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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Machaerus

Jordan

 

The hilltop fortress of Machaerus, on the eastern side of the Dead Sea and 53 kilometres southwest of Amman, is recorded as the place where John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded.

Machaerus

Herod’s stronghold of Machaerus (© Visitjordan)

John preached a baptism of repentance at the Jordan River and foretold the coming of Jesus the Messiah, who was his cousin.

He also criticised Herod Antipas, the governor of Galilee and Perea, for unlawfully marrying his half-brother’s wife, Herodias — thereby earning her enmity.

Herod Antipas imprisoned John, but Mark’s Gospel says he protected him, “knowing that he was a righteous and holy man”, and “liked to listen to him” (6:20).

The governor’s birthday banquet for the leaders of Galilee gave Herodias her opportunity to get rid of John. Her daughter, Salome, danced for the gathering and so enthralled Herod that he offered her whatever she wanted — “even half of my kingdom” (6:23).

Machaerus

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531 (The Yorke Project)

Salome, who was probably no older than 14 (so her dance might not have been the erotic performance usually imagined), sought her mother’s advice and then asked for John the Baptist’s head.

Herod, “deeply grieved”, gave the order. John was executed and his head brought in “on a platter”. John’s disciples took away his body for burial. (6:26-29)

According to the historian Josephus, John’s execution took place at Machaerus. An early Christian tradition says his body was buried at Sebastiya in Samaria, which Orthodox Christians believe was also the venue for the banquet.

 

Herod built ‘breathtaking’ palace

Machaerus (the name means “black fortress”) was one of a series of hilltop strongholds established by Herod the Great — the father of Antipas — along the edge of the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea.

Machaerus

Ruins of Herod’s palace on Machaerus (© Dan Gibson)

Protected on three sides by deep ravines, it afforded seclusion and safety in times of political unrest. Fire signals linked Machaerus to Herod’s other fortresses and to Jerusalem.

On top of the mountain, more than 1100 metres above the Dead Sea, Herod erected a fortress wall with high corner towers. In the centre he built a palace that was “breathtaking in size and beauty”, according to Josephus. Numerous cisterns were dug to collect rainwater.

When Herod the Great died in 4 BC, Machaerus passed to his son Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee and Perea (an area on the eastern side of the Jordan River) until AD 39.

 

Jesus appeared before Antipas

Herod Antipas had married Phasaelis, daughter of King Aretas of Nabatea, the kingdom whose capital was Petra. But while visiting Rome in AD 26 he stayed with his half-brother Herod Philip I and fell in love with Philip’s wife Herodias.

When Phasaelis learnt that Antipas intended to divorce her and marry Herodias, she obtained permission to visit Machaerus and from there fled to her father in Nabatea.

Machaerus

Herod Antipas, by James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)

Antipas’s rejection of Phasaelis added a personal note to existing disputes with King Aretas over the boundary of Perea and Nabatea. In AD 36 Aretas attacked Antipas and completely destroyed his army.

According to Josephus, some of the Jews saw this devastating defeat as divine retribution for killing John the Baptist.

Some time before the war with Aretas, Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem and brought before Pontius Pilate. When Pilate learnt that Jesus came from Galilee, he sent him to Herod Antipas, who was also in Jerusalem at the time.

Luke’s Gospel says Antipas “had been wanting to see him for a long time” and “was hoping to see him perform some sign”. He questioned Jesus at length, but Jesus gave no answer. Antipas then mocked Jesus and sent him back to Pilate in an elegant robe. (23:8-11)

Romans captured fortress by deception

In AD 39 Herod Antipas was accused of conspiring against the Roman emperor Caligula, who exiled him to Gaul.

At the time of the First Jewish Revolt (AD 66-73), Machaerus was in the hands of Jewish rebels. Roman forces took the fortress only by deception — they captured a young Jewish defender and threatened to crucify him if the rebels did not surrender.

Machaerus

Columns from Herod’s palace on Machaerus (© Dan Gibson)

When the rebels agreed to abandon Machaerus, the Romans systematically dismantled the Herodian fortifications.

