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Qumran horizons

For me the ancient site of Qumran is arguably the most remarkable landscape in the world.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, written by the Essenes, were found here some 70 years ago. The Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab are immediately ahead. Herod’s fortress of Masada is a few miles to the south, overlooking the – perhaps legendary – sites of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jericho, possibly the world’s oldest city, is to the north. This region is the lowest place on Earth, the ‘wilderness’ spoken of in the Bible.

I first visited Qumran five years ago and was fortunate to be able to return a few days ago. The ruins here are very probably those of the Essene sect, which wrote the scrolls some 2000 years ago before the site was cleared by the Romans during the 66-70AD Jewish War.

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A walk through Wadi Arugot

A couple of weeks ago certain eyebrows were raised when I hiked through a trail by the Dead Sea.

This involved a 5am start to get there sufficiently early to avoid the hottest part of the day – as it was the temperature was well over 30 centigrade by the time we finished.

All very esoteric. But the generous invitation to make the walk from a friend we’ve met here offered a chance to see something I’d never otherwise see. The Wadi Arugot is a valley running through the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve on the western side of the Dead Sea: south of Qumran, just north of Masada. (Yes, I’m aware that the Reserve is in the West Bank, and that like everything here there is a political dimension. I will write about those issues in due course.)

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Haifa horizons

Here are some images taken from Mount Carmel overlooking Haifa, taken on a crystal clear day earlier this week.

The photos look north towards the ancient port of Akko, and beyond that, to Lebanon. The landscaped gardens below are the Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb, holy to the Bahá’í faith. They extend a kilometre or so up the Mount, and are clearly maintained with great care. These images don’t do the view justice, but you get the idea…

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In Hebron

Yesterday we were able to spend some time in Hebron, as part of a visit arranged by the Church of Scotland and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

We visited parts of both the Palestinian and Israeli sections of the city, and the Cave of the Patriarchs – known to Jews as the Cave of Machpelah and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque – the traditional burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish faith: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah.

The cave itself is located below a suitably monumental rectangular structure built by Herod the Great, converted to a mosque during the era of the Crusades by Saladin. We had time only to pass through the complex’s Synagogue, from which a series of enormous sepulchres representing the patriarchs and matriarchs can be glimpsed.

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Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem

I was able to visit Mount Herzl in Jerusalem a couple of days ago. The Mount’s best known feature is the Holocaust History Museum, usually referred to as Yad Vashem, but that is just a part of an extensive complex of museums, memorials and parks.

The Mount is named after Theodore Herzl, the principal pioneer of the Zionist movement. Herzl’s tomb is placed on a large plaza at the summit, which was being visited by groups of soldiers when I was there. The plaza is surrounded by a network of cemeteries and memorials to other prominent Zionists and Israeli Prime Ministers and Presidents. A series of winding paths lead to the Yad Vashem complex.

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