Water

The Jordan River, looking towards the Orthodox Church of St. John The Baptist

Humanity had its beginnings in Africa, which means that in order for there to be people in the bits of the world that are not Africa, at some stage they had to pass through the narrow corridor we now call the Middle East. Unsurprisingly there are artefacts from every epoch of human history buried beneath Jordanian soil. We saw some of them this morning. There is a hill above Amman called the Citadel of Amman which has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years. There are very visible Roman and Ottoman ruins there, lots of archaeological diggings and the Jordanian Archaeological Museum. As far as exhibition space and facilities go, the JAM might best be described as basic, but it houses some amazing bits of kit. There are some Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance; real ones, not copies. There is the oldest statue ever discovered; and again, the actual statue is sitting there, not a copy of something out the back in an air conditioned vault.

The citadel is one of the high points of Amman, in every sense, so from here it was, literally, downhill all the way. In the space of about 30km we dropped from about 1100 metres above sea level to the Jordan valley about 480 metres below sea level. When we arrived at the site where Jesus was baptised by John, the temperature was in the low 40s. Because the site is in a military reserve, we travelled to it in an approved shuttle and by approved shuttle I mean the back of a truck. Before reaching the sacred site, we stopped to view the Jordan, and I must say Naaman sums it up pretty well. “there are a lot better rivers where I come from.” The Jordan, never a huge river, has been badly depleted by irrigation schemes and is now a narrow polluted muddy creek. At the site where, consensus has it, John worked and Jesus, in obedience, allowed John to minister to him, there is a shallow grey green puddle and the ruins of the 5 churches which have been built on top of the site and on top of one another. The River has changed course since John was here, and floods and earthquakes haven’t been kind to the buildings people have erected to try and preserve that holy moment from so long ago. There is now just an archaeological dig and a temporary wooden roof to keep the sun off the boffins’ heads. A hundred metres walk away there is the Eastern bank of the Jordan, from which we looked into Israel about 5 metres away. We visited the impressive little Orthodox Church of St. John the Baptist, ate some dates from a date palm (about as different from the dates we put in scones back home as a dried apricot is from a fresh one. Exactly as different) and headed south.

I crossed myself with water from the Jordan, and although a dove flapped down from a nearby tree, I was profoundly unmoved by it all. You can’t step into the same river twice, the old saying has it, and the river in which my Lord was immersed disappeared thousands of years ago. Now there is a wooden platform above a creek and Israeli and Jordanian soldiers nursing automatic weapons and glowering nonchalantly at each other across a line someone had arbitrarily drawn on a map. There are shops selling religious tat and coca cola. Not one bit of it spoke to me at any level of the Good News which Jesus was baptised to proclaim.

10km further South Ibraham dropped us off at a hotel – a very nice hotel – on the shores of the Dead Sea. We did the Dead Sea things. We floated uncannily atop the water. I couldn’t swim as my body was too far out of the water to execute any proper strokes. Instead I lay on my back and rowed myself along like a Phoenician trireme. Stately and noble and gracious, I thought I looked. The water looks like hydrochloric acid, and it has probably the strongest taste of anything thing I have ever had in my mouth. We all coated ourselves with the slimy black mud which is scooped from the bottom of the sea, waited until it dried and washed it off by swimming or rather bobbing in the sea once more; It made me feel a) very soft and slightly oily and b) itchy. Supposedly, I am now looking ten years younger, but only I and one other can verify that and the vote is inconclusive.

We had yet another wonderful meal, this time sitting on a broad terrace in the still hot and dry evening air with the flat, still sea before us and the lights of Jerusalem twinkling on the hillside beyond.

Comments

NIE said…
What incredible contrasts in all directions, Kelvin.
Was there really a dove? And I can't believe you actually let that Dead Sea "water" pass your lips? Hope your innards are still ok.
These daily "fixes" for us on distant shores are fantastic, thanks so much.
Blessings to you all.
VenDr said…
Yes indeed, Noelene, there was a dove. But don't get excited. It was one of the little pinkish grey ones that are common all through the Middle East and Southern Europe. There was no voice from heaven, only the truck driver reminding some Russian women intent on immersing themselves that we had only 5 more minutes.

Being there was an interesting reflection for me on pilgrimage. What is a Holy site? This was the actual place (and the chances of it being the actual site are extremely high) where Jesus' ministry began. Yet to me it seemed not holy. Unholy even. It is a militarised zone. There was evidence before us that the state of Israel regards the water needs of all their illegal settlements to be a far higher priority than preserving the river which should be so sacred to them. There was an archaeological dig and the selling of souvenirs. What could possibly be holy about all that?
VenDr said…
And yes, it was a bit dumb to put some of the Dead Sea into my mouth, even if only a drop. But I suspect the Dead sea water would do me less harm than than the Jordan.
Anonymous said…
r u traveling as da "Bishop of Dunedin"? aren't u afraid dat people will think dat u r someone important?
VenDr said…
No, I'm not travelling as Bishop of Dunedin, although I'm not hiding the fact either. I don't think the Anglican Bishop of a small Diocese in New Zealand will attract much attention anyway, but on any account the people we continually meet, ordinary everyday Muslims and Christian people are as decent and kind as anyone you could encounter anywhere. I would not be in any danger.
Barbara said…
Yum !! Real dates ! You can buy them back home if you own a goldmine. Dont suppose you have any land in Central Otago.......
Anonymous said…
Good to hear. Enjoy your time and da people there.
Bill said…
Kelvin, your trip now to Jordan brings back memories. Last year in May I went on a 10 day Sabbath trip with twenty other pastors and I felt more "spiritual" at many of the archeological ruin sites like Bet Shean or Caeserea Maritima (awesome) than in many of the Churches or even the Jordan River. I remember the Jordan River stop being such a let down really, very commercial.

I love your pictures and postings.

By the way, how do you "hire' a driver did you pre-arrange this or what??????
daharja said…
I know what you mean. I've been to significant historical sites around the world, and they've done nothing for me.

And then, the next day, around the corner, I'll see something small and supposedly insignificant that will melt my soul.
VenDr said…
Bill, we used a company called Jordan Select Tours. You prearrange where you want to go, what you want to see, the level of accommodation you want, all that stuff and they sort out all the details. Then they meet you at the airport and take it from there. It has been wonderful. Our own car, freedom to do what we want but someone who knows his way around, gets us into archaeological sites not generally open to the public, knows what to say to the soldiers at a military checkpoint in the middle of nowhere. All this for $US100 a day per person which includes all travel, accommodation, breakfasts and entrance fees to the various sites. We have opted for 3 star hotels but on one night we had 5 star. I'd highly recommend them