Excavations at the site have uncovered remains of Herod’s palace, including rooms designed around a central courtyard, an elaborate bath and floor mosaics.

Below the hilltop ruins on the eastern side is the village of Mukawir, where excavations have found evidence of three Byzantine churches built in the 6th century.

 

In Scripture

Herod Antipas executes John the Baptist: Mark 6:14-29; Matthew 14:1-12; Luke 3:18-20

Jesus appears before Herod Antipas: Luke 23:8-11

 

References

Brisco, Thomas: Holman Bible Atlas (Broadman and Holman, 1998)
Cox, Ronald: The Gospel Story (CYM Publications, 1950)
Eber, Shirley, and O’Sullivan, Kevin: Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide (Harrap-Columbus, 1989)
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Maier, Paul L. (trans.): Josephus: The Essential Writings (Kregel Publications, 1988)
Meyers, Carol L., Craven, Toni, and Kraemer, Ross S. (eds): Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books and New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)

 

External links

The Fortress of Machaerous (Franciscan Archaeological Institute)
Mukawir Fortress (Nabataea.net)
Where Saint John the Baptist was Beheaded (Hungarian Review)
Lost biblical fortress of Machaerus restored after 50 years of excavations (Jordan Times)

Madaba

Jordan

Madaba

Guide explains mosaic map in Church of St George, Madaba (Seetheholyland.net)

The remains of the oldest known map of the Holy Land, painstakingly assembled from more than a million pieces of coloured stone, lie on the floor of a church in the Jordanian city of Madaba.

This unique art treasure was designed by an unknown artist and constructed in a Byzantine cathedral in the middle of the 6th century.

It was rediscovered only in 1884, but its unique character was recognised only in 1896, after the new Greek Orthodox Church of St George had been built over it.

The discovery of the Madaba Mosaic Map, and mosaics in the remains of five more churches and other locations in the town, led to Madaba, 30km south of Amman, becoming known as “the City of Mosaics”.

The map originally covered an area of more than 15.5 metres by 5.5 metres with a geographic sweep from Lebanon in the north to the Nile delta in the south. Less than a third of the map has survived.

In spite of some inaccuracies, it is regarded as the most exact map of the Holy Land before modern cartography was developed.

 

Jerusalem is the main feature

Madaba

Madaba map showing fish in Jordan River (Dale Gillard)

Unlike modern maps, which face north, the Madaba mosaic is orientated to the east, with the Jordan River flowing from left to right.

Using a palette consisting of coloured stones and glass, the artist ingeniously depicted biblical locations, regional names and events, labelling them with about 150 inscriptions in Greek.

There is Jericho ringed with palm trees, Jacob’s Well at Shechem, the Oak of Mamre at Hebron, John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, and the allotments of the 12 tribes of Israel.

East of the Jordan River, a lion pursues a graceful gazelle. Fish swim down the river, with one turning back against the flow to avoid the poisonous Dead Sea. Two pulley-drawn ferries cross the river. Two boats cross the Dead Sea, one being rowed and the other under sail.

But the artist’s dominant focus is on the “Holy City” of Jerusalem. A lavish bird’s-eye view of the city is presented, with its walls, gates, main streets and 36 specific buildings represented. Many of the buildings (including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) are clearly identifiable.

 

Purpose of map is debated

Scholars have differing opinions on why such an expensive piece of religious art should have been commissioned by Church authorities on the floor of a Christian building in a provincial town of the Roman Empire.

St George's Church, Madaba (Seetheholyland.net)

St George’s Church, Madaba (Seetheholyland.net)

Some of the possibilities debated are:

• To aid pilgrims in making their way from one holy place to another. But pilgrims could not take this map with them, and portable maps and local guides were available at the time.

• To represent Moses’ vision of the Promised Land. Moses glimpsed the Promised Land from the top of nearby Mount Nebo, and Madaba was the episcopal see of the bishopric to which Mount Nebo belonged.

