You may need to clear your ears as you drive down the Judean Desert Israel, rapidly descending 1,200 meters (nearly 4,000 feet) from the heights of Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.
The ride may be steep, but the desolate beauty of the Judean Desert is breathtaking.
You can drive down yourself, join an organized Judean Desert tour,
or book on of our private tours of the desert in Israel.
Called 'Midbar Yehuda' in Hebrew, the Judean Desert is home to some of the most remarkable Israel sightseeing attractions:
The Dead Sea is the lowest inhabitable place on this planet, at 430 meters below sea level.
It's actually not a sea at all, but a huge salt lake with a concentration of 34% salt. That's ten times more concentrated the seas and oceans.
And its the salt that makes floating on the Dead Sea so unique!
You can spend time on one of the beautiful Dead Sea public beaches, float in the water, or enjoy a famous Dead Sea mud bath.
Just be careful. If you have an open wound, even if small one, bathing in the salt might sting.
It is almos always sunny in the Judean Desert. You can actually sunbathe for much longer than usual at the Dead Sea. Because the Dead Sea is so low, there is an extra atmospheric layer that provides 'extra' protection from ultraviolet rays.
There are lovely views as you drive along the Dead Sea.
Just be careful not to step our of your car in unmarked beach areas, because there are many sinkholes.
In 1947, a few young Bedouin shepherds discovered seven clay jars in Qumran Caves near the Dead Sea. What was in the jars was an earth shattering discovery.
The jars contained the oldest parchments of the Bible dating 2,000 years ago. Until that date, the earliest Biblical writings were from a thousand years later.
More parchments continue to be discovered in nearby caves. All in all there are thousands of manuscripts and writings in Hebrew and Aramaic. Fragments of almost the entire Old Testament were found. Amazingly, the writings are identical or very similar to the Hebrew Bible being used today. The scrolls include biblical and non-biblical writings describing the people who lived in the caves and their customs.
So who wrote these manuscripts?
About two thousand years ago, a group of Jews called Essenes left what they believed was 'corrupt' Jerusalem. They settled in caves near the Dead Sea to live ascetic, communal lives. The believed they were the poor people of the light, and their enemies were people of the dark.
Most scholars believe the Dead Sea Scrolls were writtten by the Essenes, although some scholars believe they were written by other Jewish groups or by early Christians.
You can learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls here.
Over the centuries, the Judean Desert has served as a refuge for many who ran away or sought refuge from Jerusalem.
David ran away from King Saul and from Abshalom to the desert.
Many Jewish and Christian sects escaped the corruption of Jerusalem to the holy desert, such as the Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. John the Baptist lived in the Judean Desert.
During the early Christian period, inspired by the Holy Land, hundreds and eventually thousands of Christian hermits chose to live in remote desert caves. Monasteries were built around the hermit caves.
One of the largest ancient monasteries that are still active is Mar Saba Monastery near Bethlehem, which you can see in the picture above.
Built in the 4th century, it hangs precariously on the peaks of Kidron Valley, named by Christians the Valley of Resurrection. The Kidron River starts outside the Old City of Jerusalem -
and runs through the desert until it empties into the Dead Sea.
Another monastery is the spectacular St. George Monastery.
St. George Koziba Monastery seems to be engraved right into the steep rockface of the Qelt Valley cliffs between Jerusalem and Jericho.
Do take care since this monastery is in an area that has seen hostilities. Check before you go there on your own, or we recommend that you join a private or organized tour.
The most famous oasis in the Judean Desert of Israel is Ein Gedi near the northern part of the Dead Sea.
Ein Gedi is one of the most popular national parks in Israel with 4 springs in the area including David's Spring and Waterfall and Arugot Spring.
There are wonderful walking and hiking trails. The shorter ones around the David Spring are 30 - 60 minutes long. The medium length hikes near the Arugot Spring can take 3 - 4 hours.
As you walk around, there's a decent chance you might see one of the the many ibex and hyrax in the area.
For thousands of years, man has lived around the Ein Gedi water sources. You can visit archaeological remains.
There is an ancient pagan temple from about 3000 BC. There is also a fascinating, ancient synagogue mosaic with an inscription that curses whoever reveals the secret of the village!
Historians believe that the inscription is referring to the secret recipe for creating the famous Biblical 'persimmon' fragrance that was extremely expensive and a leading export from the Kingdom of Judea. The fragrance was derived from a plant that only grew around Ein Gedi.
The nearby Ein Gedi Kibbutz has a comfortable hotel guesthouse in a bucolic setting, with botanical and ecological gardens and their own private, Dead Sea beaches.
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