Country happy to host Christian pilgrims
Jordan is unquestionably a great place to bone up on your Biblical knowledge.
The country has dozens of Biblical sites, including ones that are at the very core of Christianity, playing a hugely important role for devotees of the faith.
“We have some people for whom the main reason they come is for the Holy Land,” says Amman-based tour guide Michel Safar.
Jordan says it’s as deserving of the Holy Land title as bordering Israel.
Among sites that can be appreciated by those interested in Christianity is Bethany Beyond the Jordan, found by the east bank of the Jordan River and which archeologists have identified as the site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
Visitors can see archeological excavations, wade for a short distance into the Jordan River and visit the several churches in the area.
Two Popes have visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan, which Jordanians say clearly demonstrated that the Vatican accepts it as the site of Jesus’ baptism.
Some Israelis have claimed that Jesus was baptized in their country but Safar says Israeli scholars now agree that Bethany Beyond the Jordan was the site of that monumental event in Christianity.
“We Jordanians know it’s on our side. There is evidence,” he says, pointing to the excavations.
Nearby Elijah’s Hill is thought to be where the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven. Remains of ancient churches and chapels can be seen at the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Another Biblical highlight is Mount Nebo, from the top of which Moses saw the Promised Land. A winding road leads to its summit, where in the 4th century a small monastery was built to pay tribute to Moses, evolving into the Memorial Church of Moses. The basilica is now home to Byzantine mosaics dating back to 530 AD, and display customs and wildlife from that time.
“Moses spent most of his life in (what is now) Jordan,” Safar continues.
Madaba is frequently referred to as the City of Mosaics, being famed for its ancient Byzantine mosaics, among them the world’s largest mosaic map, found in in St George’s Church. Excavated in 1884, the map displays the Holy Land as it was in 560 AD. Also found in Madaba are the Church of the Virgin and the Hippolytus Hall, both part of the local Archeological Park and Museum.
Hilltop Machaerus is believed to be the stronghold of King Herod of Judea during the life of Jesus Christ. Salome is believed to have performed her entrancing dance for Herod’s son there and and it’s also the site where John the Baptist died. The hilltop fortress provides views of the Dead Sea and the West Bank.
However, Safar says many Christians are unaware Jordan played host to their community right from its beginnings.
“When I have pilgrim groups, I say, ‘Welcome to the land of the Bible,'” he says, adding there are over 50 Jordanian sites mentioned in the Bible.
Jordan’s tourism board has regularly published brochures detailing the country’s Biblical connections.
Meanwhile, Safar says Christian pilgrimage groups that visit Jordan will find him enthusiastic when talking about his homeland’s Biblical history.
“If it’s the Bible, I could talk for hours and hours about it,” he says.
Safar often guides on behalf of Amman-based Karma House, which in turn is the ground operator used by Goway Travel for its Jordan program.