From Monday through Thursday of last week our “JeruCrew” got to take an amazing field trip into Jordan! The trip was filled with so many amazing sights and new things I learned that I really needed to do one single post about Jordan.
We left the Jerusalem Center on Monday morning at 7, and reached the border by about 7:30, but the Israel-Jordan border is a huge nightmare to get through, so it took over 2 hours to get across. Once we made it through the border hassle we got to drive to Mount Nebo, the traditional site of where Moses looked out over the Holy Land and where he eventually died (or, according to LDS teaching, where he was taken up to God, but that’s another matter). After Mount Nebo we visited Madaba, where the floor of a church has a huge mosaic map of the Holy Land, which is one of the best resources that archaeologists have for reconstructing Byzantine Jerusalem and surrounding areas. We ended the day by visiting Machaerus, which is the location attributed to the imprisonment and beheading of John the Baptist, and where Herod had a huge military fortress built. A rival army once tried taking this fortress, and wrote in a letter that the fortress was impossible to take because it was positioned on a mountain range like a dagger’s edge, and after hiking up to the top of this thing I can totally see their point! Hiking up was hard enough, I can’t imagine trying to fight my way into that place!
Day two of our trip was probably my favorite, because that was the day we had the amazing opportunity of visiting Petra! (Of course we all watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade before going.) When I heard we were going I had sort of just assumed that the only thing in Petra was the cool cliff-carved temple thing from Indiana Jones. Boy was I wrong! Petra is a huge area covering several square miles of where an ancient city used to be. In fact, at around the time of Christ, Petra would have been at its peak as the biggest trading city of the area, and all trading routes would have gone through it! The site from Indiana Jones is called “The Treasury,” and although it’s a beautiful site, it’s nowhere near the biggest or most impressive site in Petra. There is another one called “The Monastery” that is just massive, and several more named “The Royal Tombs.” In fact, all of these cliff-carved monuments were tombs, not treasuries or monasteries. And unlike the depiction in The Last Crusade, the interior only goes in a few dozen yards for a burial chamber, not an entire temple to house the Holy Grail. Too bad. That was a long day though, because we did so much hiking and walking (according to my fitness tracker I burned 1,800 calories just from the hiking and walking around that day!) But hey, I got to ride a camel and explore some crazy cool ruins, so I really can’t complain!
The next day took us to the Jabbok River, which is the river where Isaac would have been reunited with Essau, and we had a great scripture study along the banks of that river. We then continued to Jerash, which is one of the best preserved ancient Roman cities anywhere! (Best Roman city is in Jordan, weird, right?) Those ruins were also very interesting to explore and learn about. I am very grateful for the fact that I took a “History of Architecture and Interior Design” class at BYU a few semesters ago, because I just thought I would be fulfilling a general credit requirement, but I actually was able to get a lot more out of this trip (and my recent Europe trip for that matter) because I recognized so much of what we had learned. We finished the day in Pella, where many Christians moved during the period of persecution in first few centuries A.D.
Finally, on our last day in Jordan we visited several cool sites. One of my favorites was in the Jordan Museum, where we saw some of the remnants of the “Copper Scroll” of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection. For those who are unaware, these scrolls were found about 50 years ago, and have given huge amounts of information regarding Biblical times. The copper scrolls were of particular interest to me as a Mormon, because we believe that our church’s fonder Joseph Smith was guided to the location of ancient religious records written around the same time period also on metal sheets, so although I do not base my faith on archaeology, it was very cool to see that connection. Our last stop of the trip was to the Jordan River, in the location where it is highly likely that Jesus Christ was baptized, as referenced in John 1:28. One of our professors (who is just ridiculously smart and well studied in the Ancient Near East and Biblical knowledge) shared with us many of the reasons that location is so highly regarded as the correct site, including archaeological evidence, ancient tradition, scriptural indications, and geographical markers, all which seem to agree with that site. Although the Jordan River is much lower than in decades (and centuries) past, and is very muddy and polluted, none of that seemed to matter as our entire group came together to study this part of the Savior’s life. There was an undeniable spirit of calm and peace while there, and we discussed how great it was to be where Christ had been geographically, but how much more important it is to be where he has been spiritually.
Finally we had to make our way back home, which was sad in some aspects (we had a very nice hotel in Amman, with a swimming pool, a hot tub, and a big shower that I was sad to say goodbye to) but also nice in others, because no matter where you go, that much sightseeing wears you out after four days straight! Now next week we have like five of our midterms coming up. Part of the Israeli government’s agreement to allow BYU to build this Jerusalem center required that the course load be challenging and maintain strict university standards, so we don’t get to just slack off and sightsee every day. So that’s probably what will take up all my time next week. Still, I’m sure I’ll get out one or two days to keep exploring this amazing city that I get to live in!