Nearly 1,300 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the world's lowest point. It is a "dead end" sea, for the giant lake has no natural outlet; water entering by the Jordan, flash floods or underground springs, can openly leave by evaporation; thus, salt concentrations build up enormously. It's high salt and mineral content (ten times that of seawater) makes the resources. Potash, magnesium and bromide are extracted by a process known as selective evaporation. The waters are also known for their curative powers against skin and muscle disease.
In 1947, a Bedouin boy searching for a lost goat in the cliffs above the Dead Sea accidently stumbled upon the biblical discovery of the age, the Dead Sea scrolls. The hundreds of parchment fragments subsequently unearthed in eleven separate caves have thrown great light on the historical background of 1st century Israel. These scrolls belonged to and were written by a Jewish sect, the Essenes. Founded around 160 B.C. in reaction to growing Hellenization, the Essenes sought the seclusion of the Judean Desert where they could follow the Law more closely and wait for the coming Messiah. They believed in two Messiahs: one from David's line, for the Monarch, and the other, a descendant of Aaron for the high priesthood. In 68 A.D., the settlement was destroyed by the Romans; the scribes, seeing the approaching legions, hastily stored the scrolls in nearby caves. There these parchments remained for nearly 1,900 years. All books of the Old Testament except Esther are present, as well as apocryphal psalms, commentaries and special scrolls dealing specifically with the sect's code of ethics and beliefs. These Old Testament manuscripts are nearly 1000 years older than previously known manuscripts. The texts are outstandingly similar to their Masoritic equivalents, showing a high degree of standardization of biblical texts before their compilation in Jamnia (Yavne) in the second century. The Dead Sea scrolls are presently exhibited at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Rising 1,400 feet above the Dead Sea shoreline, the table-top mountain of Masada stands as a tribute to Jewish resistance against Rome. The summit fortress was designed by Herod the Great as a bastion capable of withstanding a siege by his enemies. He furnished the fortress with two palaces, bathhouses, storage space and provided a water storage capacity based upon trapping nearby winter flash floods. The fortress was garrisoned by Roman soldiers in the first century A.D. until overcome by Jewish rebels at the outbreak of the Jewish War (67 A.D.). For six years Masada served as a rebel base where guerrilla sorties could be launched into the Judean hills. The end finally came in 73 A.D., when the Roman Tenth Legion and auxiliaries numbering ten thousand troops, staged the final assault. The nine hundred and sixty men, women and children committed a mass suicide rather than fall into Roman captivity. Today, a cable car provides an easy approach to this once inaccessible spot. Masada, with its history, view and ruins is one of Israel's major tourist attractions.
Ein Gedi Spring
One of the most beautiful natural settings in Israel, Ein Gedi (spring of the kid) with its year-round waterfall and tropical vegetation contrasts with the sharp cliffs and Dead Sea shoreline. A present-day Kibbutz utilizes part of this local water for irrigation, and the winter harvests fetch good proceeds in the city markets. It was to the caves above Ein Gedi that David fled from Saul's wrath (1 Sam. 24). Solomon extolled the fertility of this oasis in the Song of Songs 1:14. Caves in the canyons high above Ein Gedi have revealed scrolls and letters dating from the Bar Kokhba revolt in 130 A.D. In addition, a hoard of copper and ivory ritual artifacts, nearly 5,000 years old, has been discovered near the fountain head.