I’m definitely feeling it.

More than a week of touring, working, jet lag, time and diet changes and missing my family have taken their toll. My body is rebelling and I am starting to get tired earlier in the day.

But the soul…

Well, let’s just say that there’s just something about being here in the Land of the Lord that stirs the spirit. On my first trip here, it was as if I were coming back to a familiar place, and this time, that feeling is even stronger. I am beginning to believe more and more if you are a Christian, there is something within you that longs to be here. At least it’s that way for me.

Today’s touring was both easier and more difficult. Easier because we were basically done by lunch time, but more difficult because the start came earlier also because we are nearing the end of our journey (more on that later).

After wishing Dr. Crisp a happy birthday, we departed at 7:30 and our bus driver Ovad turned us south toward the desert. Our first stop was at the Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered. It’s a fascinating site, made all the more interesting because it’s only because of an accident that it was discovered at all. Back in 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd boy, looking for a lost sheep, discovered a cave in the desert filled with earthen pots containing ancient scrolls. Once word got out, archeologists arrived and unearthed an entire city that had been inhabited by the ancient Essene sect of Jews. One of the scrolls was a text of the book of Isaiah which predates the previously oldest known manuscript by over 1,000 years. The shot below is of Cave #7, where the boys discovered the first scrolls.

From there, we drove down the road just a few minutes to the nature preserve of Ein Gedi. It’s basically an oasis in the desert and it’s main inhabitant is the Ibex. They are beautiful creatures, cousins to goats and are native to the desert near the Dead Sea. There were dozens of them roaming around Ein Gedi, and from what Dr. Crisp and our guide Kenny told us, this is very unusual. The little fellow below let me get within a few feet of him.

Ein Gedi’s biblical connection is that it was the hideout of a young David and his fighting men when they were running from the tyrannical King Saul. The flowing water and the system of interconnected caves made it a perfect spot to do so. It also makes it a romantic spot to renew wedding vows, which Craig and Anne Ward did today. They celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary recently, and bought new rings here with the Hebrew inscription from Song of Solomon “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” Here’s the “wedding photo” of the happy couple.

And here’s a better shot of the waterfall that’s behind them.

Our final touring spot of the day is the home of one of the most incredible stories in Hebrew history. Masada was a fortress in the Dead Sea area, built by the Macabees, expanded by Herod the Great and became the home of about 800 or so Jewish zealots following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Romans sent a garrison of 8,000 troops to hunt down the zealots the destroy them. Facing a hopeless situation, the zealots and their families chose death over Roman slavery. The shot below is of our guide, Kenny, reciting zealot leader Eleazar ben Yair’s impassioned speech to the Masada inhabitants in the fortress’s synagogue.

Though the touring was over, the day was not done. We continued south to the resort area of the Dead Sea for lunch at Le Meridian resort. One of the most exclusive hotels in Israel, Le Meridian is an option for those who put together through TLC Holyland Tours. The pool area, like the rest of the hotel, is very impressive.

The resort graciously allowed the members of our group to use its facilities to take a dip in the Dead Sea, and several took them up on it. For those that don’t know, the salt and mineral content of the water of the Dead Sea is so high that all you have to do to float in the water is lift your feet from the bottom. You will just naturally bob onto your back. Check out Chilhowee Hills pastor Mark McKeehan chillin’.

From there it was back to our hotel and the final night at Jerusalem’s Crowne Plaza. Instead of eating in the dining room, Mark, Thomas Pinner and myself decided to go to Ben Yahuda Street, the downtown shopping district. We all all got shawarmas, which I introduced you to a couple of days ago, and browsed the stores.

We were back early though, to pack and get ready for tomorrow’s final touring day, which may be the most difficult as we will basically be retracing the last hours of Jesus’ life. We will start on the Mt. of Olives, walk down the to the Garden of Gethsemane and see two more churches before heading to the House of Caiphas, the high priest at the time of Jesus and the place where his trials began. After lunch, we will see St. Anne’s church and the pools of Bethesda, what remains of the Antonias Fortress where Jesus was probably scourged, and finish our journey at Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb. Our final stop before heading to the airport will be a farewell dinner.

More, as always, to come.