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Jordan: The Rest of the Bible Landcomment (0)

October 12, 2006

By Bob Terry

From the border between Jordan and Syria to the shores of the Red Sea and all along the Jordan River valley, 10 state Baptist paper editors recently spent 10 days exploring what Jordanian officials call “The Rest of the Bible Land.”

The group — of which I was a part — visited Baptist institutions, talked with Baptist leaders, met members of Jordan’s royal family, dialogued with government officials, visited numerous biblical sites, hiked mountains, rode in the back of pickup trucks through the southern desert, explored ancient cities and enjoyed warm hospitality.

Some of us walked alone through Amman, Jordan’s capital city. All walked through small villages and tourist areas.Some took taxis to different parts of the cities. Some shopped in supermarkets, malls and department stores. None ever experienced hostility or animosity for being an American or being in Jordan.

We were all making our first visit to Jordan during the Sept. 22–Oct. 1 excursion hosted by the Jordan Tourism Board and the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies.

Matthew 4:25 declares that Jesus had many followers from the Decapolis and from Judea and from beyond Jordan.
What many Christians do not realize is that nine of the 10 cities that made up the Decapolis were located in what is known today as northern Jordan and southern Syria. Seven of the cities were in Jordan.

Matthew 8:28–34 describes Jesus’ visit to the “region of the Gadarenes.” The city of the region was Gadara, one of the cities of the Decapolis. Today the ruins of the city are located on a high hill on the southeastern border of the Sea of Galilee.

Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of a Byzantine church resting in what once was the plaza of the city. An unusual feature of the church is its octagon shape. That shape is an ancient symbol used for churches to mark places people believed Jesus actually visited.

The Gospel of Mark and Luke both mention the “region of the Gerasenes.” Today the town of Gerasa, which is one of the Decapolis cities, is known as Jerash. Scholars call this place the most complete and best-preserved Greco-Roman cities in the Middle East. Only about 25 percent of the area has been excavated, and it is still one of the most wonderful ancient cities I have ever explored.

Jordan is filled with Old Testament sites. Jabbok Brook, north of Amman, is the site where Jacob wrestled the angel of God. The lands of Moab and Edom lie in Jordan. Elijah was taken into heaven from the eastern shore of the Jordan River valley. The wandering tribes of Israel traveled “the desert road” as they traveled north before entering the promised land.

Without question, the most magnificent tourist site in Jordan is Petra, the ancient capital of the Nabateans who flourished from the third century b.c. until conquered by Rome early in the second century a.d.

Petra was immortalized in the Indiana Jones movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Petra features large, intricate tombs carved out of sandstone cliffs. It is approached through a narrow, winding path that afforded the city natural protection from enemies.

In addition to the remains of the Nabateans, one also sees Roman ruins and the remains of early churches complete with complicated and symbolic mosaics.

One of the most picturesque areas of the vast southern desert of Jordan is known as Wadi Rum.

This was an area used by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) during the Great Arab Revolt in 1916.

Lawrence called the area “vast, echoing and God-like.” It is a classic picture of sandy desert with sandstone hills rising straight out of the valley floor. The 10 of us loaded in the back of two four-wheel-drive pickup trucks and struck off across the desert to experience the sand, cliffs and empty vastness firsthand.

At the southern end of the desert is the costal town of Aqaba with long, sandy beaches and a coral reef that provides some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world.

At the Dead Sea, we experienced firsthand the effect the sea’s salty water has on swimmers. It was impossible to sink. One lays back in the water as one lies on a bed. With no effort, the water holds swimmers on top of the water.

The hotels were all top of the line, equal to any I have experienced anywhere. The people were warm and helpful, even when we ordered food or sodas in the middle of the first week of Ramadan — a time when Muslims, which make up the majority of Jordan’s population, eat or drink nothing between sunrise and sunset.

The experience exceeded expectations and I hope to return and learn more about what really is “the rest of the Bible land.”

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