• To enhance the spiritual experience of worshippers during liturgy. The mosaic was originally on the floor of a large church, stretching across between the priest at the altar and the congregation.

The contents of the map indicate that it was intended as a work of biblical geography, probably based on the Onomasticon of Eusebius, a gazatteer of placenames, as well as on pilgrims’ journals and the artist’s own knowledge of the land.

The importance given to Christian holy places, especially the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, rather than Old Testament locations, suggests that the map is a Christian exposition of the message of salvation in a geographic context.

 

Madaba in ruins for centuries

Madaba

Mosaic map in Church of St George (© Visitpalestine.ps)

Madaba was an important town in the early centuries of the Christian era. It was on the King’s Highway trade route, it had its own bishop and it had about 10 other churches with impressive mosaics. The remains of two of these churches are in the city’s archaeological park.

A conservative estimate is that the mosaic map would have originally contained about 1,116,000 pieces of stone and glass. A team of three workmen, working 10-hour days and directed by a superior artist, would have needed about 186 days to assemble it.

In 746, about 200 years after the mosaic map was constructed, Madaba was largely destroyed by an earthquake and subsequently abandoned.

The town was still in ruins and uninhabited in the early 1880s when a group of Christians from Karak, 140km south of Amman, decided to move there to escape conflict with Muslims in their home town.

The new settlers were removing debris from an old church in 1884, so they could build a new one on the site, when they discovered the remains of the map. They incorporated the surviving fragments into the new St George’s Church.

The map’s extraordinary value was not recognized until the librarian of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate in Jerusalem, Fr Kleopas Koikylides, visited in 1896. A report he published the following year brought international attention to the dusty village of Madaba.

By the middle of the 19th century the mosaic was in poor condition. Restoration and conservation was carried out by archaeologists Herbert Donner and Heinz Cüppers in 1965.

Madaba is now the fifth most populous city in Jordan and the administrative centre for the territory south of Amman. St George’s Church is northwest of the city centre.

 

Administered by: Greek Orthodox Church

Tel.: 962-5-324-4984

Open: Sat, Mon-Thur 8am-6pm; Fri 9.30am-6pm; Sun 10.30am-6pm (5pm closing in winter)

 

 

References

Donner, Herbert: The Mosaic Map of Madaba: an introductory guide (Kok Pharos, 1992)
Haddad, Fadi Shawkat: A Christian Pilgrimage Journey in Jordan (published by author, PO Box 135, Amman 11733, 2015)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Piccirillo, Michele: “The Madaba Mosaic Map”, Holy Land, winter 2002

 

External links

Church of Saint George at Madaba (Historvius)
The Madaba Map (Jerusalem Municipality)

Qumran

Israel

Qumran

Qumran display of clay vessels in which scrolls were found (Seetheholyland.net)

Qumran is famous as the hiding place of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a literary treasure trove hidden since shortly after the time of Christ.

The site is north-west of the Dead Sea, about 15km south of Jericho and about 1.5km west of the road that runs along the western shore of the Dead Sea.

A Bedouin goat- or sheep-herder by the name of Mohammed Ahmed el-Hamed found the first scrolls in 1947, when he threw a rock into a cave in an attempt to drive out a missing animal. The sound of breaking pottery drew him into the cave, where he found seven clay jars containing scrolls that had been wrapped in linen for nearly 2000 years.

Eventually, fragments of about 850 scrolls were found in 11 of the hard-to-reach caves that pockmark the cliffs of the Qumran area. A 12th cave, its contents looted, was found in 2017.

The ancient manuscripts were in various states of completeness. Only a handful were intact, the largest more than 8 metres long. Most were written in Hebrew, some in Aramaic and a few in Greek. Most were on parchment, with a few on papyrus. They had been preserved by the hot, dry desert climate.

The scrolls include at least fragments of every book of the Old Testament except the book of Esther. The oldest existing copies of the Old Testament, they generally confirm the accuracy of later manuscripts. Other scrolls also give a new insight into the Jewish society in which Christianity began.

