The Seventh Day – Qumeran (Dead Sea)

Israel is such a tiny country that you can drive along and see the landscape change from one hill to the next. In no time at all (not more than half an hour), we were driving along the shore of the Dead Sea towards Qumeran.

Map - Qumeran

There was a short movie which I quite enjoyed about live at the Qumran community (called “Yachad” which just means “Community”). But the museum bit was a little bit of a let-down. I think if you’re going to visit Qumeran, you should go to Qumeran first and then the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum after that. There were facsimiles of the jars and pots and some of the scrolls in the museum at Qumeran, made to look new [except for the scroll], but… you know, I’ve already seen the real thing.

What I much enjoyed more, however, was looking around the ruins. The Shrine of the Book sort of implied that the Qumeran community lived in caves, which isn’t true.

04 - Panorama Ruins

03 - Ruins

01 - Aquaduct



05 - Cistern

water cistern


02 - Mikveh

mikveh. There were about four of these

I can’t describe the landscape in this area. I haven’t seen anything like it. The hills are sort of pale reddish-brown, with great chasms and cliffs.

09 - Panorama

06 - Crevice


We saw the cave the scrolls were found in.

07 - Cave

08 - Me

Just as the place was getting busy outside, we went inside to eat lunch in a massive cafeteria.

It cost me 57 shekels for lunch, which was schnitzel pita, soup, and a drink. Oddly, the chips were put inside the pita, along with cucumber, tomato, and lettuce.

10 - Lunch

The cafeteria was quiet when we ate, but quickly got busy – as did the shop.

11 - Akubra Tree

More Australian things.

12 - Made in Australia

The Seventh Day – Good Samaritan Museum (Samaria)

Our first stop of the day was just a little bit along Route 1 towards Jericho.

Map - Samaritan

It’s the site of a church the Crusaders built, on what may or may not have been a guesthouse some centuries prior. Now, the Good Samaritan is a parable, so it’s up to you to decide whether you think it really happened or not (probably not, or at least not exactly). But the Crusaders were zealous but a little bit ignorant. That’s why “David’s Tower” in Jerusalem is nowhere near where David’s palace was, because the Crusaders arrived, saw the biggest tower by the wall, and decided that must be David’s palace. It’s actually a minaret.

Anyway, we went into a cave to watch a silent movie of the parable made about a century ago.

01 - Cave Movie

The museum is primarily of artefacts (mostly mosaics) from synagogues and churches in hard-to-protect places, such as Jericho or the Gaza strip.

[insert mosaics here]

07 - Rollers

rollers for pressing the mosaics flat


There was also a baptismal font from Gerazim.

03 - Baptismal Font from Gerizim

And a display about modern Samaritans.

04 - Modern Samaritans

There are a couple of villages of them, mostly in the hills of Samaria, but less than a thousand all up. They speak Aramaic and either Hebrew or Arabic (depending on where they live), but usually both, and they use their own writing system, the Samaritan alphabet, which is derived from an older form of the Hebrew alphabet. They have only the Pentateuch as scripture, and they consider Mount Gerazim, not Mount Moriah, the mountain that God chose.

Inside the building, I could hear the Pathetique Sonata. I finally worked out where it was coming from – a television showing how mosaics are preserved. They roll some sort of sticky backing out on top so they can transport them like carpets, and then mount them at the final destination.

05 - Television

Outside were the remains of the Crusader church, rebuilt slightly and used sometimes for services.

06 - Church Remains

The internet here is not the greatest, so anything further might have to wait until I get to the airport or even home, since I do need time to eat and pack.

The Seventh Day – Shabbat Morning (Jerusalem)

I am at the lowest place on earth and it is so cool.

But more on that later. I started off today in Jerusalem.

01 - Sunrise

The streets were practically deserted, but there were a lot of men in prayer shawls, and other people out and about walking – many presumably to a synagogue.

02 - Man 1

02 - Man 2

We quickly heading out of Jerusalem, through the checkpoint, and into Bedouin-by-the-road country.

03 - Bedouin Settlement

… including a stretch of road which seems to double as a market.

04 - Bedouin Market

04 - Pots for Sale

Once again, lots of building work in Israel.

03 - Development Coming

I’m going to stop here for now, before we get to the first site of the day. But rest assured, I did more today. But it’s late and I’m tired, and since we’re not leaving until 10:30 tomorrow, I’ll post the rest in the morning – so you’ll find out why I started posting later in the evening… tomorrow.

