Following breakfast, we depart for our tour of Petra--the ancient capital city of the Nabataeans built sometime around the 6th century BC. Petra, which means "rock" in Greek, is a fitting name for this city surrounded on all sides by rocky cliffs and its magnificent tombs, sanctuaries, and dwelling place carved out of solid rock. Our journey to this spectacular city, known to most students in connection to the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, begins via a mile-long narrow gorge that emerges dramatically in front of the Treasury. The source of Petra's vast wealth was her control of the ancient trade routes that the East and the West. Unfortunately, when these trade routes shifted, Petra was deserted and forgotten for centuries. It was only rediscovered in 1812. Lunch, dinner, and overnight in Petra.
Today we travel across the Sinai Peninsula to the traditional location of Mount Sinai. This site is sacred not only to Christians, but to Jews and Muslims since it is on Mount Sinai that God spoke with Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments. At the base of Mount Sinai is St. Catherine's Monastery. This Orthodox monastery is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. During the 4th century A.D., St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, built a chapel here where she believed Moses has seen the burning bush. During the 6th century, the Byzantine emperor Justinian erected the fortified walls around the chapel that have remained until the present. This monastery is also famous for preserving the oldest and only complete copy of the New Testament in Greek that dates to the 4th century--Codex Sinaiticus. To prepare for our after midnight hike the next morning, we will have an early supper before heading off to bed at the Catherine Village Hotel. Dinner and partial night at the Saint Catherine Hotel.
Our day begins several hours before the crack of down as we climb Mount Sinai to see the spectacular view of the sunrise. Two paths lead to the summit of Mount Sinai--neither of which requires mountain-climbing equip. The shortest path is known as the Steps of Penitence. This trail consists of 3,750 steps carved out of the rock by the local monks. The longer path is known as the Camel Path. This path is more gentle, though extremely windy. A local camel can be rented to aid in one's journey--if you think riding on a camel for 2 or 3 hours is easy. Both paths lead to a natural amphitheater known as Elijah's Hollow. We will rest here before heading up the final 750 steps to the summit. After enjoying the morning sunrise and a prayer service, we head back down the mountain. After breakfast (and visiting the monastery if we missed in on June 27), we will catch up on some lost sleep as we drive back to Eilat in Israel. Dinner and overnight at the Vista Hotel in Eilat.
While traveling through the Judean desert on our way to Jerusalem, today we will make several important stops. Our first stop will be at the massive palace/fortress built by Herod the Great and known as Masada. During the Roman Administration of Palestine, Masada became home to a garrison of Roman soldiers. At the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War in A.D. 66, a group of Jewish extremists surprised and overcame the Roman garrison on Masada. Due to its strategic and nearly impregnable location, the Jewish extremists and their families successfully held off the Romans for some six years. After multiple failed attempts to breach the wall, the Romans built a massive rampart using thousands of tons of dirt and rock. Shortly before the Romans finally gained access to the city, the Jewish all committed suicide choosing to die free rather than be taken captive.
Our tour of Masada begins by stopping at the remains of one the Roman siege camps (camp F). Then we will climb the siege rampart to the top of Masada, where we will first visit the museum, and then see the remains of Herod's palace fortress. After our tour we will descend the mountain by cable car.
Next we travel to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is located some 1,385 feet below sea level, making it the lowest place on earth. Because of its high salt content no life exists in it. It is said that the waters and muds of the Dead Sea are helpful in treating skin diseases. Whether this works or not, we be left up to you to decide for yourself as we stop for a swim--or rather a float--in the Dead Sea.
Our third stop before reaching Jerusalem is Qumran. In Jesus' day, Qumran was a monastic-like community of radically conservative Jews known as Essenes. Convinced that the Jewish nation had completely gone astray from the worship of God, the Essences founded their own community in the Judean desert where they could more closely keep the Mosaic law and maintain remain ritually pure. They also believed that the end of time was at hand and that it would involve a battle between the "sons of light" and the "sons of darkness." The Essenes also appear to be the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were discovered in 1947. While the Dead Sea Scrolls contain various documents about the beliefs of the Essences, they more importantly contain our oldest copies of the Hebrew Scriptures--dating back to around the year 300 B.C., over a thousand years earlier than all other copies of the Hebrew Scriptures. The caves where these scrolls were discovered can be seen in the distance when we visit Qumran. We will also visit the Inn of the Good Samaritan, and then stop at the Mount of Olives as we finally arrive in Jerusalem. Dinner and overnight in Jerusalem.