 

Essenes were ‘unique and admirable’

Who hid the scrolls at Qumran? Academics have hotly debated this question. The prevalent view is that the scrolls were written or copied by a devout group of Essenes, a strict Jewish sect formed in reaction to what they saw as religious laxity in Judaism.

The Essenes at Qumran lived an austere lifestyle in their remote desert surroundings.   Study of the Jewish Law went on in shifts around the clock.

The community gained the admiration of the Roman statesman Pliny the Elder, who wrote: “They are unique and admirable beyond all other peoples in that they have no women, no sexual desire, no money, and only palm trees for company. Owing to the influx of newcomers, they are daily reborn in equal numbers.”

The Essenes believed the end of the world was imminent. They never married because they wanted to be ritually pure when the Messiah appeared.

 

No scrolls mention Christ

Qumran

Close-up of cave 4 at Qumran (Seetheholyland.net)

The Qumran community was driven from its wilderness retreat by the Romans in AD 68, leaving its library of scrolls hidden in caves for safe-keeping.

Although the Essenes existed during the time of Christ, none of the scrolls refer to him or to any other New Testament personality.

Ruins of the sect’s communal site remain, including a watchtower, a dining hall, cisterns and cemeteries.

Visitors can watch a short film on the Essenes and view a small exhibition before going to the archaeological site. From there, the caves above can be seen.

Where are the scrolls now? Most are in Jerusalem (eight at the Shrine of the Book, where pages are regularly on display, and the others at the Rockefeller Museum). Some are in Jordan and Europe.

Related site:

Shrine of the Book

 

Administered by: Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Tel.: 0972-2-994-2235

Open: 8am-5pm (4pm Oct-Mar)

 

References

Bowker, John: The Complete Bible Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1998)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Sussman, Ayala, and Peled, Ruth: The Dead Sea Scrolls (Israel Antiquities Authority and Israel Museum Products, 1994)

 

External links

Shrine of the Book (The Israel Museum)
Dead Sea scrolls (Wikipedia)
Qumran (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Qumran (BiblePlaces)

Masada

Israel

Masada

View from Masada to the Dead Sea (Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The rocktop fortress of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea has been invested with a quasi-religious significance as a symbol of resistance for the people of Israel.

Once a palatial refuge for Herod the Great, this massive plateau on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert is better known as the location of a Roman siege against Jewish rebels in AD 74.

The story of 960 defenders choosing self-inflicted death rather than surrender has achieved legendary status for the Jewish people, though scholars have questioned its credibility.

Masada’s symbolic status was boosted by a poem by Yitzchak Lamdan, published in 1927, and by extensive excavations by soldier-archaeologist Yigael Yadin.

Masada’s summit may be reached by a tortuous “snake path” (which takes a fit person 45 minutes), by a path up the Roman siege ramp (15 minutes) or by a modern cable car.

The view across the Dead Sea 450 metres below is spectacular. After Jerusalem, Masada is Israel’s most popular tourist attraction.

 

Herod lived in luxury

Masada

Bathhouse with under-floor heating (Seetheholyland.net)

Masada’s flat-topped shape has been aptly described by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor as “curiously like an aircraft-carrier moored to the western cliffs of the Dead Sea”.

The north-facing prow of this warship consists of the ruins of Herod’s luxurious residential palace. Elaborately designed and decorated, it cascaded in three tiers down the cliff face, each tier connected by a rock-cut staircase.

On the western side of the warship’s 550m by 275m deck are the remains of Herod’s ceremonial palace and administrative centre. The largest building on Masada, it covered nearly half a hectare.

Herod planned Masada as a palace stronghold and desert foxhole, and fortified it with walls, gates and towers. He wanted a place of refuge in case the Jews should rebel against him, or the Egyptian pharaoh Cleopatra (who coveted Judea) should try to have him killed.

Herod’s creature comforts include bathhouses and a swimming pool. The most elaborate bathhouse had a hot room with the floor suspended on low pillars. Hot air from a furnace was circulated under the floor and through clay pipes in the walls.