The Sixth Day – Shabbat (Jerusalem)

Dinner was packed. There’s one main dining room, a secondary one and an overflow. All three were full. Because this hotel is about 500 metres from the Great Synagogue, a lot of people stay here over the weekend if they’ve been invited to a wedding or a bar mitzvah or something there. So I was hearing more Hebrew tonight than other nights; we’re still the only Gentiles here, as far as I can see, but the Jews aren’t all American Jews anymore.

Yuval’s wife had organised something, so he had to go home. I was keen on doing kiddush, because I so enjoyed it last week, but no-one else seemed to be. There was challah and sweet grape juice on each table, so a few of us tried to remember how to do it, partially by watching the other tables. We think we got all the actions (pouring “wine”, sprinkling bread with salt, eating it), but we didn’t recite anything other than the bit I remembered, “Barukh attah Adonai, eloheinu, melekh ha-olam” (blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe).

Because of seeing all the religious Jews around us – of all different types, from “probably is only wearing a kippah because it’s Sabbath and he’s in Jerusalem” to “all black, long black coat, big fluffy black thing on his hat, curled sidelocks and tzitzit hanging from his shirt” – conversation naturally turned to Talmud, Pharisees, the Law, Jesus, and just how Jewish were the disciples after Jesus’ death anyway?

(My answer – they never stopped being Jews and probably kept up most of the observance of the Law after his death, although I wouldn’t think they’d have still made sacrifices – historically, Christianity was seen as a sect of Judaism for quite a while in the early days, and certainly they’d have eaten kosher, because remember how appalled Peter was at the idea of eating non-kosher animals? Yes, I know the New Testament addresses eating whatever you will, but that was addressed to Gentiles and I see no reason to think that the Disciples, being Jews, wouldn’t have still been religious Jews).

But my views on a lot of these topics are, as I’ve mentioned, a little different to what some of the others here might think. The lady sitting opposite me got stuck into me about “putting myself under the law when I don’t have to”. Actually, I don’t think she realised when she started talking smack about that sort of thing that I don’t eat pork and that I view Saturday as the Sabbath / Holy Day.

We were talking a bit about the difference between what Jews today practice and what’s actually in the Torah – because the Torah and the Talmud are pretty different, after all. And I said that a friend of mine doesn’t eat pork or shellfish, but has no problem with eating milk and meat together because the practice of having them separate was developed in the Talmud from a short line in the Torah about boiling kids in their mothers’ milk.

And she said, “You know, I’ve never understood people who put themselves under Law when they don’t have to. Jesus freed us from the Law.”

“I don’t see that He did. After all, we’re Gentiles; we were never under the Law in the first place. Messianic Jews, on the other hand, that’s a whole different kettle of fish for them and they’ve got to work that out themselves; but for me, Jesus never freed me from the Law because I was never under it in the first place.”

“Well, I don’t want to get into that. Jesus did away with the law; Peter was told that he could eat anything he wanted. We don’t have to be under it any more.”

“Jesus came to fulfil the law, not to abolish it.” I’m not even going to mention that the dream was sort of more about allowing Gentiles into the fold of Christianity than it was ever about what people were allowed to eat.

“I just don’t understand why anyone would decide to set rules when they don’t have to. If you don’t eat pork, or do the Shabbat lift, or…”

“I don’t eat pork!”

“But that’s your choice.”

“Well, it is…” Truth is, I don’t it pork because I can’t stand the taste of it. But I have this theory that God has been leading me in various directions subconsciously, ages before I realise it consciously. I had a tendency towards bandannas long before I understood headcovering as a Biblical command. I’ve never liked shellfish or pork.

“You don’t do it for any religious reason.”


“Eating pork or not eating pork is just being legalistic.”

“It could also be polite. We’re told not to eat certain things if it might cause a brother or sister to stumble. I go to a church with lots of ex-Adventists and some Messianic Jews. It wouldn’t do to eat pork or shellfish around them because it would be something really quite awful for them.”

“You can’t worry about offending everyone.” That much is obvious in the way you’re approaching this conversation. “Years ago, people would be offending by wearing jeans to church. That was awful for them. Or kicking a ball on Sunday. That’s just legalism.”

Banging my head against a brick wall. Let’s just wind up the conversation.

