a long drive to Tel Aviv, we stopped only briefly at Qasr al Yahud, the more likely of the traditional sites for Jesus’s baptism. This site has been open since 2011 and is now on the Israel National Parks card, so it is an easy add-on for for groups using the park pass (see this Times of Israel story on the re-opeing of the site for tourist groups). Qasr means castle, and Greek Orthodox Monastery of St John the Baptist does indeed look at bit like a castle. Unlike the site at Yardenit in Galilee, this is a far more authentic location since it is in the general area John the Baptist was active (although it is still not certain this is the place). Another clear difference is the lack of commercialism compared to Yardenit. The majority of the crowds queuing to be baptized in the muddy stream of the Jordan were Orthodox, although there appeared to be a handful of protestants and Pentacostals. The site on the other side of the Jordan is only a matter of feet from this location in Israel. The Jordanian site is called Al-Maghtas, “immersion” in Arabic. UNESCO listed the Jordanian side as a world heritage site, but not the western side (likely due to the political situation in West Bank).
For our last few hours we drove through Jerusalem, stopping for lunch at Elvis American Diner in Neve Ilan. (Here is the Atlas Obscura article on the diner, a Times of Israel article, and a YouTube video). This was one of the best hamburgers I have ever had. I highly recommend the Elvis Diner if you are in the area (and tired of falafel, which I was not, but this American group seemed to appreciate meat, fries and ketchup!
When we arrived at Jaffa, the traffic was even crazier than expected for a Friday afternoon. Our guide walked us through several points of interest in Jaffa, although there is little that is authentic. There is a traditional site for the home of Cornelius and a Franciscan church commemorating Peter’s departure from Jaffa to Rome (although that is not in the Bible, if he left for Rome by ship Jaffa is the likely port). There are several spectacular views if the Mediterranean Sea and Tel Aviv.
We stayed at the Metropolitan Hotel in Tel Aviv, just a block from the Mediterranean. This was a very nice stay in a great hotel. But it was far too short: our wake up call was for 5:30 AM to get to the airport for our 10:30AM flight back to Chicago. Since I am now back in Michigan, I can tell you the flight was delayed in Istanbul, and we had a lost bag in Chicago. That made us an hour and a half late for your ride back to Michigan. I got home about 1:30 AM Sunday, and some of the group had much longer dives home that me.