Connections to both the Old Testament and the New Testament exist in Jordan. It was in Jordan where Jacob wrestled with the Angel of God, where Job suffered and where Elijah ascended to heaven. It is the place where Moses led the Israelites on their flight from Egypt to the Holy Land and where Jesus was baptized by John.
BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN
The site of John the Baptist’s settlement at Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where Jesus was baptized, has long been known from the Bible and from Byzantine and medieval texts.
The actual site has now been identified as the site that extends between Tell al-Kharrar (Elijah’s Hill / Tall Mar Elias in Arabic) and John the Baptist Church area, on the east bank of the Jordan River in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Tell al-Kharrar is the same place from which Elijah is believed to have ascended to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire.
Mount Nebo was the final stop in the flight of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt to the Holy Land. From Mount Nebo, overlooking the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley, Jericho and the hills of Jerusalem, Moses viewed the Holy Land of Canaan that he would never enter. He died and was buried in Moab, "in the valley opposite Beth-peor" but the exact place of his tomb remains unknown.
Mount Nebo became a place of pilgrimage for early Christians from Jerusalem and a small church was built there in the 4th century to commemorate the end of Moses’ life. Some of the stones from that church remain in their original place in the wall around the apse area. The church was later expanded in the 5th and 6th centuries into the present-day large basilica with its impressive collection of Byzantine mosaics. The Serpentine Cross, which stands just outside the sanctuary, is symbolic of the brass serpent taken by Moses into the desert and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
During the time of Jesus and the Apostles, one of the East Mediterranean’s greatest trading centers was located in the southern Jordan city of Petra, the extensive rock-cut capital of the Nabataean Kingdom.
Petra flourished during Nabataean rule from the 3rd century BC to the early 2nd century AD, when it was occupied by the Roman Emperor Trajan. Petra seems to be mentioned in the Bible’s Old Testament under several possible names, including Sela and Joktheel (2 Kings 14:7).
During the Exodus, Moses and the Israelites passed through the Petra area in Edom. Local tradition says that the spring at Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses), just outside Petra, is the place where Moses struck the rock and brought forth water (Numbers 20:10-11).
Aaron, the brother of Moses, died in Jordan and was buried in Petra at Mount Hor, now called Jabal Harun in Arabic (Mount Aaron). A Byzantine church and later an Islamic shrine at the tomb of Aaron were built on the summit of the mountain, which today attracts pilgrims from all over the world.
Madaba and its surroundings were repeatedly mentioned in the Old Testament as Medeba. It was featured in stories related to Moses and the Exodus, David’s war against the Moabites, Isaiah’s oracle against Moab, and King Mesha of Moab’s rebellion against Israel.
Some of the finest art of the early Christian centuries can still be seen in Madaba and the area around it in central Jordan. Between the 4th and 7th centuries AD, Madaba produced some of the world’s finest Byzantine mosaics, many examples of which are well preserved. Madaba’s real masterpiece, in the Orthodox Church of Saint George, is the 6th century AD mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land – the earliest religious map of the Holy Land in any form to survive from ancient times. Madaba is known as "The City of Mosaics".
Josephus, the 1st century AD Roman-Jewish historian, identifies the site of Machaerus (modern-day Mukawir) as the hilltop fortified palace of Herod Antipas, who was the Roman-appointed ruler over the region during the life of Jesus Christ. It was here, overlooking the Dead Sea region and the distant hills of the Holy Land, that Herod imprisoned and beheaded John the Baptist.
Penuel (the face of God), was so named by Jacob after he wrestled there all night with God in the form of a man or angel (Genesis 32:24- 30). A large Bronze and Iron Age temple recently discovered at Pella, in the northern Jordan Valley, is thought to be the best preserved temple from Old Testament times anywhere in the Holy Land. The discovery suggests that Pella could be the site of ancient Penuel.
After Jacob’s struggle with the angel of God, his name was changed to Isra-el (he struggles with God). He traveled with his family to Canaan to later become the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.
