Day Six: Jerash, Madaba, Mount Nebo

This morning we left Galilee early in order to cross the border to Jordan. We crossed the border to Jordan with minimal hassle, probably the fastest time ever for my groups. One advantage: our driver let us leave the large luggage on his bus and we took only backpacks. This is a little risky since we trusted out luggage to someone else for two days, but it was much faster through both border crossings (not to mention loading and unloading the bags at the hotel). [Edit: I will add that our bags were perfectly safe when we returned to Israel two days later.]

The drive from the border crossing to Jerash is a winding road through the hills. For most people on this tour, this was their first experience in an Arab country. I had several conversations about the differences in the various cultures we have seen on this trip (beyond having butter for dinner in Jordan).

When we arrived at Jerash, we were met by hundreds of school kids (all girls). I have never seen such crowds at Jerash before, and neither had our guide! The girls were fascinated with the American college students walking through the visitor’s center (especially one of our girls with long blond hair; I am sure she is an Instagram star in Jordan now).

Jerash is a large Roman city with several structures which illustrate what a huge imperial city looked like in the late first century and early second. First is the Hadrian Gate on the south side of the city. When Hadrian went on a grand tour of the Empire, many cities honored him with a new Gate or arch. Jerash built this new gate well south of the city, but it does not appear the city ever expanded south as planned.


Second, just inside the gate is a large hippodrome. Only one section has been restored but the ends of the structure are clear. The guides will usually walk a group through the hippodrome; if you have been to virtually any other hippodrome (such as Caesarea) you can skip this.

Third, after passing through the actual south gate of the city there is a spectacular Oval Plaza leading to the Cardo (the central street in a Roman city). From the Oval Plaza you can see the Roman Temple of Zeus, which is built on top of the Hellenistic Temple. There is a small museum below this temple but I have only been able to enter it once; as usual it was closed on this visit.

Jerash Oval Plaza

Forth, unlike other visits to Jerash, we walked down the Cardo to the steps leading up to the Temple of Artemis. If you visit Jerash, you can walk up to the south theater then across the ridge to the Temple (passing the Byzantine church mosaics on the way). The temple is incomplete, like Sardis in Asia Minor. I have read speculation that the eastern Empire became increasingly Christian so work was stopped, but it is just as likely they ran out of money, perhaps because Rome withdrew from the region. Usually guides like to demonstrate how the pillars flex just a bit by putting a spoon in the lower crack and pushing the pillar. It really is impressive, but I wonder why it is always the same pillar: do the others not sway?

Last, from the Temple of Artemis we walked down to the north theater. This theater is smaller and the acoustics are not as clear as the larger southern theater. It has the advantage of smaller crowds and more importantly, no bagpipers! The south temple always has a pair of bagpipers that break out into Yankee Doodle Dandy when the see Americans. And there is no such thing as a subtle, quiet bagpipe. So if you visit Jerash, consider walking down to the smaller, north theater.

Jerash North Theater

After Jerash, we drove through Amman to the town of Madaba and visited the St. George Church. The highlight is the Madaba Map, a large mosaic floor inside the church which is a fifth-sixth century pilgrim map. If you have visited the Cardo in Jerusalem, there is a replica of the section of the map for Jerusalem, but the whole thing is worth seeing,

From St. George it is a fifteen minute drive to Mount Nebo. This is the location where Moses died after viewing the Promised Land (Deut. 34:1-2). Several students asked about whether this is really the place, so I pointed out it is Mount Nebo and the best viewpoint to see the land in the area is there, and a pass through the mountains is at the foot of the mountain. So it is plausible this is Nebo, even if it is not at the exact place of the Church.

The last part of this very long day is a four hour drive to Wadi Musa, the location of Petra. The hotel kindly kept dinner open for us (since we did not arrive until after 9 PM). Tomorrow we are up early for a spectacular hike through Petra.

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