Jordan: of magic and the ownership of miracles

“And this is where Jesus was baptised,” said the guide, pointing at a dry riverbed. The empty creek is an arm of the River Jordan. From our position in the far west of Jordan, we could see the skyline of Jericho, and later, when the sun went down, the lights of Jerusalem.

A short walk along a tree-lined path took us to the river proper, the natural border between Jordan and Israel and Palestine. I splashed cool water at Israel and admired the new buildings on the opposite side of the river. The baptismal site of Jesus is recorded in the Bible, in mosaics on the floor of the ancient church by the site and from writings by travellers of the day. However, there are some who maintain that the baptismal site is actually on the other side of the river, on the Israeli side. The guide told me there is, in fact, only one country making the allegations. Sure you can work it out.

Today, we also wandered around the fabulous citadel that rests on one of the seven hills of Amman. It’s suggested the Roman temple was dedicated to Hercules, the find of a massive clenched fist amongst the excavated rubble being a dead giveaway. Fingers the size of an average-sized Jordanian woman.

In Madaba, I visited the Basilica of St George to see its world-famous mosaic floor, featuring a map of the world at the time. The resident guide talked me through it all: Egypt here, Bethlehem there, Jerusalem up a bit...

“It’s an historical map, not a geographic map,” said the guide mildly when I queried the fact that Egypt was on the wrong side of the Red Sea. Moses was lost for 40 years on the Sinai peninsula, it would have been longer if he was using this map.

Speaking of Moses, the man who led his people to the Promised Land featured prominently today, as I walked up Mt Nebo, where he died and ascended into Heaven – no body was ever found.

I’m going to go into a bit of religious theory here, so hang on: one of the fundamentals of Islam is the belief in the prophets, of which there were many, and Moses (or Musa in Arabic) is one of the biggies. So, implicit in the religion is the belief he spent four decades lost in the wilderness, had a hotline to God and shot up to heaven when his time was up.

“Sure I believe,” said a devout friend of mine recently. “It was a time of magic on earth, but that time has ended.”

And so ends my first day in Jordan. Tomorrow: hopefully shimmy past Sodom & Gomorrah, the ruins of Petra and, if I'm up early, a wallow in Dead Sea mud.

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