Visits to Tel Arad and Masada – two sites considered by some to be the most important archaeological places in Israel with a history influencing even today’s events and world views.

A Canaanite city!  That is as early as biblical archaeology goes around here.  Nowhere in Jerusalem and only in a few other places in Israel, as far as I know, is confirmed material archaeological evidence extent.  Later layers of history have obscured it all.  When is the Canaanite period?  It’s anyone’s guess.  Whenever you think Abraham arrived from Ur, I guess.  Around 2000-1600 BC would not be a bad start.

The site consists of a lower Canaanite city and an upper fortress dating from the Israelite period, a time that follows the return from the Egyptian exile; around 1200 BC would work for that.  That means that the Israelites were in possession of the Ten Commandments by then, which Moses, according to biblical accounts, had received on Mount Sinai.  The hype about Tel Arad is that it has a temple complex which mirrors the setup of the Temple in Jerusalem with a Holy of Holies.  And more than that, it follows in its layout closer to textual sources than the temple mount in Jerusalem.  That is where Howshua’s wild theories come in:  This is the real temple of the Israelites, not Jerusalem.  He based this on an obscure mention of the existence of two cities of Jerusalem – one fake, one real.  He cites a source which states that the location of the real temple was supposed to be kept a secret after the Jews were expelled by the Romans.  He went as far as to say that the location on the temple mount in Jerusalem was deliberately created to mislead future visitors and investigators.  But I have to find out more about his ideas – the three minutes of introduction he gave us were rather confusing and he is an actor, perhaps, even a con-man.  But he and his enthusiasm got us here today and we were grateful for that.

Howshua hopes to influence modern politics with his discovery.  He told us that he has drafted a peace proposal which would refocus the attention of the Jewish religion to Tel Arad and keep Christians and Muslims focused on the Jerusalem as we know it.  I am sure if he gets anywhere with this, then Mohammed’s ascent into heaven will have to be relocated and Christ’s crucifixion, too.   The bottom line is that the conflict will just be taken to a different hill.  It would not possibly stop if there is a new temple location.  In any case: Good luck, Howshua!   I wonder if there will be any followers of this idea.

Jack keeps us in check by demanding frequent coffee breaks and when we spotted a resort strip at the Dead Sea which sported a McDonald’s in its midst, we just had to stop.  You don’t see McDonald’s spelled out in Hebrew every day.  They even have falafels there to fit the local demands.

But the highlight of today was Masada.  It embodies the will for freedom and the willingness to die for it.  Romans captured Jerusalem in 66 AD, but the Zealots (rebels) were able to hold out against the Roman army for four more years, quite a feat considering a few thousand Zealots facing the mightiest army of its day.  The siege of Masada by the Roman army led nowhere.  Finally the Romans resorted to building a ramp.  If you see how high Masada is you know how desperate this measure really was!  This finally allowed them to knock down the Western Gate of the fortress.  The ramp had reached the necessary height and sure of their victory the next day, the Romans retreated into their camp for the night.   But the Zealots did not sleep.  They decided to commit mass suicide, killing children, women, and all men…  It is almost impossible to contemplate the details of this scene!  When the Romans took the plateau the next day they found nothing but dead bodies…

This spot has inspired many contemporary Israelis.  The site is visited by school groups and used for soldiers to swear allegiance to Israel.  I wonder how many heroes it has created and if its message will ever have to play itself out again in the delicate future of Israel.

We approached the plateau from the Dead Sea where you can board a cable car.  Thank goodness for modern conveniences!  The two hours we had left at the top were just enough to make one quick round skipping the southern tip.  The north is the most interesting part containing a palace by Herod, the store rooms, quarry, watch tower and the “place of the lots”.  Shards with names were found there that were cast to determine the ten men who had to do the killing and then kill each other and finally themselves.

The views over the mountains and the Dead Sea are spectacular from up there especially in the late afternoon sun.

This was our last day in the south and the middle of Israel.  We headed north to Tiberius, our headquarters for the next week.  We drove through Area C – territory which is disputed, but with roads controlled and maintained by the Israelis.  Our GPS system was fighting with us and did not want to guide us through there.  But you can take a direct road through Area C or go twice as long through Israel…  What a country!

Good night.