“Look, I go to a church where we worship on Saturday. We have debates all the time about what to do, what not to do. But if someone starts saying, ‘You can’t travel on Sabbath, you can’t work or shop on Sabbath, you shouldn’t do this or that on Sabbath’, then the others cry ‘Legalism!’. They say, ‘We worship on Saturday because it’s the day God sanctified. So we set it aside to worship God. We’re not under the Mosaic law, so we don’t worry about whether we work or not, as long as what we’re doing is to the glory of God’. But then here, you know, at church, whether to work or travel or shop is legalism. Here, people have Shabbat lift and Shabbat lights and that really is legalism.”

“Yes, I agree.”

“Well, I think it’s about time for dessert.”

For all that can be said about kashrut, and how it’s from the Talmud and not the Torah, I really do love kosher dinners. There’s something delightfully freeing about being able to walk into a buffet and know that you can eat everything there. I’m hating breakfasts, because there’s usually only one or two things that I can actually eat. Breakfasts are cheleviy – milky. Dinners are basariy – meaty. Chommus is pareveh – harmless.

But I was quite upset by the whole conversation. I haven’t really conveyed it well here, or written everything down. Both our points of view are founded in Scripture, so I can’t refute her references, but rather provide different ones of my own. The trouble with taking the minority opinion on things is that you’ve got to be content with just representing your opinion to the best of your ability, and then taking all the flack of others saying you’re wrong without having the space to say the same of them.

But what I really found hard to digest about the whole thing was that this woman goes to one of the most legalistic churches in Adelaide. Oh, I know it’s a bit more liberal now, but I know people who went to this church at its height, twenty years ago (and I know for a fact that she was at that church back then, and I’m pretty sure she was raised in it, too), and in those days, there were church rules against drinking and dancing and all sorts – what Biblical basis is there for that?

Oh, sure, I understand the no-drinking thing. Staying sober and having self-control certainly is a command we’re given in the New Testament. But to use Ribena for communion? That’s not Biblical. People in the Bible drink wine. And need I mention Miriam and her dancing?

So it’s all right for this woman to be legalistic about what she wants – legalistic about things which don’t really have a Biblical foundation – but it’s not okay for me to say I don’t want to eat pork, or blood, or shellfish, or that really, given the option, I’d rather go to church and pray on Saturday rather than go out sightseeing and potentially spend money on non-God-glorifying things as well?

I can see her point about how Christians aren’t really beholden to kashrut, or can eat whatever meat we want, or don’t have to worry about pressing a button on a lift on the Sabbath. But it just seems to me that what she’s saying and what she’s doing are two completely different things. And that’s what’s really getting to me. Because she’s judging me for what I do and for me being too legalistic – but last week when we had actual wine for the kiddush, I sipped it and she went off to find the non-alcoholic alternative.


The Sixth Day – Bet Guvrin (Judaea)

At the end of the Elah Valley is the Bet Guvrin National Park.

Map - Bet Guvrin

01 - Mascot

this is the mascot of the national parks in Israel


The area has lots of limestone in the ground, but some harder rock I didn’t catch the name of on top. This means it’s just perfect for manmade caves.

02 - Up

halfway down, looking back

03 - Down

halfway down, looking forward

My foot really isn’t like steps. Or bending, really, which is necessary for steps (the things you don’t realise until it hurts). So I only went far enough to see into the cave.

04 - Pigeon Hall

Can you believe it’s all hand-carved and all original, several thousand years old?

People used to live down here and breed pigeons down here.

05 - Pigeonholes

Pigeonholes. Real pigeonholes, not metaphorical ones for books.

There were two other holes the others went down, but I refrained. I realised about this time that I was overdue for painkillers.

07 - Lime Factory

Yuval said this one was a lime factory. They quarried the limestone, and then either carved it into bricks or smashed it up to make lime to paint with.

08 - Hole in the Ground

I’m not sure what this hole in the ground was. Probably residential or something, given that it came out at the other end somewhere near the bus; Yuval warned that there would be a lot of steps, so I walked back towards the bus overland.

06 - Rock

These rocks were places every hundred metres or so between the caves.

09 - Limestone

A limestone step with modern carvings.

10 - Beware the Holes

A cautionary sign at the entrance to the footpath. Apparently some people who have “gone exploring” in the past have fallen into holes and only been discovered years later as skeletons. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s a chilling thought, that one might fall into a hole and die there, days or weeks later, from dehydration or starvation, with no-one knowing where you are.

The Sixth Day – The Elah Valley (Judaea)

After Herodion, we headed south-west, passing through the Elah valley.

Map - Elah Valley

We went through twice – on the way there and on the way back – so I’ve included here photos from both trips.

