Time off during an excavation in Israel? Here’s what you can do.

Go to the Dead Sea.

It offers war and peace, cleansing mud, swimming in both warm and cold water. You can be lifted up in the lowest place on Earth.

The Dead Sea lies more than 1,400 feet below sea level. Its waters are fed by the Jordan River, a few freshwater springs and occasional torrents from nearby wadis. Apart from specialized microbes nothing lives in the Dead Sea due to its extremely high mineral content. There is no outflow. Water is lost only through evaporation. Due to heavy pumping from its sources, little water now reaches the Dead Sea and its shores have receded from their normal levels. There is sometimes a sulfur smell in the air but it is not obnoxious. The general quiet of the region is occasionally broken by passing vehicles and the occasional bird. It is a good place to get away and contemplate, or to simply relax and recharge.

Here is how you can enjoy the good life by the Dead Sea:

War and Peace: Many of us know about Masada. This very large rock was the site of the last battle in the Jewish War against Rome in A.D. 73. Jewish zealots held out in Herod’s lavish mountain fortress but finally killed themselves rather than be taken as slaves by the 10th Roman Legion. (The Roman camps, siege wall and logistical roads are still visible.) Masada may have been a “stronghold” used by the biblical David when he was hiding from King Saul. (1 Samuel 22:4 – 5) You can walk through the palace of Herod the Great, sit in the Jewish rebels’ synagogue, and stand at the exact spot where Roman soldiers broke through the casemate wall. A cable car transits between the bottom and the summit but if you are in reasonable shape (or slightly masochistic) you may opt to ascend/descend by foot on the “Snake Path”. (I ascended 11 years ago. My thighs burned with an intense muscular flame but it was a “good” pain. No regrets!) Mornings are best for visits due to the heat, particularly during summer months.

A view of the Snake Path at Masada. Jaime Restrepo, a member of my group in 2011, is descending the mountain by foot. Can you make him out right-of-center, just over halfway down? (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Looking north from the top of Masada. Can you see the Roman camp and logistical road? The thin white road runs to Ein Gedi, behind the mountain in the distance. It was the source of the Romans' water during the siege of Masada. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Cleansing Mud: The Dead Sea itself is remarkable. A mineral content of 30% makes the water denser than the ocean. The water simply looks different as it flows. It is impossible for swimmers to sink below the water, though you do not want to submerge your head. (Its intense concentration of salt will b-u-r-n the eyes and leave a residual salt crust in the nose and ears, on the lips, et al.) A float in the water is good for the skin. Many people buy packets of mineral-loaded Dead Sea mud and rub it on their skin. Wait about 20 minutes and wash off to look (allegedly) 20 years younger. I tried it on my face and arms but in truth it took only 15 years off my appearance. I looked like a healthy 25 year-old (ahem) with skin like a baby.

Yours truly in a standard Dead Sea tourist pose. (Photo by Jaime Restrepo)

The youthening effect of Dead Sea cleansing mud may affect both skin and judgment. (Photo by Jaime Restrepo)

Warm and Cold Swimming: The Dead Sea itself is slightly warm but you can feel occasional cool currents in the water. The most refreshing place to swim is in the waterfall pools of the Ein Gedi oasis to the west. Ein Gedi has greenery, wildlife and fresh water in a region of rugged brown rocks. David was enjoying its benefits when he encountered Saul in one of its caves (1 Samuel 24:5).

Nestor Bermudez (L) and Carlos Mantilla (R) enjoy a float in the Dead Sea. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Here is a very short video of professors and preachers in my 2011 group enjoying one of the waterfall pools of Ein Gedi. A very refreshing place.

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About LukeChandler

Luke holds an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History and has been an adjunct professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida. Luke and his wife Melanie have five children. He serves as a minister in English and Spanish with the North Terrace Church of Christ and participates annually in archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke also leads tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
This entry was posted in Interesting places to visit, Israel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Time off during an excavation in Israel? Here’s what you can do.

  1. afrankangle says:

    Greetings Luke.
    Wonderful post and pics … and includes good use of density and its effect. 🙂 Hope all is well.

    • lukechandler says:

      Thank you, Frank. My first overnight trip to the Dead Sea was a “plan B” for something else that didn’t work out. Dead Sea weekends are now a perennial favorite. Things are well here, though busy. i have been itching to get to the Cincy area for a while. Whenever I make it I’ll let you know in advance. Coffee or the like would be nice if you had the time.

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