There is no more fascinating place to visit, in my opinion, than Israel. During a trip to Israel in 2008, my husband and I got up every morning to explore yet another moment in history and to imagine what it must have been like to walk that ground during the reign of King David or during the first century days of Jesus.
Our visit to the fortress at Masada within sight of the Dead Sea was especially intriguing. The fortress was originally built by King Herod as a get-away palace, not as in nice vacation get-away, but rather as in get away to safety from a siege or an armed assault. Later, after Herod had died and Jerusalem had been destroyed by Rome in 70 AD, it served as a Roman garrison and was eventually overtaken by Jewish rebels.
We listened to our guide tell us the story, recorded by the ancient historian Josephus, of the last bastion of Jewish rebels and their families living for a couple of years at Masada. Among the ruins were the remnants of 1st Century Jewish life: pools for ceremonial washings, a synagogue, water cisterns, storage rooms and living rooms.
It really bugged the Roman army that this band of Jewish rebels continued to exist at Masada, so they surrounded the fortress in 72 AD and began to build a huge ramp to gain access to the Jewish stronghold. After a long stand-off, all the rebel families were found dead, with the reported exception of a few who escaped to tell the story.
Our guide told us that today Israeli youth groups frequently hold retreats on the top of that mountain fortress. They sit in the ruins of the synagogue and read the same Scriptures that the Jews would have read 2000 years ago. The Romans thought they were wiping out the last Jewish settlement, but today the Roman Empire is ancient history and young Israelis are still reading Jewish Scriptures on the ruins of Masada.
The fortress is in ruins. The empire is history.
The Scriptures remain. Faith endures.
The next day we stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, also one of King Herod’s projects. At one corner of the mount is an archaeological dig revealing layer upon layer of the remnants of human history; toppled boulders and columns, steps and roads on which Jesus and his disciples would have walked, and stones placed by Herod’s workers in the first century.
Rome’s glory is now rubble. Herod’s construction projects are archeological digs. The Muslim Dome of the Rock now sits on the Temple Mount where the Jewish Temple once stood. Faithful Jews pray at the Western Wall, all that’s left of the ancient wall around the temple.
One civilization on top of another. One ideology, one religion, on top of another. One building on top of another.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Jesus in Matthew 24:35