To supply water in this arid setting, a sophisticated system channelled winter rainfall from nearby wadis into huge cisterns quarried low into the northwest of the mountain. Water was then carried by men and beasts of burden up winding paths to reservoirs on the summit. The lower cisterns alone are estimated to have a capacity of 38,000 cubic metres.

 

Romans besieged the fortress

Masada

Seige ramp at Masada (Seetheholyland.net)

In AD 66, at the beginning of the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome, a group of Jewish extremists called Sicarii overran the Roman garrison stationed on Masada. By then, Herod had been dead for 70 years.

According to the historian Josephus, the Sicarii were unlikely heroes who attacked local villages. In a night raid for food on the Jewish settlement of En-Gedi, 17km away, he says the Sicarii killed more than 700 Jewish settlers, including women and children, during Passover.

The Roman governor Lucius Flavius Silva waited until Jerusalem had fallen before taking the Tenth Legion to Masada in 72-73. Laying siege to the fortress, he established eight fortified camps linked by a ditch and wall around Masada, then built a ramp on top of a natural bedrock spur to reach the summit.

Up the ramp the Romans rolled an iron-sheathed siege tower, with rapid-firing catapults and a huge battering ram to breach the fortress wall.

According to Josephus, when defeat was inevitable the leader of the Sicarii, Eleazar ben Ya’ir, gave two impassioned speeches persuading his companions to cast lots to kill each other rather than be taken prisoner.

He argued “it is still an eligible thing to die after a glorious manner, together with our dearest friends . . . let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually, and preserve ourselves in freedom, as an excellent funeral monument for us”.

When the Romans stormed the summit, they found the bodies of 960 occupants. The only survivors were two women and five children who had hidden in a cistern.

 

Josephus’ account is questioned

The only account of the fall of Masada and the mass suicide of its occupants comes from Josephus. Surprisingly, the Jewish rabbis who wrote the Talmud did not record the event.

A former Jewish rebel who joined the Romans after he was captured, Josephus lived through the Great Jewish Revolt and knew Silva personally. Like other historians of antiquity, however, he was known for his literary embellishments, and scholars have questioned the credibility of his dramatic account.

Would there have been time for Eleazar’s speeches, the drawing of lots and the organized killings as Masada fell? Would the survivors have been able to repeat the speeches verbatim to the Romans?

More pertinently, modern historians point to parallels between Eleazar’s second oration and a speech Josephus himself gave in similar circumstances when the fortified village of Jotapata, in northern Galilee, fell to the Romans after a siege and bloody battle in AD 67.

Josephus, who commanded the Jewish rebels in Galilee in that battle, tells of hiding in a cave with other survivors who drew lots to kill each other rather than surrender. One of the last two men standing — “should one say by fortune or by the providence of God?” — was the wily Josephus, who persuaded his companion to join him in surrendering.

Rather than accept the rhetoric of Josephus, modern historians favour a more chaotic climax at Masada, with some Sicarii fighting to the death, some taking their own lives and others trying to hide.

Furthermore, a research report in 2016 concluded that the ramp was never completed and therefore could not have been used to capture the fortress.

 

Restored buildings can be seen

Many of the buildings on Masada’s summit have been restored, including Herod’s bathhouses (a black line on the walls indicates where restoration began). Some have mosaic floors.

Remains of a synagogue used by the Sicarii and a church built by Byzantine monks in the 5th century have also been excavated. The monks lived in cells dispersed round the summit.

Silva’s siege works and ramp, including remains of the Roman wall and camps, can still be seen.

The skeletons of 28 people excavated in the 1960s — whether Sicarii or Roman soldiers is not proven — were given a state funeral at Masada with full military honours in 1969.

In the early decades of the Jewish state, recruits to Israel’s armed forces — in which service is compulsory for most citizens, male or female — climbed the snake path for a torchlight swearing-in ceremony ending with the declaration: “Masada shall not fall again!”

The ceremony was abandoned in 1986, according to Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, because “Its underlying message of heroes who commit suicide no longer captured the imagination of a Jewish state which emphasised life, not death, and victory rather than defeat”.

