Thursday 10th July 2014
Today is my last day in Jordan. I had arranged with the hotel for a car and a driver to take me to Madaba and Mount Nebo. I left at 9.00am.
Madaba is only about 40 minutes drive. It is famous for its mosaics, in particular, a 1,500 year old map of the Holy Land, which includes the oldest known map of Jerusalem. It is preserved in the floor of 19th century Greek Orthodox Church which was built over the site of the Byzantine Church where it was originally installed.
St George’s Orthodox Church in Madaba, built over the mosaic map from the Byzantine church
The mosaic map shows accurate details of places in the ancient world in what are now Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and across the Nile to Egypt. The original map was estimated to be 15.6 x 6 metres in size and to have contained 2 million pieces! Quite a bit of the original has been lost, but there is still sufficient remaining to give a very good picture. In fact, the detail is so accurate that when the map was discovered under the rubble in 1884 during the construction of the new/present church, it enabled archaeologists to find biblical places that had been lost.
Mosaic Map of the Holy Lands in the floor of St George’s Church, Madaba
There is particular interest in the section which shows Jerusalem. As mentioned above, this is the oldest known map of Jerusalem. It dates between 542AD and 570AD. The map can be dated so precisely because it shows a church which is known to have been dedicated in 542, but shows nothing built after 570AD. Among other places, it shows the gates, the Roman Cardo, the main street on the north-south axis (the line of white tiles across the middle of this section of the mosaic in the photograph below) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The map of Jerusalem in the mosaic in the floor of St George’s Orthodox Church, Madaba
For more information on Madaba see:
Then we continued on to Mount Nebo. This place is famous for the following passage from the Bible:
Moses Dies and Is Buried in the Land of Moab
1 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. 4 The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
To this day, no one claims a grave site for Moses (surprisingly, as it would be a good economic proposition to set up a Mosaic(!) mausoleum/shrine for pilgrimage!!). This is not to say that the place is not remembered by Jews, Christians and Muslims in religious devotion and pilgrimage in honour of Moses, a great prophet of God acknowledged by all three religions. A small church and monastery dating from the 4th century AD were discovered there in 1933. These have been expanded into a complex including a church in honour of Moses and an exhibition of the mosaics from the original church. Unfortunately for me, the church was closed due to restoration work being carried out on the ancient mosaics, so I was not able to get into the grounds of the church or inside the building. However, I was able to walk around the outside of the mountain-top site.
At the entrance to the site is a statue of the Book of Love. This was dedicated by Pope John Paul II in the Great Jubilee Year 2000. The statue is in the shape of the spine of a book. It has very short texts from the Bible on the spine and covers, and where the pages would normally be, there are faces and titles of books of the bible.
The Book of Love, at the entrance to the memorial complex on Mt Nebo
There is a commemoration stone for Moses.
Memorial Stone to Moses on Mount Nebo
The church stands on the summit overlooking the Jordan Valley to the Promised Land beyond, the administration of which today is divided between the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel.
The back of the church as one approaches the memorial site on Mt Nebo
P.S. The round stone on the right is a “round door” for an ancient church. The stone would be rolled over to open/close the church (much the same as the round stones used for rolling over the entrance of tombs e.g. Lazarus and Jesus). The stone has been brought from the site of that church and installed here on Mount Nebo.
The front entrance door of the church on Mt Nebo, overlooking the Jordan Valley
In the forecourt of the Church, with the Jordan Vally in the background, there is a spectacular Serpentine Cross. It was designed by the Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni. It represents the staff that Moses carried when leading the ancient Israelites through the Reed Sea – remember the story of the Exodus from Egypt, that Moses raised his staff to make the waters part so that the Israelite people could pass through on dry land, and then lowered to make the waters flow back again and drown the pursuing Egyptian army – and through the 40 years in the desert. Entwined around it is the serpent, representing the snakes that were sent among the people as punishment for their grumbling and which caused the deaths of many of them, until at Moses’ instruction they fashioned a bronze serpent and put it on a pole to look upon and be saved, as per the following account in the Bible:
The Bronze Serpent
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6 Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
And the shape is cruciform, so represents also the cross of Jesus Christ.
(Numbers 21 4-9)
The statue is cruciform, so as well as Moses’ staff, represents also the crucified Christ, of which the raised serpent was a prefiguring.
13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (Jn 3:14-15)
Serpentine Cross in front of the Church on Mount Nebo, looking out over the Jordan Valley
Because of the renovation work, I could only take a photo from outside the grounds of the church looking back. I regretted that I could not get a photo of the statue “face-on” as it were, looking out over the Jordan Valley. For that particular view, you will have to go to the websites mentioned below.
The focal point of the mountain is the lookout over the Jordan Valley.