During the time of the New Testament, northern Jordan was the region of the Roman Decapolis (meaning ‘ten cities’ in Greek). The old Decapolis city of Gadara (modern-day Umm Qays), with its panoramic views overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is believed to be the site of Jesus’ miracle of the Gadarene swine, where He encountered a demented man who lived in the tombs near the entrance to the city. Jesus cast the bad spirits out of the man and into a herd of pigs, which then ran down the hill into the waters of the Sea of Galilee and drowned.
A rare five-aisled basilica from the 4th century was recently discovered and excavated at Umm Qays. It has been built directly over a Roman-Byzantine tomb and has a view into the tomb from the interior of the church. It is also located alongside the old Roman city gate on the road from the Sea of Galilee. Everything about this distinctive arrangement of a church above a tomb at this particular place, indicates that it may have been designed and built to commemorate the spot where the Byzantine Christians believed that Jesus performed His miracle.
Sodom and Gomorrah and other cities of the Dead Sea plain were the subjects of some of the most enduring Old Testament stories. Soon after Abrahamand his nephew, Lot, arrived in the Dead Sea Plain, they separated their herds and people and went their own ways (Genesis 13:1-13). God said he would destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the inhabitants' wicked ways but Abraham successfully argued with God that Lot and any other righteous people should be spared. As they were leaving the burning city of Sodom, Lot’s wife disobeyed God’s order not to look back and was turned into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26). Lot and his two daughters survived and fled to a cave near the small town of Zoar (modern-day Safi). The Bible says Lot’s daughters gave birth to sons whose descendants would become the Ammonite and Moabite people, whose kingdoms were in what is now central Jordan.
On a hillside above the town of Zoar, Byzantine Christians built a church and monastery dedicated to Lot. The complex was built around the cave where Lot and his daughters found refuge. The monastery complex has been excavated and can be visited today.
THE KINGS HIGHWAY
The Kings Highway is the world’s oldest continuously used communication route. It linked ancient Bashan, Giliad and Ammon in the north with Moab, Edom, Paran and Midian in the south. A rich chain of archaeological sites line both sides of this 207-mile road.
Abraham, the common patriarch of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, who passed through northern, central, and southern Jordan, would certainly have used this route on his journey from Mesopotamia to Canaan.
In the Bible, The Kings’ Highway is first mentioned by name in Genesis 20:17, when Moses led the Exodus through southern Jordan. Moses asked the King of Edom if he and his people could "go along the Kings’ Highway" during their journey to Canaan, but his request was denied.
Jerash, formerly known as Gerasa, is the most complete and best preserved Graeco-Roman city in the Middle East and is noted in the Bible as the "region of the Garasenes" (Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26). Within a large church complex within the city there is a fountain where Byzantine citizens once annually celebrated Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine.
Umm Ar-Rasas is a walled city mentioned in both the Old and New Testament. Most of the city now lies in ruins, but there are several buildings in its eastern part that have been excavated and restored. Just outside the city walls is the recently unearthed Church of Saint Stephen with its perfectly preserved outstanding mosaic floor, the largest of its kind to be discovered in Jordan and second only to the world famous mosaic map at Madaba. The mosaic depicts the images of 27 Old and New Testament cities of the Holy Land, east and west of the River Jordan.
Karak has been a fortress since biblical times. The Bible relates how the King of Israel and his allies from Judah and Edom attacked Moab and besieged its King Mesha in the fortress of KirHeres, as Karak was then known. Centuries later, it took the Crusaders twenty years to erect their large castle. Karak is an impressive example of a military fort built by the Crusaders.
DID YOU KNOW?
Amman, Jordan's capital city, boasts a number of important ruins, including the Roman theater, a Roman temple and several Byzantine churches. The archeological museum situated in the Citadel contains one of the finest collections of ancient artifacts in the Middle East including some of the Copper Dead Sea scrolls.
The ancient town of Anjara, located in the hills of Gilead east of the Jordan Valley, is mentioned in the Bible as a place where Jesus, his mother Mary and his disciples, passed through and rested in a nearby cave. The cave, which has long been a holy place for pilgrims, has now been commemorated with the modern Church of Our Lady of the Mountain.