 

Administered by: Israel National Parks Authority

Tel.: 08-658-4207/8

Open:

April–September 8 A.M.–5 P.M. October–March 8 A.M– 4 P.M. Fridays and holiday eves, site closes one hour earlier than above.

Cable-car hours: Sat.–Thurs.: 8 A.M.–4 P.M.; Friday and holiday eves 8 A.M.–2 P.M.; Yom Kippur eve 8 A.M.–noon.

 

 

References

Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Goldfus, H., et al.: “The significance of geomorphological and soil formation research for understanding the unfinished Roman ramp at Masada”, Catena, 2016
Hoffman, Lawrence A.: Israel: A Spiritual Travel Guide (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1998)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Maier, Paul L. (trans.): Josephus: The Essential Writings (Kregel Publications, 1988)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

The Wars of the Jews, by Josephus (Christian Classics Ethereal Library; chapters 8 and 9 describe the siege of Masada)
Masada: Desert Fortress Overlooking the Dead Sea (Jewish Virtual Library)
Masada (Bible Pictures)

 

Jordan River

Israel/Jordan

Jordan River

Jordan River near Chorazin (Seetheholyland.net)

The Jordan River runs through the land and history of the Bible, giving its waters a spiritual significance that sets it aside from other rivers.

The Jordan is significant for Jews because the tribes of Israel under Joshua crossed the river on dry ground to enter the Promised Land after years of wandering in the desert.

It is significant for Christians because John the Baptist baptised Jesus in the waters of the Jordan.

The prophets Elijah and Elisha also crossed the river dry-shod; and the Syrian general Naaman was healed of leprosy after washing in the Jordan at Elisha’s direction.

 

River flows below sea level

Jordan River

Excavated baptismal site at Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Seetheholyland.net)

Flowing southward from its sources in the mountainous area where Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet, the Jordan River passes through the Sea of Galilee and ends in the Dead Sea. A large part of its 320-kilometre length forms the border between Israel and Jordan in the north and the West Bank and Jordan in the south.

The river falls 950 metres from its source to the Dead Sea. For most of its course down the Jordan Rift Valley, it flows well below sea level. Its name means “Dan [one of its tributaries] flows down”.

Though an old song says the River Jordan is “deep and wide”, the modern river is neither. In places it is more like a creek than a river — less than 10 metres across and 2 metres deep.

From Jesus’ time until the mid 20th century, seasonal flooding in winter and spring expanded its width to 1.5km. Dams in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel now preclude flooding.

 

Site identified in former military zone

Jordan River

Yardenit baptism site (Seetheholyland.net)

The place where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist is believed to be in Jordan, on the east bank of a large loop in the river opposite Jericho.

A site less than 2km east of the river’s present course, at Wadi Al-Kharrar, has been identified as Bethany Beyond the Jordan. This is where John lived and baptised, and where Jesus fled for safety after being threatened with stoning in Jerusalem.

Until the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, the area was a Jordanian military zone. After clearing nearby minefields, the Jordanian government has made the place accessible to archaeologists, pilgrims and tourists.

Jordan’s new Baptism Archaeological Park contains the remains of a Byzantine-era monastery featuring at least four churches, one of which is built around a cave believed to be the one that ancient pilgrims called “the cave of John the Baptist”.

While the Jordanian location was inaccessible, a modern site commemorating Christ’s baptism was established at Yardenit in Israel, at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee.

Maintained by a kibbutz, it is a popular place for Christian pilgrims to renew their baptismal promises — or for new Christians to be baptised, often in white robes and undergoing total immersion in the mild waters of the Jordan.

 

Various

The course of the Jordan River (Wikimedia)

Jordan is diverted and polluted

Because its waters are a vital resource for the dry lands of the region, the Jordan has been a source of contention among Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

In modern times more than 90 per cent of its natural flow has been diverted for domestic and agricultural use. The lower Jordan is heavily polluted by sewage and industrial run-off.

