Ein Gedi

Hwy. 90, 33km (21 miles) south of Qumran.

There is no modern town at Ein Gedi. The area is spread out along a 5-mile stretch of Highway 90 alongside the Dead Sea. It includes a Nature Reserve, an IYHA Association Youth Hostel, a public beach with lifeguards, showers, and Kibbutz Ein Gedi. Kibbutz Ein Gedi is the most beautiful place to stay in the area and contains a sprawling Resort Guest House and impressive botanical gardens.

This remote, canyon oasis near the Dead Sea has attracted small bands of people since prehistoric times. More than 5,000 years ago, an unknown Chalcolithic people built a sanctuary amid the waterfalls and springs here—a cache of their mysterious, elegantly wrought sacred vessels, copper wands, crowns, and scepters were discovered in the 1960s by Israeli archaeologists searching for hidden Dead Sea Scrolls (from 150 b.c.a.d. 135) amid the crevasses of inaccessible cliffside caves. According to the Bible, it was to the isolated canyons of Ein Gedi that the young David fled from the paranoid King Saul around b.c. 1000; here David had the chance to kill his pursuer, but he would not lay a hand on his king, the anointed of God. The “Song of Songs” rhapsodizes over the exotic herbs and spices grown in Ein Gedi’s rarefied atmosphere and soil. From approximately the 6th century b.c. until the a.d. late 8th century. Ein Gedi was famous throughout the ancient world for priceless incense, lotions, and perfumes. Ein Gedi’s plants and formulas were carefully guarded by the Ein Gedi community until its demise in early Islamic times. Indeed, an inscription in the mosaic floor of the Byzantine-era synagogue discovered at Ein Gedi warns members of the community not to divulge the “secret of the town” to outsiders. After more than 1,000 years of complete desolation, the region was resettled in 1949 by a group of kibbutzniks who were amazed at how trees and plantings thrive at Ein Gedi. Kibbutz Ein Gedi is now lushly planted with 900 species of trees and shrubs from all over the world, and is the only internationally recognized botanical garden in which people live!


It’s a tradition for Israelis to make the ascent to the top of Masada at least once—this is the scene of one of the most heroic and tragic incidents in Jewish history. Few non-Jews outside Israel had heard of Masada until its story was dramatized in a book and a subsequent television miniseries in 1981. The story of a small garrison that defied the Roman army, as the historian Flavius Josephus recorded and perhaps embellished, is worth retelling.

The Shepherds, the Shoemaker, the Professor & the Scrolls

In the spring of 1947, a teenage Bedouin shepherd searching for a lost goat tossed a stone into a virtually inaccessible cave on the chance the goat might have somehow strayed into it. He heard the sound of pottery breaking. Pulling himself up to the cave's entrance, he saw giant terra-cotta jars in which he imagined there might be an Arabian Nights' treasure, but instead, found them filled with rolls of old leatherlike parchment. His family broke off some of the scrolls and took them to the shop of Kando, the shoe repairman in Bethlehem, who often sold oddities and ancient objects found by Bedouin in the desert. If nothing else, Kando might be able to use the old leather filled with strange writing for shoe repairs. Kando himself had no idea of the meaning and value of what the Bedouin had brought him.

Prof. E. L. Sukenick, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, noticed broken fragments of the scrolls while browsing at Kando's, and was shown some complete scrolls. The professor almost fainted in amazement. Acting on a feeling that the scrolls might be far, far older than any others known to be in existence, Professor Sukenick risked his life to return to Bethlehem a few weeks later and purchase as many of the scrolls as he could afford on the very day in November 1947 when the United Nations in New York was voting to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab State. Rioting had erupted throughout British Mandate Palestine, and West Jerusalem was virtually under siege. According to his journal, when he stepped off the bus from Bethlehem in Jerusalem clutching the scrolls in a paper bag, Professor Sukenick said the prayer one recites on escaping death. He was probably the last Jew to visit Bethlehem until after the Six-Day War in 1967. During the Battle for Jerusalem, the scrolls remained in Professor Sukenick's house, while shells landed throughout the neighborhood. When Israel's War of Independence ended, the fragile scrolls were unraveled, in some cases using surgical instruments. Only then was it learned that the only scrolls of the Bible to survive from the time when The Temple stood in Jerusalem had been restored both to the Jewish people and to the world.