The Dead Sea, A Natural Spa
It’s 8.6 times saltier than the ocean and the deepest landlocked lake in the world. The salts and minerals of the Dead Sea have long been used in natural creams and in the case of the ancient Egyptians, as embalming agents. Visit the Dead Sea on your tour of Israel and wonder at this highly unusual phenomenon – an arid spot, where animals cannot survive and flora and fauna are only present at a few isolated oases in the area.
The Dead Sea was already regarded as a health resort in ancient times. Its heavy concentration of minerals was documented during Roman times - Herod the Great, who had palaces in the nearby Judean Desert, is believed to have bathed in its waters. To this day, the Dead Sea attracts visitors year-round. The area's low elevation, lack of humidity and always-sunny skies make it a perfect destination.
Visit the Dead Sea with your family and friends and experience a unique swimming experience. Swimming or diving isn’t really possible because of the salt concentration – instead, put your feet up and relax on the water's surface. Reach down to the sea’s surface and scoop up the salt and rub it into your skin; or smear on some mud from one of the shore-side mud pits. Your skin will feel marvelously soft and restored once you rinse off. Don’t be surprised either if you need a nap after dipping in the sea – the intense concentration of salts is very potent on the body.
Mentioned in the Bible as a healing spring, the Bible makes other references to the area near the Dead Sea. In Genesis, the ancient towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, which are destroyed by God as punishment for their residents' sinful behavior, are located near the Dead Sea. The Ein Gedi oasis is said to be the place where David hid from a wrathful, jealous King Saul. The Bible describes Ein Gedi as both a wine growing and fishing town. While the highly arid and saline conditions of the Dead Sea allow little to no life, the Ein Gedi Springs are lushly green. The Song of Songs written by King David uses imagery of Ein Gedi linked metaphorically to the speaker's lover—plentiful and lovely.
Though the New Testament does not make specific reference to the Dead Sea as a place of worship, various churches believed that the remoteness of the Dead Sea would bring them closer to the experiences of Jesus. In the fourth century, a few monasteries were carved into the rock faces of the Judean Desert, near the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Dating back to biblial times, the scrolls are some 900 documents that were found in the Qumran Caves located on the northern end of the Dead Sea. Archaeological excavations during the 1950s uncovered eleven caves in the Qumran Valley. The artifacts found in these caves have ranged from religious manuscripts to more mundane texts. Several of the manuscripts are thought to be pieces of the original Hebrew Bible, and have been significant in understanding the religious practices and day-to-day activities during the time of the Second Temple. The Dead Sea Scrolls are on permanent display in the Shrine of the Book, which is part of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Ein Gedi National Park
As you move from the shores of the Dead Sea to Ein Gedi, note that the oasis has a significantly higher altitude and much different climate. Founded in 1972 on the edges of the Judean Desert, the Ein Gedi National Park is a nature lover's delight and a hiker's paradise. The fresh, sweet water running into the reserve makes it a haven for animals coming from the Judean Desert for water and nourishment. The area's vegetation and abundance of trees also make it a nesting place for a wide range of birdlife.
Between its two natural springs and its many streams, Ein Gedi generates enough water to sustain agriculture in the entire Jerusalem area. Visit the two springs, enjoy a hike on one of the well-marked paths and don’t forget a picnic as well. Enjoy Ein Gedi year-round on any Israel tour but check for weather conditions during the winter as the roads can sometimes become impassable due to flash floods when it rains.
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