In 2007 the World Monuments Fund listed the lower Jordan in the top 100 most “endangered cultural heritage sites”. In support, a regional environmental organisation, Friends of the Earth Middle East, said: “The region’s current policies treat the river as a backyard dumping ground.”

Related site:

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

 

In Scripture:

The Israelites cross the Jordan on dry ground: Joshua 3:14-17

Elijah crosses the Jordan on dry ground: 2 Kings 2:8

John baptises Jesus: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34

Naaman’s leprosy is cured in the Jordan: 2 Kings 5:1-14

 

 

References

McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)
Khouri, Rami: “Where John Baptized: Bethany Beyond the Jordan”, Exploring Jordan: The Other Biblical Land (Biblical Archaeology Society, 2008)
Waldocks, Ehud Zion: “Jordan River to run dry by next year”, Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2010

 

External links

The Baptism Site of Jesus Christ (official site)
Jordan, the Land and River of the Baptism (Franciscan Cyberspot)
Yardenit Baptismal (BibleWalks)
Yardenit Baptismal Site

Dead Sea

Israel/Jordan/West Bank

Dead Sea

Bathers by the shore of the Dead Sea (© Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The Dead Sea, which shimmers like a blue mirror under all-day sunshine, is one of the most unusual bodies of water in the world.

It is set in the lowest dry land on earth, so it has no outlet. It is so loaded with minerals that no fish can live in it. It is so dense that bathers can lie back on its surface and read a newspaper.

The Dead Sea is located about 25km east of Jerusalem, along the border between Israel and Jordan. About half of it is actually in Jordanian territory.

The ancient Hebrews called this body of water the Sea of Salt. Other ancient names include the Sea of Solitude, the Sea of Arabah and the Asphalt Sea. The Crusaders called it the Sea of Satan.

The Dead Sea’s therapeutic qualities attracted Herod the Great. Its minerals and sticky black mud provided balms for Egyptian mummies and cosmetics for Cleopatra.

Now its health resorts treat psoriasis and arthritis, its skin-care products are marketed worldwide, and its industrial evaporation pans harvest potash and other minerals.

 

Wicked cities were destroyed

Dead Sea

Pillar of salt, on Jordanian side of Dead Sea, known as Lot’s Wife (© Visitjordan.com)

The region has many biblical connections. Here, though their locations are unknown, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God with “sulphur and fire” and Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at the destruction (Genesis 19:24-26). Among the salt encrustations around the sea is an unusual column at the southern end called Lot’s Wife (though it is 20 metres high).

On the eastern side, the highest peak visible is Mount Nebo, where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land. Further south stands the fortress of Machaerus, where Herod Antipas imprisoned and then executed John the Baptist.

On the western side, from north to south, are Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found; Ein Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in a cave (and cut off a corner of the king’s cloak when he entered the cave to relieve himself); and Herod the Great’s fortress of Masada.

 

Evaporation concentrates the minerals

Dead Sea

Afloat in the Dead Sea (David Niblack)

By 2013 the Dead Sea was 50km long, 15km across at its widest point, and 430 metres below sea level. Its area was constantly shrinking and the water level was dropping by more than a metre a year.

Because it has no exit, water is lost only through evaporation, which leaves behind the minerals. The Dead Sea is nearly 10 times as salty as the open seas. The high concentration of minerals (predominantly magnesium chloride) provides the buoyancy that keeps bathers suspended — as well as a bitter taste.

A low promontory of land called el-Lisan (“the tongue”) projects across the sea from the east, dividing the southern third from the northern section. The southern part is now devoted to evaporation pools for mineral extraction.

Most of the water that once flowed from the Jordan River into the Dead Sea is being diverted for drinking water and agricultural purposes, so there is not enough to offset the high evaporation rate.

Since the late 1980s the landscape around the sea has been reshaped by thousands of sinkholes — caused by fresh water from the mountains dissolving underground levels of salt. This phenomenon has caused some tourist beaches in Israel to close.

Rescue proposals to prevent the sea drying up have included canals to bring water from the Mediterranean Sea or the Red Sea.

