3 Religious Sites in Jordan: Mt Nebo, Madaba, Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Mt. Nebo

Mt. Nebo

Everyone knows about Petra in Jordan; it’s the headliner, and for good reason. But Jordan is also home to some very important religious sites. It’s just across the Jordan River from Israel and very much part of the Holy Land.

Mt.Nebo is traditionally believed to be the site where Moses died and was buried. After wandering in the desert for 40 years, he was denied entrance into the Promised Land but he was allowed to look upon it from Mt.Nebo. As the story goes, Moses and the Israelites had been wandering in the desert for many years. It was hard on everyone. There was a great deal of kvetching and little gratitude, faith or loyalty among the Israelites. When he went out to get water for this mob of moaners, Moses was on his last nerve. “Fine,” he said, “we’ll get you your gosh darn water!” He struck a stone three times and water poured out. In that moment, Moses committed at least three sins and his fate was sealed. He failed in his responsibility as leader by losing his temper. He disobeyed the Lord by striking the stone rather than speaking to it as instructed. And, probably worst of all, he failed to properly credit the Lord for the miracle. His punishment was to never set foot in the Promised Land. It seems a harsh penalty. The poor guy left a life of royal luxury and accepted a thankless mission of extreme hardship. Why not give him some latitude, for pity’s sake? On the other hand, he fell short in his assignment of obedience to the Lord and leadership of the Israelites.

view from Mt. Nebo

view from Mt. Nebo

There’s plenty to ponder while standing on Mt.Nebo looking out over the Jordan Valley. If conditions are right, you can see Jericho and beyond to Jerusalem. Remains of a Byzantine church are incorporated into the modern church on site, which houses some very nice mosaics and the soaring serpentine cross sculpture at the edge of the summit seems to hang from the sky. It’s all very moving.

6th-century Holy Land map in Madaba

6th-century Holy Land map in Madaba

Just down the road about 5 miles is Madaba, famous for mosaics. They’re still excavating Byzantine remains all over town. The Basilica of St. George is the main attraction, where you can see the famous 6th-century map of the holy land in a mosaic floor.

the Jordan River at Bethany Beyond the Jordan

the Jordan River at Bethany Beyond the Jordan

possible (likely?) site of the baptism of Jesus, with remains of a Byzantine church

possible (likely?) site of the baptism of Jesus, with remains of a Byzantine church

About a 20 minute drive from Madaba at the very southern end of the Jordan River is Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the site widely believed to be where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. There’s very strong archaeological evidence to support that belief. After the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, this border area had to be cleared of mines. Excavations began in 1996 and have uncovered Roman and Byzantine remains of baptismal pools, churches, pilgrim lodgings, hermit caves, a monastery and a prayer hall. This is also believed to be the site from which the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.

I’m not at all religious but I was affected by the serenity of this place. Just thinking about it now is calming. My secular being has been similarly moved to the core at Mt. Nebo, Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall… Is there some inherent power in these places that is deeper than their associated spiritual traditions? Or does centuries-of-pilgrim-ardor hang so thick that even casual visitors are swept up in it? Or is it just the suggestion of emotional response that makes it so?

While these are interesting questions to consider, perhaps why we respond the way we do is far less important than the response itself. Aspire to faith in experience and acceptance of the unexplained. Ultimately, no matter our system of belief, the source of the feelings inspired by these places is the same for all of us. What differs is how we explain those feelings.

Visit Mt. Nebo, Madaba and Bethany Beyond the Jordan and feel for yourself: www.yallatours.com/jordan

The Real House Wives of Ancient Egypt

Nefertiti

Nefertiti

Is there a reader on your Christmas list who is fascinated with ancient Egypt?
How about you? Here are three page-turners, full of real, historical intrigue and well-drawn, relatable characters – Michelle Moran’s historical fiction novels about three of ancient Egypt’s most famous women:

Nerfertiti
Nerfertiti was the wife of the iconoclastic pharaoh Akhenaten, best known for his monotheism. He worshiped the sun god Aten, to the exclusion of the many other Egyptian gods. Nefertiti is popularly known for her great beauty, based on the bust pictured above. There is no question she was at the center of one of ancient Egypt’s most interesting periods.

The Heretic Queen
This is the story of Nefertari, queen of Ramesses II (the Great), who reigned for 66 years and is widely considered Egypt’s most powerful pharaoh and possibly the pharaoh, Moses’ adopted brother, who refused to set the Hebrew slaves free in the Exodus story. Ramesses II’s love and respect for Nefertari is exemplified in the temple he built for her at Abu Simbel. Not only is it one of the few temples built in the name of a queen but it’s the only known instance in ancient Egyptian art where a queen is portrayed equal in size to the pharaoh. Nefertari’s tomb is spectacular, the most beautiful of all the royal tombs discovered in Egypt.

Cleopatra’s Daughter
Cleopatra was the last pharaoh of Egypt, although she was actually Greek and didn’t even speak Egyptian. She was a member of the Ptolemaic Dynasty that ruled Egypt from the conquest of Alexander the Great to that of Rome. Cleopatra’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene II and her twin brother Alexander Helios were the products of Cleopatra’s affair with the Roman officer Mark Antony. This book tells the story of Cleopatra Selena II after the death of her parents, when she was taken to Rome by her parents’ rival, Octavian, the future Roman Emperor Augustus.

It’s Sukkot!

Sukkot is a joyful 7-day Jewish holiday, beginning 5 days after Yom Kippur, in October or September. It’s an annual commemoration of the period immediately after the Exodus from Egypt as well as a harvest festival. In Hebrew, sukkot means “booths” and refers to the temporary shelters, sukkah, that the Israelites built during their 40 years in the desert with Moses. Continue reading