We traveled south through the Jordan River Valley along the border with Jordan. That border was within a mile or so of us at the closest point. We visited the city of Beth She'an. The ancient city was where the bodies of King Saul and his sons were hung on the wall after their defeat on Mt. Gilboa. Beth She'an sits on top of the tel or hill. The later Roman city of Scytopolis, built below the tel, was a magnificent city, complete with a theater, amphitheater, public bath house and toilets. It was totally destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD. We left Beth She'an and drove to the top of Mt. Gilboa. We read the account from 1 Samuel 31 about the death of Saul and his sons. Reuben then recited for us the lament of David as found in 2 Samuel 1. We were sitting on a cursed battlefield where "the mighty have fallen."
Continuing south we passed by the city of Jericho, the oldest continually inhabited city on earth. We were reminded of it being conquered by Joshua; its waters being healed by Elisha; the cries of Blind Bartimaeus; and Zacchaeus climbing the sycamore fig tree to see Jesus. We caught our first glimpse of the Dead Sea or Salt Sea as the Jews call it so as not to call anything dead in nature. And we stopped at Qumran.
Qumran is the area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found by bedouin shepherds in the 1940's. It was inhabited by a community of Essenes, a separatist sect that saw the society or culture as evil and they alone children of the light. They lived simply and spent much time copying the Scriptures. We will see a complete scroll of Isaiah that they copied when we reach the museum in Jerusalem. Many believe that John the Baptist spent time among the Essenes before his public ministry of baptizing people and calling them to repentance.
We arrived at our hotel and most of the group took a dip in the unique waters of the Dead Sea. While normal ocean water is 3-5% salt, this water is 33% salt. The minerals leave your skin oily but gives it a spa-like treatment. We all felt younger. You don't really swim in the sea, you simply sit and float. No life guard is needed. EVERYONE floats!
Tomorrow, we head UP TO JERUSALEM!