Jebel Musa, Mount Nebo, Jordan

Jebel Musa, also called Mount Nebo, lies to the northwest of Madaba, Jordan and is the alleged site of the tomb of Moses. The principal ruins are at a place called Syagha and consist of a church and an adjacent monastery. The first historical mention of the church is in the account of the famous pilgrim, Lady Egeria (Aetheria) who visited the site in 394 AD. She describes a small church containing the tomb of Moses, the place having been miraculously revealed in a vision to a local Shepard. In the late fifth or early sixth century the shrine is mentioned in the biography of Peter the Iberian. The building is now described as a " very large temple, named after the prophet Moses and many monasteries which are build around it", which seems to indicate that an enlargement of the complex since the time of Egeria. Writing of the power of the holy place, Peter the Iberian says,

This temple was built in the name of the great prophet and lawgiver, and he proclaims this publicly and to every man, so that no doubt is possible in the signs and wonders and cures, which since that time have occurred at this place without interruption. For it is a place of cure for both the souls and for the bodies, and a place of refuge for all those, who come here from all places and are afflicted in the soul and affected with many kinds of sufferings of the body.

A Portuguese Franciscan monk visited the site in 1564 but by then the buildings on the peak were ruined and abandoned, though a small church at Ayun Musa (Moses' Springs) in a valley to the north, was still in use. Mt. Nebo is again mentioned in a document of the 17th century but the writer does not mention either buildings or ruins at the site. Beginning in 1933, the Franciscan Biblical Institute of Jerusalem has conduced extensive excavations upon the summit of Jebel Musa, revealing the church and monastery described by the early pilgrims. The church is the usual basilica type and corresponds almost exactly with the tomb of Moses that Egeria had described in 394 AD. The floors of the sanctuary were decorated with wonderful mosaics and many inscriptions. Judging from the size of the ancient monastery, there was a considerable community living upon the mountain.

From the terrace to the west of the church it is sometimes possible on clear days to have a view across the Jordan valley all the way to the Mount of Olives. The River Jordan is hidden from view in a deep canyon but the Dead Sea gleams in the sunlight over 3500 feet below. It must have been somewhere in this vicinity that Moses stood and gazed upon the Promised Land. Long before the time of Moses, however, Mt. Nebo was already a sacred site and remains of pagan temples of the Phonecian god Baal have been found around the peak.

Information and maps regarding many other Christian and Muslim sacred sites in Jordan may be found in The Holy Sites of Jordan, published by the Turab Corporation, Amman, Jordan 1996. The maps on this web site are taken from that book.

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Iraq al-Amir jordan

In the 5th century BC Nehemiah, governor of the Persian province of Judaea, referred frequently to ‘Tobiah, the Ammonite’, governor of the province east of the Dead Sea.

Two centuries later, in the long conflict between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, the Tobiah family reappears in the archive of Zenon, an agent of Ptolemy II Philadeiphus. In one document, dated 12 May 259 BC and addressed to Ptolemy himself, Tobiah offers a gift of horses, camels, dogs, and slave boys from his country estate in a well- watered valley west of ‘Amman, at today’s ‘Iraq al-Amir (caves of the prince).

According to the historian Josephus, in his account of events between 190 and 175 BC, Hyrcanus, grandson of the Tobiah of the Zenon letters, built ‘a strong fortress.., of white marble to the very roof, and had beasts of a gigantic size carved on it, and he enclosed it with a wide and deep moat...'

The magnificent remains of Hyrcanus’ unfinished mansion, Qasr al-’Abd (palace of the [royal] servant), now stand encircled by cultivated land where once the waters of the moat would have mirrored the walls. The dam is still visible at the south-western end. The family’s Ptolemaic links were a liability when the new Seleucid king, Antiochus IV began to extend his kingdom southwards around 168 BC. To avoid a worse fate, Hyrcanus ‘slew himself with his own hand; and Antiochus seized all his substance’.

Umm Qais Jordan

Sitting on a high promontory overlooking Lake Tiberias, the Jolan Heights and the Jordan Valley, Umm Qais is the most dramatically situated of Jordan's Roman era towns. It also is perhaps the most dramatic to look at, as its location in the northwest corner of the kingdom provided both white stone and black basalt as natural building materials. A former member of the Decapolis, its name in during the Roman era was Gadara, which means a stronghold. Umm Qais, its more recent name, and the name of the nearby village, is derived from the Arabic word for junction or border station. Both are apt, one for its strategic height and the other for its position on the trade routes, connected to sites everywhere.

Gadara was originally built by the Greeks in the 4th century BC. In 218 BC, it was besieged by Antiochus III, the Seleucid ruler, who forded the Jordan River and overran Pella on his way. When Pompey formed the Decapolis in 63 BC, Gadara saw an economic upturn and a building surge. Mark Antony sent Herod the Great to deal with the Nabataeans, who at this time controlled the trade routes up to Damascus. This high-handed interference with local events did not sit well with the people of Gadara, and they protested vehemently. Gadara became known as an arts city, with writers, philosophers and playwrights flourishing there. Two of the most famous were Menippos, a former slave turned satirist, and Oinomaos, the philosopher. This may be the biblical location where Jesus cast devils into swine, which then drowned themselves in the waters of Lake Tiberias.

Many experts believe that a popular pastime was to take the baths at Al-Himma in the village of Mukheiba, and then to relax in Gadara. Many people from all over the Roman Empire visited the area, based on evidence unearthed during excavations. Strabo, the Roman historian, also discusses Gadara and the baths. This relaxing option is still possible today.

Gadara continued to grow and in the 7th century received a bishopric. However, after several destructive earthquakes, the site was deserted, until the Ottoman Turks substantially rebuilt it. The proximity of the Roman ruins to the Ottoman town is intriguing. Local legend has it that Umm Qais is where the first agreement with the British was signed in1920, as they had the first Jordanian government.

Major sites to see include the original Roman amphitheater and the archeological museum, which is housed in a restored home of an Ottoman governor, Bait Rousan. Strolling along the colonnaded street, wandering in the basilica and viewing the nymphaeum are all pleasant, as are the baths, the 16th century octagonal church and the underground mausoleum. A memorable ending to a visit to Umm Qais and Al-Himma is a meal on the terrace of the guesthouse, enjoying the view and reminiscing about your day.

Bethany Jordan

Less than 2 kms east of the Jordan River is an important place associated with the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist (pbut), the settlement of Bethany, where John lived and baptized. John 1:28 refer to it as "Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing". In John 10:40 it is mentioned as the place to which Jesus (pbuh) fled for safety after being threatened with stoning in Jerusalem: "Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days".

This settlement beyond the Bethany has recently been identified on the south bank of the small perennials stream named Wadi Kharrar, just east of the Jordan River and opposite Jericho. It is being excavated, protected, and made accessible for visitors.

The small natural hill forming the core of Bethany is called Elijah's Hill, or Tell Mar Elias in Arabic. Local tradition for thousands of years has identified it as the place from where Elijah (pbuh) ascended to heaven.

Bethany's ancient remains include structures from the 1st century settlement of John the Baptist (pbuh), including large plastered pools with steps for full immersion, and the 5th-6th century remains of the Byzantine period settlement called Ainon or Saphsaphas and depicted on the 6th century Madaba Mosaic Map of the Holy Land.

When Jesus (pbuh) spent 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism (Mark 1:12), he had been in the stark, desolate marl area immediately east of Jordan River and north of Bethany. He spread his message throughout Transjordan on several different occasions, including during his last journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Matthew 19).

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