Today was largely a travel day for the intrepid members of Campbell University Divinity School’s “Bible Lands Study Tour,” though we did manage to see a few things of interest.
We were up and out early, bags all packed, for our first day in Jordan. We crossed the border at Beth Shan, taking nearly two hours even though no one else was waiting in line (largely because the Jordanian guide and bus driver misunderstood what time we were arriving).
We first drove south along the border almost to the Dead Sea, then turned inland for Mt. Nebo. Coming from the west, the road is long and twisting, climbing through the bare bones of dry wadis speckled with bedouin tents and small flocks of sheep and goats, with a camel here and there.
Mt. Nebo is famed as the place from which God showed Moses the promised land that he would never reach. Standing atop the mountain and looking toward Jericho, the land really doesn’t look that promising (see the photo above), but I guess they had those spy reports of milk and honey and giant bunches of grapes.
We were disappointed to learn that the church there, which has stunning mosaics and stained glass windows, is being completely refurbished, so we couldn’t see anything other than the view. Even the impressive bronze statue commemorating how Moses lifted up a serpent to bring healing to the recalcitrant Israelites was only visible from the back.
We had lunch at a restaurant on Mt. Nebo before visiting a souvenir store specializing in mosaics (not by our own choice). Afterward, we drove the short distance to Madaba, where St. George’s church (Greek Orthodox) has the remains of a mosaic floor with a 5th-6th century map of the Holy Land, marking popular spots for pilgrims. It includes an almost humorous scene where fish from the Jordan river turn around when they reach the Dead Sea, lest they end up floating.
Sailors in two boats on the Dead Sea were destroyed during the iconoclast period around the 8th century, when it was thought unseemly to portray human figures. The tiles for their bodies were simply pulled up and scrambled, then put back down.
From Madaba we made our way south to Petra, a three-and-a-half hour ride through a very monotonous semi-desert region, interrupted only by a pit stop at another gigantic souvenir store. At this one, thankfully, the salespeople weren’t as pushy.
We arrived in time for a late dinner, and for most people, an early bed time.
Tomorrow, an experience that will be worth today’s long ride: the wonders of Petra.