Sunday October 28 2012

A date with biblical history

A date with biblical history

Mt Nebo where it is believed God showed Moses the promised land.  

By Lominda Afedraru

Stepping out of the plane in Queen Alia International airport in Amman the capital city of Jordan, one gets the impression of the country being occupied by only Muslims but going deeper into the biblical history it is a country where Jesus performed most of his spiritual duties.

A ride from the airport to Dead Sea Spa Hotel is another cause of anxiety especially when a group of science journalists from Kenya and Uganda saw a bill board with writings “Baptism Site”. At this moment, the passengers were forced to ask the taxi driver “what is this baptism site all about” and he replied “River Jordan is not far from where we are, it is the site where John the Baptist baptised Jesus, just 30 minutes drive and you will be there.”

He continued with the conversation, “You know Jordan is a country rich with biblical history, Dead Sea which is mentioned a lot in the bible is where I am taking you people. You will be residing in a hotel which is constructed along its shores, another place you should not miss to see is Mt Nebo which is famously known in the world history because it is the place where Moses died and his remains where buried there.”

Mount Nebo is an elevated ridge that is approximately 817 meters about 2680 feet above sea level, in Jordan. The view from the summit provides a panorama of the Holy Land and, to the north, a more limited one of the valley of the River Jordan. The West Bank city of Jericho is visible from the summit, as is Jerusalem on a very clear day.

According to the book of Deuteronomy, Mount Nebo is where the Hebrew prophet Moses was given a view of the Promised Land that God was giving to the Israelites.

Moses went up to the highest pick of the Mount which is opposite Jericho city

According to the Jewish and Christian tradition and the Bible, Moses was buried on this mountain by God Himself, and his final resting place is unknown. According to the book of 2 Maccabees, the Prophet Jeremiah hid the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant in a cave here on this mountain.

From the mountaintop, which is the highest point in the Moabite range, rising to about 800 meters at its apex, you can admire the dazzling view across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, to the rooftops of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Centuries ago, pilgrims flocked to Mount Nebo on their final destination to visit the sanctuary. These pilgrims left behind vivid accounts of their travels, which helped archaeologists identify this sanctuary.

Floating in the Dead Sea
Upon arrival at the hotel, the first thing we did was to go swimming in Dead Sea. Even if one is not a swimmer, at the Dead Sea, there is no worry because once you are in the water you begin floating.

The Dead Sea which is famously known to be have healing power because of some of its features, is a tourist attraction centre for Jordan.

According to Omar Salameh, the communications and media director of the ministry of water and irrigation in Jordan, the sea is at the lowest part of the world below sea level and its highest salinity feature is a cause for people who go swimming in it to simply float on the water.

He said the composition of the salts and minerals in the water are what make it very unique and beneficial for the body.

The sea also contains some precious black mud which tourists smear on their body before entering the water. This prevents the salt from itching people’s skins and this same mud is used by cosmetic industries to manufacture lotion.

“The Dead Sea bed has deposits of black mud that is easy to smear on the body and provides the skin with nourishing minerals. As if that were not enough, the bromide in the air is also beneficial to the body’s systems, thus making the Dead Sea a provider for good health and healing for vacationers from all over the world” Salameh said.

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth in any land mass which is about 417 metres below sea level. The quantity of water that evaporates from it is greater than that which flows into it, such that this body of water has the highest concentration of salt in the world measured at 340 grams per liter of water.

It is called the Dead Sea because its salinity prevents the existence of any life in the lake. That same salt, on the other hand, provides tremendous relief to the many ailing visitors who come here on a regular basis to benefit from its healing properties. All these and more make the Dead Sea so fascinating, so different and so interesting.

You can lay on the surface of the water without even trying to float. The high salt content makes you buoyant.

Apart from the miraculous features of the sea, Jordan however depends on River Jordan as its major source of water. This river is shared between the Israelites, Jordanians and people from Palestine and it is the river which feeds Dead Sea and Red Sea.

And there, John baptised Jesus
Upon being told about River Jordan and the Baptism site where John the Baptist used to baptise Christians including Jesus, a group of science journalists who have been pursuing a mentoring course on science journalism could not miss to sneak from the conference proceedings to go and have a look at this site.

On our way to the site, a number of journalists kept asking the special hire driver “is it true that you are taking us to see the site where Jesus was baptised? waoooooo we cannot believe this,”

Another Journalist commented, “I wish upon reaching this site, I would be able to ascend to heaven like Jesus,” but her colleagues laughed saying, “but the apostles are not there to witness your ascension.”

