While Mount Nebo may not have been at the very top of my list of things to see and experience in Jordan, I couldn’t deny the palpable excitement I felt as our bus turned off the highway and into the parking lot. Neither of us are very religious, however our interest in religious history is deep seated in the impact it has had on civilizations and cultures. Jordan had already been a fascinating platter of historical sites – The Amman Citadel, Petra, Ajloun Castle and more. So I couldn’t wait to see what Mount Nebo would bring.
Jordan is peppered with important Christian sites, but Mount Nebo is among the most important. This is the spot from where Moses is believed to have first spotted the promised land. The Bible quotes:
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land…. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendents.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day on one knows where his grave is. –Deuteronomy 34:1-6
Remnants of a 4th Century sanctuary and 6th Century church can still be seen on the spot, maintained and excavated from when the Franciscans purchased the site in 1993. We walked through a pop-up museum of sorts, ogling at artefacts found in the excavation and pieces of mosaic flooring, wall art, columns and more. I noticed a mosaic depicting dark skinned peoples and exotic animals, and marvelled at how well travelled these people were for their time!
I’d heard about Madaba’s famous mosaics, and was looking forward to our visit to a Mosaic workshop later that day. But I had no idea about the massive mosaic flooring that awaited me here. As soon as I stepped into the tent (constructed around it) my jaw dropped to the floor. With Greek inscriptions and Bulls and Gazelles it was absolutely fascinating. On our way out, we passed several small rooms and managed to slip into one of them. It looked like a modern prayer room, but for the ancient mosaic’s hanging on the walls and the original altar under the tablecloth.
The Viewing Platform
Mount Nebo is 3,300 ft high. It’s the spot from where Moses first spotted the promised land. Naturally a visit to this iconic site entails a fantastic view. We made our way to the viewing platform erected for Pope John Paul II and stood at the lookout. A shiver went down my spine as I thought of Moses standing at this very spot, over 3000 years ago. Our guide attempted pointing out Jericho, but visibility wasn’t on our side. On a clear day, it is indeed possible to spot the Dead Sea, and several west bank cities across the Jordan River. I did wish we had enough time to wait and watch the sun set behind the hills of Jerusalem.
The Modern Sculpture
As we stood on the viewing platform, shielding our eyes from the mid-day sun, I turned around. And towering over me was the modern sculpture depicting the brazen serpent. The story behind it is explained in the Exodus, when God sent the plague to kill rebellious Israelites. He then instructed Moses to erect a bronze serpent on a pole, so that anyone who looked up at it would survive the plague. This is how this familiar motif became the symbol of pharmacies.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to visit several other spots on the Pilgrim’s trail across Jordan like Bethany beyond the Jordan, the baptism site on the river etc. But this, this opportunity to stand where Moses once stood, was certainly one of those fantastical once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I’m really hoping to return to someday.
This post was made possible by the Jordan Tourism Board. Opinions, as always are our own.