After leaving McDonalds (famous for its 5 foot touch screens) we trekked up the hill to the ancient Nabatean/Roman city of Avdat. Such a view from the Heights! The wind was even more ferocious from the top of the Tel, but we were on a mission! Avdat protected the “Incense Route” that brought expensive spices and other goods from Saudi Arabia/Yemen to Gaza (yes, the very same Gaza you hear about in the news). Always on the lookout for something unusual, Rena let us know there was a chance that we could be in for a rare treat.
We were in luck. A very talented young actor re-enacts a first Century BCE Nabatean trader and goes by the name: Nati HaNabati (Nati the Nabatean). We could hear his shouts from afar….Who are you? He cried! Where are you all from? Why are you on my mountain? There were perhaps 50 adults and 50 children, and he began to ask us each where we were from. Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Venezuala, and a family from New York. I wanted to be the farthest, so I emphasized (Tzafon Ma’arav, Artzot HaBrit) North West, USA! And I fancied myself from the most exotic place, but only for a moment, then a woman to my left said: “Sin” (China).
We certainly all came a long way to hear what Nati had to say. He explained about the Nabatean lifestyle and the caravans stretching 2,400 kilometers across the desert. How he would cook his meals, how he and the camels would sleep and most importantly where the hidden water cisterns were! The Nabateans lived a simple, nomadic and very free lifestyle. They lived by 3 rules: 1. Never plant a tree 2. Never build a house and 3. Never drink wine. These rules served them well as they became wealthy and important merchants. After several centuries, the very wealth and success they had amassed necessitated changes that would break all 3 rules. They became part of the Roman Empire, planted plenty of trees, built not just houses but fortresses (like Avdat) and adopted Christianity and a Roman lifestyle, drinking plenty of wine. With the adoption of Christianity and the replacement of their Aramaic alphabet with the Greek alphabet, over the next few centuries the Nabateans largely melted into the Byzantine fabric that surrounded them and ceased to be a distinct people.
Part of the tour included a Byzantine (Late Roman) Church from the middle of the 3rd Century. The Altar and Apse of the Church are very reminiscent of our own Bima and Aharon Kodesh. This is not surprising as the Church was built about the year 250CE when Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism had not yet fully diverged. This divergence would not be final until the Council of Nicaea in the year 325CE, so it follows that architectural design elements would share features with Synagogues of the same era. In fact, in the Israel Museum you can see a 3rd Century Church next to a 3rd Century Synagogue and the similarity is striking.
…Next week we head North…so stay tuned.
Guide to Photos:
# 810 Tel Avdat
# 811 Incense packed for camel transport
# 816 Vaulted (arched) ceiling
# 818 Byzantine steps; How many thousands of feet walked up and down these steps?
# 823 Beautiful Late Roman (Byzantine) archway
# 835, 852 – Nati
# 848 Church floor with Greek Inscription from the year 268 CE
# 855 Church Altar and Apse reminiscent of our Bima and Aharon Kodesh
# 857 Jay and Nati