Jerash, Amman, Mount Nebo

This morning we left Ma’agan in Galilee early in order to cross the border to Jordan. This was relatively painless although one of our group had two Israeli flags confiscated. I have never had this sort of thing happen before and it struck me as odd.

We met our guide Mo’taz who us eased us through the entry process and immediately started winding out way through the hills to our first stop, Jerash. Since it was the first day of Ramadan most of the villages were nearly deserted and we made excellent time. For most of our students, this was their first experience in an Arab country and I have already had several conversations about the differences in the various cultures we have seen on this trip.

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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 Ceasarea) 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.

Forth, a short walk up the hill from the Plaza is a very nicely restored Roman theater. All the acoustics are restored so people can speak from the central part of the stage and be heard throughout the theater. I enjoy watching the students speak a few words, the step on to the central stone and hear their voice projected all around them. Virtually every time I have visited this theater a Jordanian bagpipe player and drummer are there to show off the acoustics.

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Fifth, we walked across the hill to the Temple of Artemis. This is an incomplete temple, 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 (our guide did not even walk us up to the temple platform; I insisted on taking the students up myself). It really is impressive, but I wonder why it is always the same pillar: do the others not sway?

From the temple of Artemis we walked down the sacred ascent to the Cardo (the easiest route even though it would be more authentic to walk up the stairs to the Temple). I noticed a Latin inscription with the name Diana and a Greek inscription opposite it about three-quarters up the steps. They were unidentified and I am not at sure where they were originally located.

Sixth, walking down from the ascent to the Temple we joined the Cardo and worked our way back to to the Oval Plaza. This central colonnaded road is lined with shops and a few sacred spaces. I noticed there are far fewer inscriptions at Jerash than Ephesus or Perge (for example). I am not sure if there were many Greek inscriptions and they have been moved or lost, but compared to virtually every city we visited in Turkey, Jerash is inscription-less.

By now it was getting late in the day and traffic through Amman was terrible. It is always terrible, but since it was Ramadan many were leaving work jsut as we came through the city. This meant it took more than an hour longer than planned so we had to skip the Madaba Map (which is an interesting visit but difficult to get to quickly). Instead we visited Mount Nebo, the place 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.

We did not arrive to our hotel in Wadi Musa until 8:30, so we had a quick supper and tried to get a good night’s sleep to prep for a long day at Petra. The Grand View Hotel has a good reputation, but the hotel itself is long past its prime and in serious disrepair. Although it does have a great view, I cannot recommend the hotel to anyone not looking for a budget stay. We had trouble with bugs in one room (on the order of an Egyptian plague) and none of the rooms had working air conditioners. Fortunately we could open the windows and get a slight breeze.

Tomorrow we hike Petra, the highlight of any trip to Jordan!

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 8 – Visiting Jordan

We left our hotel very early to cross the the border into Jordan. This went very smoothly until we got to the other side and our Jordanian guide was not there. He was caught in traffic near the border, a small village had a “market day” and caused a disruption. After a tense twenty minutes, our guide Ash arrived and was extremely apologetic. There were no problems at the border and once he arrived we were able to move quickly to Jerash. Well, as quickly as one can move through small Jordanian villages. Traffic is terrible and there only seem to be general guiding principles for traffic flow.

 Since it was getting close to noon we had a quick “sandwich” at a shop in the Jerash parking lot. I had a kabob, roasted beef with some vegetables and a few fries, but chicken was also available. With a drink it was $9 (or 6 dinar), a reasonable price. Strangely the shop was playing Joan Baez’s Greatest Hits, probably because the first song was Amazing Grace and we were a Christian group. It was somewhat surreal to hear her music in a Middle Eastern shop. As much as I enjoy Joan, it didn’t quite fit.

Jerash is a large city and was once part of the Decapolis. It does not have much biblical interest (unless Paul visited during his three years in Arabia), but it is a well-preserved Roman era city, much larger than Bet Shean (another Decapolis city in Israel which we visited two days ago). There are many highlights and I hate the fact we can only spend a short time at the site. Hadrian’s Gate opens to a street and hippodrome, although it is not fully restored. The oval plaza leading to the Cardo is breathtaking, a great picture opportunity.

IMG_3218From the oval plaza we walked up to the a fully restored theater. From a central spot you may speak in a normal voice and be heard throughout the theater. It is fun to watch students speak a few words then step onto the spot, they are always amazed at the amplification. Naturally the bagpipers have to play, although I am not sure why. I would prefer to have a quiet visit, but people seem to like them. I would also like to visit the temple of Zeus nearby, but we did not have the luxury of time.

Passing by the mosaics in the three churches, we walked over to the Temple of Artemis. This massive temple has some of the best pillars we see on the tour and demonstrate how they sway in the wind. There was a coffee vendor (with a fake British accent) so we shared some Turkish coffee (with Cardamon, of course!) We then walked down the sacred steps (seven sets of seven steps) to the Cardo. There is much more to see here, we were only able to visit a few of the highlights.

From Jerash we traveled south past Amman to Madaba and Mount Nebo. We were running behind, so we skipped the Madaba map and only viewed the Dead Sea from Mount Nebo. This is the traditional location where Moses viewed the land before he died. Between the evaporation from the Dead Sea and modern pollution there was quite a bit of haze, but the Sea was visible even if Jericho was obscured.

The long drive to Petra was uneventful, it is a sadly dull drive through the desert and the last part is in the dark. We made it to dinner by 9PM and most people were exhausted. The Petra Marriott is very comfortable, and we have an early start at Petra in the morning.