If the Dead Sea becomes rejuvenated with fresh water, this could fulfil a prophecy in Ezekiel 47:8-10, that it will “become fresh . . . and there will be very many fish”.

In December 2013, representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority agreed on a long-term desalination project in which brine would be piped about 180 kilometres from Aqaba, Jordan, to replenish the Dead Sea.

 

Related sites:

Qumran

Masada

In Scripture:

God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah: Genesis 19:24-26

Prophesy that the Dead Sea will become fresh: Ezekiel 47:8-10

 

 

References

Anonymous: “The Dead Sea”, Holy Land, summer 2005
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Frumkin, Amos: “How Lot’s Wife Became a Pillar of Salt”, Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2009
Kershner, Isabel: “A Rare Middle East Agreement, on Water”, New York Times, December 9, 2013
Lidman, Melanie: “As the Dead Sea dries, its collapsing shores force a return to nature”, Times of Israel, February 13, 2017
Martin, James: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Westminster Press, 1978)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)

 

 

 

External links

Dead Sea (Wikipedia)

Mount Nebo

Jordan

Mount Nebo

View from Mount Nebo (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

After 40 years leading the headstrong Israelites in the desert, Moses stood on the windswept summit of Mount Nebo and viewed the Promised Land of Canaan — after having been told by God “you shall not cross over there”.

On a clear day, today’s pilgrims can see the panorama Moses viewed: The Dead Sea, the Jordan River valley, Jericho, Bethlehem and the distant hills of Jerusalem.

As Deuteronomy 34:5-6 recounts, Moses died there in the land of Moab “but no one knows his burial place to this day”. Moses did, however, eventually reach the Promised Land. He and Elijah were seen with Jesus at the latter’s Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36).

Mount Nebo is now in western Jordan. At 820 metres high, it looks down 1220 metres on the nearby Dead Sea (which is about 400 metres below sea level).

Early Christians from Jerusalem made it a place of pilgrimage. In the 3rd or 4th century monks from Egypt built a small church on one of its peaks, Siyagha (a name meaning monastery), to commemorate the end of Moses’ life. By the end of the 4th century, an empty “tomb of Moses” was being shown to pilgrims on the mountain.

Pilgrim’s journal assisted excavation

Mount Nebo

Floor mosaics in Mount Nebo Church (© Visitpalestine.ps)

The monks’ church was expanded in the 5th and 6th centuries into a large basilica with a stunning collection of Byzantine mosaics and an elaborate baptistry. Though little remains of the early buildings, the mosaics can be seen inside the present-day shrine.

The main mosaic, about 9 metres by 3 metres, depicts monastic wine-making, hunters and various animals.

In the 1930s the Mount Nebo site was excavated, thanks largely to a description of it in the journal of an early woman pilgrim, Egeria, in AD 394. Six tombs were also found, hollowed into the rock beneath the basilica’s mosaic floor.

Mount Nebo

Pilgrims at Mount Nebo’s serpentine cross sculpture (Seetheholyland.net)

Outside the present-day shrine stands an enigmatic serpentine cross, the Brazen Serpent Monument. Created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni, it imaginatively merges the life-saving bronze serpent set up by Moses into the desert (Numbers 21:4-9) and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.

 

Village with several churches

A less well-known site is at Khirbet al-Mukhayyat, a small town to the east, between Mount Nebo and Madaba. Here are the remains of the village of Nebo, mentioned twice in the Bible, where villagers in the 6th and 7th centuries constructed several churches.

On the highest point of the acropolis was the 6th-century Church of St George. The best-preserved floor mosaics are in the Church of Sts Lot and Procopius, who were venerated as martyrs.

 

In Scripture:

Moses on Mount Nebo: Deuteronomy 34:1-8

Transfiguration of Jesus: Luke 9:28-36

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 962-5-325-2938

Open: 8am-5pm (4pm Oct-Mar)

 

References

Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Piccirillo, M., Alliata, E. (ed.): Mount Nebo. New Archaeological Excavations 1967-1997 (Franciscan Printing Press, 1998)

External links

The Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo (Franciscan Archaeological Institute)


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