July 25, 2016

Jesus's Baptism site, the Dead Sea, Mt. Nebo, and Madaba

On another side trip, we visited Jesus's Baptism site, the Dead Sea, Mt. Nebo, and Madaba. First stop along the way was the Baptism site. We have all been to the Baptism site across the river, but this was Mark, Betty, and my first time on the Jordanian side.

Amazingly, this site was discovered only within the past 20 years.  In 1897, a mosaic map of the holy sites across the Middle East was discovered in Madaba. One of the locations on that map was Jesus's Baptism site, shown to be East of the Jordan River. Many people were interested in finding this location, however  the area was not safe to visit for most of the 20th century due to World Wars I and II, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts of 1948, 1967, and 1973. Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994,  and in 1996 the area was approved for de-mining and excavation. In addition to discovering  Jesus's baptism site, archeologists also discovered ruins of Roman and Byzantine churches, large Roman pools, mosaics, caves, pottery, and 'Elijah's Hill,' which is the place believed to be where the prophet Elijah ascended to Heaven. Here is the map of the site at the entrance as you await the bus to take you down to the river.
One of the ancient baptismal pools.
View from the path heading down to the river.
Greek Orthodox church dedicated to John the Baptist.

Going down to the river...

It felt good to stick your feet in on the hot day!
This is the other side of the river in Jericho, Palestine - it's literally a stone's throw away, maybe 30 feet across - but an international border nonetheless.
Heading back to the bus. It was an amazing site to see!
Next stop was the Dead Sea, which was only a few miles down the highway. We stayed the night at a hotel and enjoyed lots of pool time and dips in the sea.
We had been talking to the boys about being able to float in the sea without floaties because there was so much salt it would keep us all afloat. But so much salt they also had to keep their mouths shut and not to touch their eyes. They did it...it may be a long time before they get in this sea again :), but we were proud of them for trying!
What a neat feeling to sit back and float! 
Betty and I got mudded up. We came back the next day and did our faces too and baked in the sun while the mud dried.
We spent the majority of our time at the different pools. There was a large pool, a kids pool, an infinity pool, several jacuzzis, and a fun waterslide!
The boys had a blast on the slide and we all had fun riding with them! 
Nathan and I went back to the sea for a little float.
And when we came back, the boys wanted to show us a surprise! They continue doing great in the water, and we are thankful to have opportunities for them to swim and have swim lessons in camp this summer.
 After all the hard work swimming, a smoothie hit the spot!
Mark, Betty, and I headed down to the sea for sunset. It was a clear night and the colors in the sky were amazing!

After the sun went down, we sat by the sea for a while and watched the lights of Jericho and other coastal towns across the way start turning on. Heading back up to the hotel, the lights and pools looked so pretty at night.
After taking this picture, Mark noticed the tree coming out of my head and said I looked like the Statue of Liberty.
Why not?!
The following day, we swam for a few more hours, then headed to Mt. Nebo. The boys were wiped from swimming, so I hung with them while they napped and Nathan, Mark, and Betty visited the site.
We have been there several times, and every time we go back, it is amazing to think that thousands of years ago, Moses walked where we are walking, and looked upon the Promised Land. It is a beautiful view from the top and on a clear day you can see all the way over to Jerusalem!
Friendly visitors :)
Nathan said he thought about bringing one of these puppies home...for a split second.
Memorial to Moses on Mt. Nebo
Byzantine mosaic
Moses staff.
Then Moses climbed Mt. Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land...Then the Lord said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, "I will give it to your descendants." I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it. And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave it. ~Deuteronomy 34:1-6. 
The final stop of the day was Madaba. Our family enjoys visiting Madaba so much. The town is always lively, and it is fully of history. The town is most famously known for its mosaics, and this is where you will find the Map of the Holy Land, on the floor of St. George's Greek Orthodox church. We dropped off Mark and Betty at the church and found place to park.
Inside the church.
The Madaba Mosaic map dates back to the 6th century, and has over two million pieces of colored stone showing villages and towns in Palestine all the way to the Nile Delta. This map shows the Baptism site, which lead to the discovery of Bethany Beyond the Jordan a little over 20 years ago, what Jerusalem looked like at this time, and the church of the Holy Sepulchre. This map was very important for understanding the physical layout of Jerusalem after its destruction and rebuilding in 70AD. 
And it is just there, on the ground right in front of you, to marvel over the details of this incredible mosaic.
After meeting up, we next went to the Archeological Park, which has remains of several Byzantine churches, and mosaics of the Church of the Virgin and Hippolytus Hall. The park also contains the oldest mosaic in Jordan, from the 1st century BC, from one of King Herod's baths.

While walking through the park, we met the curator and he showed us around. This is a mosaic of the Madaba tree of life, which you have to go in a door and down some steps to see. Nathan and I walked right past the door not knowing what was there last time we visited. We were all glad to see the original, this is one of the most popular mosaics sold in Jordan.

Amazed with the beauty of the mosaics here!
Old Roman colonnaded streets through town.
Our final stop was the mosaic workshop the park curator ran. He gave us a demonstration of the old vs. new forms to make mosaics. He was very patient and kind, and even let the boys play with stone.
Here is their mosaic:).
We left town as the final evening prayer of Ramadan came to a close. The town was very busy with people getting ready for the start of Eid al-Fitr the next day. It was a neat time to be in the town.
We are so thankful for the time together and opportunities to explore these ancient places!