Jordan-Days 1 to 3
In our previous trips to Israel in 1998, 1999, 2014, and 2015, we have visited many ancient ruins from Beit She’an to Acco. Surely, the most moving have been those sites that can be associated with the writings in the Bible. Now there is nothing to see that confirms any of the stories in the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. However, the places Moses might have wandered through exist to this day. What we cannot be certain of is if anyone named Moses ever existed and if he did, what did he do. That’s right, despite the importance to our culture of the stories on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, the physical correlates for the existence of these figures have yet to be found on the ground in Israel or in any of the surrounding countries, although the sites where their deeds might have occurred are real.
Let’s, for a moment, assume that the Bible was written shortly after the events it describes took place. Shortly can be measured in decades or centuries, but there are many places described in the Bible that have physical correlates today even if the archeology cannot corroborate the events that may have occurred at the sites.
If this is so, then it stands to reason that if Moses really left Egypt and wandered around the Sinai Desert for forty years before leading the Israelites to Mount Nebo where he died without entering the Promised Land, then we can try to determine if the geography of the Bible is correct.
Mount Nebo, and a whole host of sites described in the Old Testament and even some written about in the New Testament presumably occurred in Jordan, east of Israel and the Jordan River. Thus, if one wants to grasp the relevance of the Bible to the Jewish people, one has to come to Jordan. So much that was formative to our people happened before we returned to Canaan.
We are also learning about the history of the origins of the modern Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a history intricately entwined with that of Israel thanks to the British dividing up this part of the world after World War I.
On Sunday, July 16, we departed Tel Aviv and crossed the border into Jordan, an elaborate process of passport checking, suitcase inspecting, and make-work for Jordanian police and soldiers. From there we went to Jerash, one of the ten cities of the Roman Decropolis that controlled this part of the world during the Roman Empire. The ruins of both Greek and Roman occupation never cease to amaze. This must have been a glorious city once with a wide main street (the Cardo) and fountains fed by aqueducts everywhere. We also visit Tel Mar Elias, the site of a Christian Church, but a tribute to Elijah the Prophet who defeated local enemies to secure the land west of here, but was from this part of Jordan, Gilead. We celebrate him every Passover.
We also visited the site of a battle from the time of King David where Uriah, a soldier of David, was sent to die so that David could take his wife, Bathsheba, with whom he had already conceived a child. Apparently, while an effective king of Israel, David was not a nice guy.
We enter Amman, a busy city with amazing traffic jams, and we begin to know that though we are in the Middle East, we are not in Israel any more. Not only is everyone an Arab and many women wear the hijab, the culture of Europe that was only brought by the British has left very few obvious remnants left. This is a very different culture from Israel’s. Jordan is striving to achieve acceptance in the world while doing so only with the support of first Great Britain and then the United States. Jordan is a created country ruled by the Hashemite line that derives from Bedouins who come from Mecca and Medina but were set up to rule the new country of Trans-Jordan after World War I as part of the British desire to link its oil pipeline from Iraq to Haifa. As we have learned before, Britain ruled the world in early part of the Twentieth Century in constant rivalry with Germany and the German allies in WWI, the Ottoman Turks. When Germany and the Ottoman Empire were defeated in that war, Britain and France carved up this part of the world. Trans-Jordan, now Jordan was one of the pieces.
But we are here for ancient Jordan and its relevance to modern Israel because the battles that are described in the Old Testament between the Israelites and, for example, the Ammonites (obviously from these parts) are mirrored in the battles in the land of Israel even to this day. Tel Hisban is thought to the the site of Biblical Heshbon. Mikawir is an old Hasmonean fortress that dates back to the time of Masada and the site of a Roman siege. A church in Madaba has a mosaic map on its floor that accurately depicts the Old Testament world. Everywhere we look in Jordan, there are more Biblical places.
I am not suggesting that the stories of the Bible can be authenticated in archeology, but the places described in the Bible do exist and we are going to see more of them.
Meanwhile, in parallel with the ancient story of Jordan, we are learning about modern Jordan, a kingdom with a population of 11 million trying to leap into the 21st-century, while extolling the many contributions by the Arab world one thousand years ago in the Archeological Museum, which, amusingly, was donated by Japan. But as Jews, we must be aware that the people here are our cousins dating back to the time of Abraham and what is found here is of great relevance to the Jewish people if even half of our origin story in the Bible is to be believed.
That is what our tour this time is all about and we have been to Mount Nebo (a Franciscan church is there now) and as you look out from the high ground you can see the West Bank, Jericho, Amman, Jordan and the Land of Israel beyond.
We overnight at a boutique hotel in Madaba. Petra tomorrow.
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