Mamshit, Arad and Masada

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!

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 11 – Mamshit, Arad and Masada

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.

IMG_0604The 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.


Israel 2012, Day 6 – Everything Floats in the Dead Sea

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.

Rick in the Dead Sea