On the Biblical Trail

Jordan River valley looking towards Amman from Mount Nebo.

Friday’s trek was mainly about working our way towards Petra in southern Jordan, but first we made a detour north of Amman to Mount Nebo. As described in the Bible (Deuteronomy), it is where Moses finally spied the promised land after wandering in the desert for 40 years with the Israelites.

Looking to the Promised Land. The haze prevents seeing them,
but the Dead Sea is off to the left and beyond it Jerusalem. Mount Nebo is roughly 50 miles from Jerusalem, and also about 50 miles from Damascus in Syria.

At the top of the mountain is a shrine to Moses now overseen by the Franciscan order, but it was predated by other structures dating back to the earliest times of Christianity. In addition to the biblical significance of Mount Nebo, the current site is home to a floor mosaic, executed in roughly 535, that is unique because unlike other similar relics of the past, it is completely intact. No stone is missing, and the detail of the work is amazing, including facial features not commonly seen in works of the era.

The mosaic in its entirety.

I’m not even remotely religious, but it was still fascinating to connect the dots of the places described in Bibilical texts. Suffice it to say the views were awesome.

After Mount Nebo we visited a workshop where local people are trained in the art of making mosaics. Most are poor and/or have some physical challenges. Their studio and sales room are funded in part by the Queen Noor Foundation. Noor was the American-born wife of the late King Hussein. She’s still beloved in the country, but no longer resides there full time. The artisans are doing good work, but it was one of those stops you get on tours, with a strong sales aspect to the visit. We liked what we saw, but at this stage of our lives we are more interested in getting rid of stuff than acquiring more.

Mosaic at St. George’s Church in Madaba, Jordan.

Next up was a visit to the town of Madaba for another large lunch, with a quick visit to an Orthodox Church that also features a floor mosaic. This one isn’t as well-preserved as the one at Mount Nebo, but it’s notable because it is the remnants of an extensive early map of the Middle East.

From there we drove on to Petra, making some stops to take in a couple of scenic vistas, wrapping up with watching the sun set over the Petra Mountains before heading to our hotel. It was a pretty full day and next we get to visit the main event, the more than 2,000-year-old city of Petra, carved from canyon rocks.

Remnants of a fortress built for defense during the Crusades.
Scenic vista. This image doesn’t fully capture the depth of the valley below.
Sunset over the Petra Mountains.
Sunset the second night In Petra as seen from our hotel.

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