01 - Rachel's Tomb.jpg

how eerie. but I begin to suspect there’s been another, slightly more famous Rachel in this area

02 - Valley

I don’t know what this valley’s called

04 - Mountain Farming

Yuval calls this “mountain farming”. Essentially, it’s building an orchard on terraces.

05 - Elah Valley

the Elah Valley

06 - Hitch-Hiker

a random hitch-hiker. he appears also to have a swag

07 - Well

A well of the sort one reads about in the stories of Moses and Rebekah (except without the metal grille in those stories). There’s a lot of limestone in this area, which is very soft – notice the grooves on the edge which have been formed by rope rubbing there.

08 - Servo

We stopped at a service station for lunch. The food was sub-par by comparison to previous days.

09 - Lunch

This is the first… ah, disgusting?… food I’ve had in Israel. Although the “fruit water” was all right.

10 - Unwrapped

I concede it doesn’t look too bad. You can’t see the inside, though. Ah, well, it cost me 27 shekels 70 (almost exactly $10).

I did see this interesting packaging from someone else, though.

11 - Doritos

The service station was right at the head of Elah Valley.

12 - Me at Elah Junction

On the hill to my left (on the right) are the ruins of Azekah; the battle between David and Goliath happened somewhere between Azekah and Socho.

Quick Devo – Herodium

1 Samuel 16:1-13

When we had to choose which sites we wanted to prepare studies for, I looked through this tour book to pick the ones which looked interesting. There isn’t much to be said about the Herodium and I can’t find any literature which gives me relevant Bible verses for it, either. This book says:

“Within viewing distance of Bethlehem stands the Herodium, one of Herod the Great’s palaces-slash-fortresses that became his place of burial. It is ironic that the ‘king by might’ was buried just a short distance from the birthplace of the ‘King by Right’.”

It then goes on for a few more lines, talking about what you can see from here – I don’t need to read that out, you can see it for yourselves – before adding, almost as an afterthought, about the view to the east,

“This is the wilderness in which David shepherded his flocks as a boy.”

Now, I get that Jesus is sort of more important than David, but surely David is too important to leave as the throwaway line at the end of the description! The author of the book – I don’t know which one it was that wrote the entry for Herodium – talks about Herod, the ‘king by might’, and Jesus, the ‘king by right’, but he seems almost to have forgotten about another king – perhaps the most famous human king in the Bible – David.

It fascinates me to think that David might have been standing right here when Jesse came for him and said “The Judge is in the town and wants to see you.” I can’t find how old David was then – I’ve found various sources which give any age between ten and twenty-five – but I’ve always pictured him as a young lad looking after the sheep. We have some sort of communal sheep in my street and their primary caregiver is a twelve-year-old boy.

We read this story in 1 Samuel 16. Samuel, fresh from hacking someone to pieces at the end of chapter 15, arrives in Bethlehem, and the people there are unsurprisingly scared about letting him in and what his presence might mean. But Samuel didn’t come to hack anyone else to pieces – and I use that phrase because that’s how it’s translated here – but to anoint someone from the town as king.

But Samuel, being only human, is looking externally. Jesse’s oldest seven sons are there, and when Samuel looks at the oldest, he’s sure he’s the one God sent him to find. But God had other ideas, as God often does. It isn’t until Samuel’s already met all seven sons that he finds out there’s another one, too young and possibly too smelly – don’t laugh, sheep do smell, as you found out on the way here – to meet the Judge of Israel. And guess who was the one God had chosen?

About a thousand years later, nothing had changed. As we’ve found out already on this trip, Herod was born into a fairly wealthy family with high-ranking connections. It’s probably no real surprise that he ended up essentially ruling this entire region, appointed as King by the Roman Senate. Meanwhile, no-one would really have thought much of a baby born to a carpenter from another town. But guess which one God had sent?

You don’t have to. I’m sure you all know this.

But it’s something to think about. It’s a little overwhelming to think about everything that’s happened here. I’ve no doubt the Herodium itself is a remarkable place. How much effort does it take to build a mountain? Nothing we’ve seen of Herod’s has been understated. It’s all been quite remarkable. But God doesn’t work with the remarkable in the world. He works with the humble and the nothings. He works with lads who spend their days with sheep and with babies born to carpenters.

14 - Palace

The Sixth Day – Herodion (Judaea)

After getting back from the Synagogue, we headed off on our first official trip of the day.

