In the Footsteps of Moses
By Deb Benigni
This Lent, Galilee is studying Moses: In the Footsteps of a Reluctant Prophet by Adam Hamilton. I was privileged to visit Jordan in the summer of 2017 and walk in the footsteps of Moses and so wanted to share the photos and some details about the trip.
“East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying: The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites…” ~ Deuteronomy 1:5-6
At the time of the Exodus, the hill country of the Amorites included a city called Rabbath Ammon, the capital of the Ammonites. The Bible refers to it as “Rabbat Ammon.” Ptolemy II, the Macedonian ruler who reigned from 283 to 246 BC, renamed the city “Philadelphia.” Today it is Amman, Jordan.
The Citadel is considered an important site because it has had a long history of occupation by many great civilizations. It holds buildings from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad (Muslim) periods. The major buildings at the site are the Temple of Hercules, a Byzantine church, and the Umayyad Palace.
The Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George is in the town of Madaba, once a Moab border city, mentioned in the Bible in Numbers 21:30 and Joshua 13:9. The basilica is sometimes called “The Church of the Map,” due to its 6th century mosaic floor.
This floor is an early map of the Holy Land, including the New Church of the Theotokos, (dedicated November 20, 542 AD). Buildings erected in Jerusalem after 570 are absent from the depiction, so we can date the map to within 542 and 570. The mosaic was made by unknown artists of the Christian community of Madaba, which was the seat of a bishop at that time.
With two million pieces of colored stone, the map depicts the features of Palestine and the Nile Delta. The mosaic contains the earliest extant representation of Byzantine Jerusalem, labeled the “Holy City.” It provides important details about Jerusalem’s 6th century landmarks, including the famous Cardo, or main colonnaded street, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
In 614 AD, Madaba was conquered by the Persians. In the 8th century, the Muslim Umayyad rulers removed some figural motifs (representations of people) from the mosaic. In 746, Madaba was largely destroyed by an earthquake and abandoned.
The mosaic was rediscovered in 1884, during the construction of a new Orthodox church on the site of its ancient predecessor. In the following decades, large portions of the mosaic map were damaged by fires, moisture, and the activities in the new church. In 1964, Volkswagen gave 90,000 German marks to the German Society for the Exploration of Palestine to preserve the mosaic.
We all know the story of Moses and the Burning Bush. The bush might have looked like this one, near the site of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River.
“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” ~ Exodus 3:1-3
This is Ain Musa, “Moses’s Well,” in Wadi Musa, or the “Valley of Moses.” It is said that the prophet passed through this valley and struck this rock to get water for his followers. The Nabateans, an ancient Arab people, built channels that carried water from this spring to their capital city of Petra. The Tomb of Aaron, brother of Moses, is on nearby Mount Hor.
Interestingly, Moses was told by God to speak to this rock. Instead, Moses struck it.
“The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” ~ Numbers 20:7-12
Mt Nebo is an elevated ridge approximately 2,330 feet above sea level. It is mentioned in the Bible as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. The summit does provide a stunning panorama of the Holy Land. The West Bank city of Jericho is visible from the summit, as is Jerusalem on a very clear day.
According to the final chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses ascended Mount Nebo to view the Land of Canaan, which God said he would not enter, and died there. He was buried in an unknown valley location in Moab or, as Christian tradition tells us, right on Mt Nebo. His place of burial is not specified.
On the highest point of the mountain, the remains of a Byzantine church and monastery were discovered in 1933. A modern chapel was built to protect the site and provide worship space, and remnants of mosaic floors from different periods can still be seen.
The church is first mentioned in an account of a pilgrimage made by a woman, Aetheria, in A.D. 394. Six tombs have been found hollowed from the rock beneath the floor of the church.
A sculpture called the Brazen Serpent Monument was created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni. It is symbolic both of the bronze serpent created by Moses in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4–9) and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified (John 3:14).
The Dead Sea is 1,412 feet below sea level, Earth’s lowest elevation on land. With a salinity of 34%, it is ten times as salty as the ocean.
This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which plants and animals cannot flourish, hence its name. The Dead Sea is 31 miles long. 9 miles wide, and 997 feet deep. It lies in the Jordan Rift Valley and its main tributary is the Jordan River.
The Dead Sea has attracted visitors for thousands of years. It was one of the world’s first health resorts (for Herod the Great), and has supplied a wide variety of products, from asphalt for Egyptian mummification to potash for fertilisers. People use salt and minerals from the Dead Sea to create cosmetics and herbal sachets. The sea’s water has a density of 1.24 kg/litre, which makes swimming hard but floating easy.
The lush, narrow Jordan River runs along the border of Jordan, the West Bank, Israel, and southwestern Syria. It flows 156 miles north to south through the Sea of Galilee and on to the Dead Sea. Both Jordan and the West Bank take their names from the river.
This is the site where the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land and where Jesus was baptised by John. Generations of monks and pilgrims have visited the site, leaving behind testimonies of their devotion. Christians continue to engage in baptism rituals in these waters today.
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. ~ John 1:28
Inhabited since prehistoric times, Petra, the rock-cut capital of the Nabateans in south Jordan, became a major caravan centre for the incense of Arabia, the silks of China, and the spices of India during the Greco-Roman era.
Petra is half built, half carved into the rock and is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges. An ingenious water management system allowed settlement of an essentially arid area. It is one of the world’s richest archaeological sites set in an astounding sandstone landscape.
The Siq (literally ‘the Shaft’) is the main entrance to Petra. It is a dim, narrow gorge (in some points no more than 10 feet wide) that winds its way for nearly a mile and ends at Petra’s most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh (the Treasury).
Unlike other slot canyons such as Antelope Canyon in Arizona shaped by water, the Siq is a natural geological fault split by tectonic forces. The walls that enclose the Siq stand between 299–597 feet tall.
Along both walls of the fissure are a number of votive niches containing baetyli, or sacred stones, which suggest that the Siq was sacred to the Nabatean people.
At the end of the Siq stands Petra’s most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh, hewn into the sandstone cliff. While remarkably preserved, the face of the structure is marked by hundreds of bullet holes made by the local Bedouin tribes who hoped to dislodge riches once rumored to be hidden within.
Thank you for walking in the footsteps of Moses with me and allowing me to share with you my adventures in some of Jordan’s sacred spaces.