From Mt Nebo, looking over the Jordan Valley, with the Dead Sea visible in the middle left
There is a plaque which informs you that you are 46 km from Jerusalem, 27km from Jericho and 50km from Bethlehem.
Plaque showing directions and distances to Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem and other places
From Mt Nebo, looking over the Jordan Valley directly towards Jerusalem; the day was hot and hazy, but on a clear day I am told it is possible to see the tall buildings on the hills of Jerusalem.
From Mt Nebo, looking across the Jordan River directly at Jericho, the dark smudge under the distant hills (which is the Mount of Temptation)
Ever since I arrived in Israel a month ago and first saw the hot, dry, rocky Judaean desert wilderness, the same which you see today from Mount Nebo in Jordan through the heat haze in these photos, I could not help but wonder what Abraham and later Moses thought when they looked out on this land which God had promised. Quite frankly, it doesn’t look too promising!! Yes, the clime then may have been slightly different, with more rainfall and more springs of water, both of which have significantly dried up since that time. Yes, the Galilee in the north is certainly more agricultural. And yes, even the desert can be made to bloom, as we saw in the Negev, when water is supplied, and techniques of dry-climate management are applied. So it is not all desolation. But still I wonder what Abraham and Moses thought!? “A land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8, 17) it certainly is not. Had God duped them?
Yet, despite the climate and the unpromising promised land, the Jewish people have endured. Colonizers, colonized, exiled, returned, undergoing many upheavals, subject to foreign rule, revolting, crushed, dispersed throughout the world, persecuted, subjected to attempted extermination, yet they have survived, and they have come back to this land.
While the state has made astonishing progress in this unpromising environment in the last 60 years, against extreme hostilities, yet the basic issue of the settlement of this land has not yet been resolved. Perhaps we need the pioneering faith of Abraham and liberating faith of Moses to help find new ways of accommodation, hospitality and settlement together. While this geographic promised land, despite its unpromising aspect, has in fact with sustained effort proved promising, may God guide us to the fulfilment of the ideal Promised Land, peace with justice flowing from Jerusalem throughout the Middle East and to the ends of the earth.
As proof of the possibilities, at the foot of Mount Nebo is a valley with green orchards and green fields. I presume it is the place of Moses Spring, to which I had seen sign posts along the road. The spring relates to the story told in chapter 20 of the Book of Numbers:
The Waters of Meribah
20 The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and was buried there.
2 Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had died when our kindred died before the Lord! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? 5 Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink.” 6 Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 8 Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.
9 So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him. 10 Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and by which he showed his holiness.
For more information on Mount Nebo and photos see the following sites and follow the links:
Afterwards the driver took me to a newly-opened restaurant. It opened just three weeks ago! I thought it odd to open a restaurant just before Ramadan. And in the low-tourist season. I was the sole customer for lunch. I declined the buffet and settled for a chicken burger.
Then the driver took me to a souvenir shop. I was quite reluctant to go in as I had not intention of buying anything, but in the end I was glad to have visited. It is a mosaic workshop as well, so I was able to see mosaics being made.
Making a mosaic in the workshop near Mount Nebo
The artist breaks off very small pieces of marble in the required colour and with a tweezers fits them into place on the design which has been traced out. The pieces are placed so that the smooth side lies flat on the paper underneath. The side turned up where the artist is working is actually quite rough. The small pieces of marble are held in place with a mixture of flour and water. The artist dips the pieces in this mixture before setting them in place in the design. When all the pieces are in place and the design is complete, the whole work is glued firmly. When it is turned over, the smooth underside becomes the smooth topside. I was told that the mosaic being made in the photo for a table top would take about a month to complete. The time varies on the complexity of the design, the size and number of the pieces, and the size of the end product.
Then I went into the actual shop where the finished product was for sale. It was really very good. There were mosaic tables. There were mosaics for walls, regular flat mosaics, raised 3-dimensional mosaics. There were nature mosaics, religious mosaics, copies of ancient mosaics (including the Madaba map). They were really excellent. And of course, being marble, they could be either indoor or outdoor as they would not suffer any damage from the weather.
Mosaics as marble table tops
Mosaics of birds for hanging as decorations on a wall
There was also a lot of other souvenir goods besides, pottery, ceramics, clothing, metalware, all of a similar high quality, and I assume high price. I must have disappointed as I didn’t buy anything, but I was glad to have seen the wares and especially to have seen how mosaics are made.
Then the driver brought me back to Amman. After several long days and late nights over the past week and more, I am quite tired, so slept quite a bit of the way!
I spent the afternoon in my room getting ready to travel tonight, setting out on my return to Australia from Amman at 2.00 am to Kuala Lumpur via Bangkok, then on to Sydney.
Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!