388. Arrival at Engedi.
20th February 1946.
The pilgrims, although tired after a long march, which they perhaps covered in two stages from sunset to today's dawn, along difficult roads, cannot help uttering exclamations of admiration when, after a long stretch of road along a hill-side, which sparkles like diamonds in the early morning sunshine, they encounter the full view of the Dead Sea displayed before them, from shore to shore. The western side has a narrow plain between the sea and the Judaean type of luxuriant hills in the hinterland, while on the west the mountains drop sheer to the sea basin. One gets the impression that the ground, in a frightful telluric catastrophe, slid down with a clean cut, leaving crevices vertical to the lake, from which torrents descend, more or less rich in waters, destined to evaporate into salt in the dark cursed water of the Dead Sea. In the distance, beyond the lake, and the first range of hills, there are many more slopes, which are beautiful in the morning sunshine. To the north one can see the green-blue mouth of the Jordan, and mountains framing the lake to the south.
It is grand, solemn, sad, majestically admonishing scenery, in which the charming view of the mountains mingles with the gloomy one of the Dead Sea, the sight of which seems to remind one of what sin and the wrath of the Lord can bring. Because such a large expanse of water without a sail, a boat, a bird, an animal crossing it, flying over it or drinking on its shores, is really frightening! And, in contrast to the punitive sight of the sea, there are the wonders of the sun on the little mountains, on the dunes, as far as the desert sands, where the salt crystals look like precious jaspers spread on the sand, on stones, on the rigid stems of desert plants, and thus everything is beautiful, brightened by the diamond dust. And even more wonderful is the fertile aspect of a tableland, about one hundred and fifty metres above sea level, with luxuriant palm-trees and all kinds of trees and vines, and where blue waters flow and a beautiful town has been built, surrounded by a flourishing countryside.
When one looks at this landscape, which is so pleasant, charming and flowery, after contemplating the gloomy sight of the sea, the tormenting view of the eastern shore, which displays a sad tranquillity only in a low green strip of land jutting out into the south-eastern part of the sea, the desolate desert of Judah, the severe view of the Judaean mountains, one seems to awake suddenly from an oppressive nightmare that turns into a gentle vision of peace.
"This is Engedi, celebrated by the poets of our Fatherland. Look how beautiful the district is, nourished by so much graceful water, in the midst of so much desolation! Let us go down and plunge into its gardens, because everything here is garden: meadow, forest, vineyard. This is the ancient Hazazon-Tamar, a name that evokes its beautiful palm-trees, under which it was even more beautiful to build huts and cultivate the land, love one another, and bring up children and raise flocks in the sweet-sounding rustling of palm leaves. This is the pleasant oasis, the survivor of the lands of Eden punished by God, surrounded, like a pearl in a bezel, by paths accessible only to goats and roe-deer, as is written in the Book of Kings, and along those paths there are caves for persecuted, tired and forlorn people. Remember David, our king, and how kind he was to his enemy Saul. This is Hazazon-tamar, now Engedi, the fountain, the blessed town, the beauty from which the enemies moved against Jehoshaphat and the children of his people, who were frightened and were comforted by Jahaziel, son of Zechariah, through whom the Spirit of God spoke. And they won a great victory because they had faith in the Lord and they deserved His help, as they did penance and prayed before the battle. This is the town sung by Solomon, as a comparison of the beauty of the Most Beautiful of all beautiful women. It was mentioned by Ezekiel, because it was nourished by the waters of the Lord... Let us go down! Let us go and take the living Water, that descends from Heaven, to the gem of Israel." And He starts running down a very steep path, which zigzags down the reddish calcareous rock, that in the spots closest to the sea reaches the edge of the mountain, that is, its ledge. A path that would make giddy even the most expert mountaineers.
The apostles are hardly able to follow Him, and the older ones are left far behind when the Master stops at the first palm-trees and vineyards of the fertile tableland, where crystal-clear waters are gurgling and all kinds of birds are singing. White sheep are grazing under the rustling roofs of palm-trees, of mimosae, of balm-plants, of pistachio-trees and others exhaling sweet or pungent aromas, which mingle with those of rose-bushes, lavander in bloom, cinnamon, myrrh, incense, saffron, jasmines, lilies, lilies of the valley, and of the flower of aloe, which is very big here, of cloves and benzoins, which exude with other resins from incisions in tree-trunks. This is really "the garden enclosed, the fountain of the garden", and fruit, flowers, sweet scents, beauty are found everywhere! There is no place in Palestine as beautiful as this one, in size and natural charm. While contemplating it, one understands many writings of Eastern poets, where they celebrate the beauty of oases as if they were paradises spread over the Earth.
The apostles, perspiring but full of admiration, join the Master and all together they go down a well-kept road towards the sea shore, where they arrive after crossing several cultivated embankments, from which beneficent waters flow in small smiling cascades to nourish all the vegetation as far as the plain, which ends at the beach. Half-way down the hill-side they enter the white town, among rustling palm-trees and sweet-smelling rosebushes and thousands of flowers of its garden, and they look for lodgings, in the name of God, at the first houses. And the houses, as gentle as nature, open without any hesitation, while their inhabitants ask who is "the Prophet Who looks like Solomon, dressed in linen and beaming with beauty."... Jesus, with John and Peter, enters a house where there is a widow with her son. The others scatter in various directions, after being blessed by the Master and agreeing to meet in the main square at sunset.