Map - Herodium

We’re back out in the country again! Fascinating as Jerusalem is, I can’t last in the middle of a city for two long.

We headed south.

01 - Ramat Rachel

I’ve been staring at this on the map for a few days, but it’s a bit too far to walk!

Going most directions out of Jerusalem requires crossing what is essentially an international border, between Israeli-administered territory and Palestinian-administered territory. Just about anything off a major town-bypassing route in Palestinian-administered territory bears this sign:

02 - Forbidden

So we can’t go to Bethlehem, for example, which is in Palestinian territory, because Yuval and Tzion can’t go there.

But we were heading towards Herodion, which is a matter of kilometres from Bethlehem. On a side note, however, Bethlehem is an Arab town but about 35% Christian.

03 - Bethlehem Wall

a giant wall around Bethlehem


On the way to Herodian, we passed some sheep.

03 - Sheep

06 - Lamb

04 - Shepherd

The shepherd was quite friendly. He offered to let us get out and hold the lamb and have a photo with him and the lamb for a small fee (5 shekels, it turned out). Several members of the group obliged.

05 - Posing

Despite the exciting potential of being photographed with a Palestinian lamb, apparently I’m too Scottish to waste 5 shekels (about $1.50) on something that I could just as easily do at home. Also, the thought of smelling like rather grubby sheep all day didn’t really appeal to me.

Shortly thereafter, we approached Herodion in a sort of circular fashion.

14 - Palace

“Downtown Herodion” – a hotel for Herod’s guests…

14 - Pool

… and a swimming pool.

This mountain is artificial. And it’s not a volcano. It was extended, because Herod wanted his palace to be able to see Jerusalem.

We went in to a little building about halfway up, which housed a model…

07 - Model

08 - Model

… and a short film (more of a comedy, really) about Herod, Herodion, and his other building projects.

Most of the group then walked up to the citadel on the top, but I, along with three others, stayed and poked around the shop.

09 - Wallaby

the Israeli obsession with Australia continues

15 - Halva

I bought a couple of packets of snack-sized halva.

16 - Walnut Halva

It’s easily the best halva I’ve had since coming to the country. All the other halva I’ve had here has been dry; this was just moist enough to be delicious and not dry out the mouth (but not moist enough to be mushy), and delightfully sweet.

I also had a look around outside.

11 - Herodium Sign

10 - Baked Potatoes

look! a pile of overlarge roast potatoes!

10 - Rolling Stones

I actually came all the way to Israel just to see the Rolling Stones

12 - Panorama View

There was a large gaggle of soldiers in the carpark. Here’s one that came into the building:

13 - Soldier

The Sixth Day – The Great Synagogue (Jerusalem)

Feeling much refreshed after a good sleep yesterday, I joined the group in heading around the corner for a visit to the Great Synagogue.

Map - Synagogue

It’s an impressive building. As we entered, there were spare kippot (real and stapled paper) for males who didn’t have headcoverings, and there were also spare tallitot [tallitim?] (prayer shawls), as well.

01 - Spare Tallitim

Yuval tried to demonstrate their use to us. You can tell he doesn’t pray Jewishly very often.

02 - Demonstration

Inside, the Synagogue has 1400 seats and a 3.5-tonne chandelier. Since men and women can’t pray separately, the mezzanine/balcony section is for women. Since we weren’t praying, we all went in the main section.

03 - Panorama

It’s built in the shefardic style but the prayers are said here in the ashkenazic order.

Shefardi Jews are from Iberia and North Africa; Ashkenazi Jews are primarily from Central and Eastern Europe. Shefardim sit around the scroll; Ashkenazim sit in rows in front of it.

There were stain-glass windows at the front…

04 - Front Window

… and the sides.

05 - Side Window

the side windows all have Bible images. I’m sure you recognise this one


Aside from preaching, rabbis conduct the entire service facing away from the congregation, including reading the Torah. I couldn’t help but remember a conversation I was in a few months ago, where the others in the conversation were talking about how Anglican priests used to face away from the congregation, too. (Waaaay before my time). Then they changed to facing the congregation. The idea was that, when facing away, they’re interceding or representing the people to God. When priests are facing towards the congregation, they’re joining in and sharing with them.

I like the second one. Christians enjoy the “priesthood of all the people” which was promised to Israel but which they lost after the golden calf incident. Priesthood was then given just to Aaron’s tribe, the Levites, and restored to all believers with Christ. Christians can present themselves to God together, and celebrate as one; Jews still find they need to have an intercessor.

That’s sad.