On arrival at the office, managing the Baptism site, pilgrims are given recorders that contain the audio history of Jesus’ life and how he ended up being baptized at this site.

The tour guide, Ali Imad Hweinil who asked the journalists to be prayerful during our two hour tour of the site in particular asked us to stop and look at Jerico City which is on Israel side.

“Have you seen that pillar which is standing in the middle of the buildings across, that is Jerico city where Prophet Elijah who is believed to have ascended into heaven was born. The city is so historical and many pilgrims flock the place to give respect to Prophet Elijah,” he said.

Hweinil led the team to the exact spot where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. There are three chapels constructed on the spot in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the river has since diverted its running pathway. The spot which is better known as Bethany beyond Jordan is considered one of the holiest Christian sites, it being the officially recognised site where John the Baptist baptise Jesus. It is also where Elijah is believed to have ascended to heaven as well as the place through which Israelites are thought to have crossed into the holy land the first time.

Archaeologists began to properly excavate Bethany Beyond the Jordan in 1994 after a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel.

Though studies of location mentioned in the Bible, medieval travellers’ description and local knowledge about the place of dipping, archaeologists unearthed the sacred spot. There is a bigger church constructed nearby the river namely John the Baptist Church.

As you walk in the narrow corridor on which both sides are covered with cyprus trees, one is filed with the Holy Spirit and imaginations of how Jesus used to walk with his disciples using narrow pathways as he went preaching to the people.

At this site, there is billboard displaying names of the ancient pilgrims who discovered the exact site where John the Baptist baptised Jesus.

According to Hweinil, one, Frank Arcultus who is believed to be the greatest pilgrim gave detailed information about the site because when he came in the place in 670 AD he discovered one of the sandals of Jesus had fallen in this place, and besides it is the spot where the children of Joshua and many others were baptized by John the Baptist.

Hweinil said Bethlehem where Jesus was born is 27 km away from the site and since most believers of Jesus lived in Bethlehem, it was easy for them to cross over to river Jordan to be baptised.

Cleansing oneself by a bath
From the Baptist site, we were led to a prominent pilgrim site of River Jordan where the journalists went into the water splashing it all over their body in a bid to cleanse their sins

The river acts as a border point between Israel and Jordan and on the Israel side many pilgrims from different parts of the world dressed in white clothes are seen conducting prayers as other are immersed into the water making the sign of the cross.

On both sites there is tight security controlling pilgrims not to cross to the other side because this are two different countries which require one to have a visa to cross to each side.

A diverse terrain
Although the history of the country sounded very holy, one actually wondered at the composition of its landscape where you barely see anything green.

Jordan has a landmass with almost 80 per cent being a desert yet there is a surprising variety of terrain in this small Middle Eastern Kingdom.

Geographically, it can be simply divided into three main areas, the Jordan Valley, the Eastern Plateau and the desert.

The Jordan Valley is part of the Great Rift Valley that stretched all the way up from East Africa. It is flat fertile land in the north, sinks down to the Dead Sea in the centre and becomes a hot dry plain that ends at the shores of the Red Sea.

In the centre are most of Jordan’s urban areas such as the capital Amman, Suwaylih and Madaba. Further south the scenery becomes more dramatic; spartan mountains with sharp ridges of bare rock and deep, steep plunging valleys. The Eastern Desert runs from the capital Amman out to the borders with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It is a mainly flat expanse of sand and basalt.

In one of its Dana based field reserves which is used to pressure its nature one is able to see land terrain with Rocky Mountains and the escarpment of the rift valley.

According to reserve manager, Al Khawaleah, this nature reserve which boasts of the valley and rugged dongas, is home to more than 800 plant species and about 250 animal and bird species.

Popular for its indigenous plants and animals, the reserve attract about 40,000 tourists a year and generates an income of about 400,000 Diners every year.

Some of the animal species that inhabit the reserve are, Hyenas and Jackals and a number of plant species such as the Oak tree, Jonepras Phenecea, Pestacia, Macromuria Danawusis, Robia and Slin.

The flat land part of the reserve acts at a camp with facilities favourable to tourists. The food served here is called “magumulam” meaning up side down.

Although over 90 per cent of Jordanians are Suuni Muslims, this is also home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, the majority of these being Greek Orthodox. This is not a religious state and all Jordanians have full freedom of worship.

Arabic is the official language but many people, particularly in urban and tourist sites speak English.

From the middle of the 7th century AD Jordan has been ruled by various Arab and Islamic dynasties, the last of which was the Ottoman Empire, brought to an end by the Arab Revolt during the First World War which then ushered in the current constitutional monarchy.