DESPITE the popularity of shrines all over the world, the Holy Land is still the focal point of all Christian pilgrimage activity. Israel is the land in which the Bible comes uniquely to life. Its many-faceted fascination is here described by Ruth Velenski.
THERE IS probably no country in the world which is more
replete with ancient Biblical and archeological attractions, and draws so many visitors of all ages to its shores, than the modern State of Israel.
Apart from its famous places of pilgrimge like Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, Nazareth etc., which are the background of the events in the Bible, there are many other places of interest which, although less popular, are equally steeped in history and which reverberate
with archeological echoes of Biblical and other ancient civilisations:
Take, for example, the region of the Dead Sea in the South.
The uniqueness of this area can perhaps best be explained in the following Biblical quotation: "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire . . ., And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain . . . , But his wife looked back . . . , and she became a pillar of salt." (Genesis 19:24-26).
The "pillar" stands there today overlooking the salty lake and the desolate landscape around it.
Since the days of old, the Dead Sea area has been a retreat for those seeking ease of body and spirit. Nature has endowed this region with a rare combination of unique healthgiving properties.
Since it is 1300ft below sea-level, the Dead Sea region is provided with the highest oxygen concentration in the world. The absence of nearly every kind of life makes the air extremely pure. The lake itself is richly endowed with minerals, which gives the waters the high specific weight which has earned the Dead Sea its reputation as the only one in the world in which it is virtually impossible to drown.
You can take advantage of the buoyancy to do the physiotherapeutic exercises that will help to ease your aching joints.
The parchment scrolls, known as the Dead Sea scrolls, which were precious treasure of the Essene sect, were found in the cave near Qumran and due to the dryness of the climate resisted decay for almost 2000 years.
It was also the climate and the love for hot springs that induced Herod the Great, at the end of the first century BC, to build his palace on the rock of Masada.
Masada is a flat-topped hill almost 1500ft above the Dead Sea. The palace itself was built' on the shady north side of the rock and commanded a breathtaking view of the pink , mountains of Moab and the blue waters of the Dead Sea.
It was here, three years after the fall of Jerusalem, in 73BC, that 960 Jews held out against the Romans, and finally after months of siege these Zealots faced an inevitable defeat and chose mass suicide instead of captivity.
You can reach Masada, Herod's fortress and scene of the Jewish Zealots' dramatic last stand, by cable car, or if you are feeling really energetic and adventurous, by foot, up the long-winding snake path, and experience a sense of history while you climb.
Whichever way one chooses, to reach Masada, the reconstructed palace, bathhouses, storehouses and rock-hewn water cisterns, make this a wonderfully rewarding expedition.
A thousand metres above the Dead Sea is the town of Arad. The steep road cutting through the Judean Hills follows the route of ancient days and one can look down from it to one of the most impressive of the Roman forts in the area.
Biblical Arad was a Canaanite city conquered by the Israelites upon entering the Promised Land. Its ruins have been uncovered at the nearby site of Tel Arad. Modern-day Arad is a perfect example of enterprising
and imaginative lay-out and construction. It's perfect location and climate make it an ideal spot for those who want to enjoy the beaches and spas down at the Dead Sea.
In contrast to this primeval desert of dry river beds, craggy slopes and deep canyons, Tiberius in the north, is thriving with life. The gorges, rolling hills and running streams are a delight; the vibrant beauty of the area and the diversity of its landscapes are overwhelming.
Built in the first century AD by the sons of Herod the Great, the town was named in honour of the Roman Emperor — Tiberius. After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. the spiritual centre of Judaism moved northwards and Tiberius became the focus of rabbinical learning — both the Mishna and the Jerusalem Talmud were completed here, in 200 and 400 AD respectively.
Tiberius won recognition as one of the four towns held holy by the Jews and reverent pilgrimages are still made to the burial places of such illustrious sages and scholars as Rabbi Akiva, Moses Maimonides and Rabbi Meir, known as Ba'al HaNess (Master of the Miracle).
The Galilee area, of which Tiberius is the capital, is well known to the pilgrim because of its significance in the life of Jesus. However, the Galilee is also a charming blend of the ancient and the new and if you step off the pilgrim track and walk along the shorefront, you will immediately sense this magic combination.
The Red Sea resort of Eilat is often overlooked by the pilgrim because it lacks historical and Biblical significance. However, it is well worth visiting if only to appreciate its breathtaking beauty.
Eilat is the principal winter resort in Israel, offering warm seas and sunshine in exotic surroundings to those who want to escape the winter chills. In Eilat, one experiences the juxtaposition of the desert and the sea.
The deep, tropical waters of the Gulf of Eilat are an extension of the Red Sea created by the Syrian-African Rift.
The land of Israel is indeed a treasure-house which provides adventure and excitement to all who enter its doors.