...And the walls came tumblin down! Today we went to Jericho and the Judean Wilderness for a half-day field trip. Jericho is the lowest elevated populated city on earth (about 850 feet below sea level). It is an oft-mentioned city in both the Old and New Testament, but it's most famous for the walls tumbling down at the sound of Joshua's trumpets. Our first stop of the day was at the Herodian, King Herod's winter palace in Jericho. It was quite the place back in his day. While Herod always gets a bad rap for being exceedingly cruel (which is probably mostly true), he did have one good quality- his buildings. Herod was an amazing and accomplished builder of cities and palaces. His palace, the Herodian, had a grand entrance on one side of the wadi (seasonal river bed), then a bridge going to the main palace with pool, bath houses, and colonnaded courtyards. I was actually quite surprised by how much was left of the ruins. You could actually tell where the walls were and one of the bath structures was pretty intact. However, it was HOT. Because the elevation is so low, it stays really warm (hence the location of Herod's winter palace). So, the extreme heat at 8 am kinda of put a damper on our excitement. We would have enjoyed staying longer though, even in the heat, but we had to move on to our next site!
Next was the old city of Jericho. We went to the site of the archaeological dig, and saw a little informational movie beforehand (yay airconditioning!!). I'm glad we got to watch the movie, because the site would have been a little boring if we hadn't. Not that it wasn't interesting, it was just that it hasn't been maintained as well as other archaeological sites have been, so it mostly looked like a lot of dirt and then some rocks. But, with the help of our teachers and scenes from the movies, we were able to pick out the interesting things! The main attractions were the neolithic tower and the glaci. The tower is said to be the oldest structure on earth. It was originally 8 meters (about 26 feet) tall, and completely solid rock except for the staircase going up the middle. Now there is only a little bit of the bottom left, but it's really far down in the ground because the level we were walking on had been built up over the centuries by civilization building upon the ruins of the previous civilization. The glaci is the "retaining wall" that helped hold up the walls of Jericho. Basically, the city was set up on higher ground, so instead of just building the wall on top or digging into the ground to build a foundation, the glaci rock wall was built up the sides of the hill to the base of the wall (kind of like a buttress). The exciting part is that at the base of the glaci is a bunch of rubble that is dated back to the time of Joshua! So, it could very well be the wall that fell to Joshua's trumpets, then the rubble has been covered over time. Kind of cool! Around the corner from the dig site is a place called Elisha's Spring, where, as recorded in the Bible, Elisha "healed" or purified the waters of the spring (the only water source) with a handful of salt. It was a really beautiful area. They have built a little rock fountain and river around the spring, and there are big trees and a grassy area next to it. Because the water is right from the spring, they said we could drink it from out of the spout! So naturally, we all did. We also got to wade around (ankle deep) in the little river. Let me tell you, it was a very refreshing experience! We were all so sweaty from the heat and hiking around, so the cool water felt so nice on our feet and legs.
The last stop of the day was the Mount of Temptations in Judean Wilderness where Christ fasted for 40 days and the Devil tried to tempt him. I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I expected. Well, except for the hiking part. We basically hiked up the side of an extremely rocky mountain, but the view from the top was worth it. Let me just say that when the scriptures say "barren wilderness", they mean it. There is nothing there. It is just tan rock and dirt and mountains. The amazing part is that people actually live there. We went to a particular site where there was a view of the St. George monastery which was literally built into the side of the mountain, about to fall into a huge gorge. It was incredible though. It looked exactly how I think an oasis in the desert would look, with blue and palm trees and water. Anyways, we hiked up this mountain (with little Bedouin men trying to make up buy their wares). We talked about Christ's experience and sang "More Holiness Give Me." I really enjoyed singing this song because that was really what Christ went into the wilderness for- to commune with His Father and become more holy, line upon line precept on precept. It was incredible to me to be able to look out on the wilderness and picture how Christ would have been and try to understand why He would have come here to be with God. I really enjoyed the experience. Also, I rode a camel. I'd actually ridden one before when my family went to Morocco, but I was pretty little. Plus, how cool of a story is it to be able to say, "Ya, I rode a camel in the Judean Wilderness." Um, it's awesome. I thought I was only going to be on there for less that 2 minutes, but I got a little surprise. I decided to ride it at the very end of our visit, and most people were heading back to the buses. My teacher said I had time to though, so I did. The camel man took me around in a little circle, and then since I was the last customer, he took me all the way down to the buses! It felt quite regal to be riding a camel down to my ride.