Monday 30 April 2012

Heidegger on the Greek Temple and the sky

View from Erak al-Amir (Jordan), or the house of Tobiah the Servant

It is the Temple that makes the sky visible. (Heidegger in his extraordinary essay, "The Origin of the Work of Art.")
“This resting of the work draws out of the rock the obscurity of that rock’s bulky yet spontaneous support. Standing there, the building holds its ground against the storm raging above it and so first makes the storm manifest in its violence. The lustre and gleam of the stone, though itself apparently glowing only by the grace of the sun, first brings to radiance the light of the day, the breadth of the sky, the darkness of the night. (Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” Basic Writings, tr. David Farrell Krell [London: Routledge, 2002] pp. 139-212, at 167-68)

Love and prayer

For those wonderful people who have the inborn ability to be always calm and to relate well with everybody, but who perhaps struggle to pray, an invitation to find the roots, their roots, in God.

And for those wonderful people who are blessed with a deep spirit of prayer, and who spend oodles of time in prayer, the invitation to see whether all this overflows in true love, joy, peace: the love that is constantly overcoming limits and moving beyond boundaries, to true friendship and compassion, eventually with all and for all. The loving without limits that is the sure sign of the gift of God's love.

The struggle of the congregation at this moment. 

Food

I remembered Martin Lasarte yesterday. Lasarte in Testaccio would eat anything quite happily, without grumbling. One day I asked him how he did it. He told me he had done his practical training in Angola, at a moment when the city had been besieged by the rebel forces, and no provisions could get through. They had spent a whole year eating practically nothing but bulgur. Now, he said, he was happy to eat just anything. Besides, he said, whenever he would ask his mother what she had cooked, she would reply: Food.

The need to move from like/dislike to the ability to eat, happily, what is set before us.

Or, making the movement from Kierkegaard's aesthetic man to the ethical man and ultimately the religious man. Not enough ultimately to be delighted. The call to live this delight in God, before God.  

Saturday 28 April 2012

Allium trifoliatum or hirsute garlic



This seems to be Allium trifoliatum, Allium hirsutum, or Hirsute garlic. Blooming just now in the Ratisbonne garden - wild, not cultivated, I think. A very late blooming plant, as compared to Neapolitan garlic.

Monday 23 April 2012

Bethany beyond the Jordan - the Baptismal Site of Jesus

El Maghtas, the ruins of the Church of the Clothes of Jesus, with the Site of Jesus' Baptism in the foreground. 

Another view of the Site of Jesus' Baptism. The pillar with the iron cross must have been under the little shed. The water itself is either a branch of the Jordan, or else a spring, with which the place abounds, according to Vernet

At around 1500, we reached El Maghtas, the Baptismal Site, identified as the Bethany beyond the Jordan mentioned in Jn 1:28. It would seem that Jesus remained for a certain time in this place (Jn 10:40-42). A number of new churches are coming up around the site after the recent visit of Benedict XVI: King Abdullah offered sites to various churches, Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, etc. We visited the Orthodox Church with the single golden dome that is directly across the Franciscan site on the Israeli side; then the traditional Baptismal site of Jesus, with the remains of a Byzantine church, and the site itself; and then celebrated the Sunday Eucharist in another beautiful place on one of the bends of the river.
One of the several new churches that have come up around the Baptismal Site. This one is probably Russian Orthodox, going by the golden onion dome

The first historical mention of the site is in the writings of the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux in 333 AD, which says that Jesus was baptized 5 Roman miles (7,400 m) north of the Dead Sea, which is where Wadi Kharrar enters the Jordan River. The pilgrim Theodosius was the first to mention a church at the Jordan River, built at the end of the 5th century by Emperor Anastasius (491-518) to commemorate St John the Baptist. The church had a marble column with an iron cross marking the spot where Jesus is supposed to have been baptized. In 570 the Christian traveler Antonin of Piacenza described a site two miles east of the Jordan River as the place where Jesus was baptized, and the spring where John used to baptize. A 7th century pilgrim, John Moschus, wrote that Jesus’ baptism took place on the east bank of the Jordan, near a site called Saphsapha, meaning Willow. This site is noted also on the Madaba mosaic in the area of today’s Wadi el-Kharrar excavations.

Vernet said that it is very likely that John the Baptist was a member of the Essenes, who were based in Qumran, not far really from the Baptismal Site. The evidence was the baptism practiced by John: baptism was an unknown rite in Judaism; only the Essenes practiced it. Some scholars suggest that John the Evangelist, disciple originally of John the Baptist, was himself also a member of the Essenes.

Vernet also pointed out to some caves in the nearby hills, and said that there were probably hermits living there. The monasteries came much later. There are / were monasteries on both sides of the river: Saphsaphas on the east, and Gerasimos (the Lion story), Prodomos (Casr el Jehud or Mar Juhanna), and Bet Agla on the west.

The Dead Sea again

One of the pools, and the Dead Sea beyond

Our fourth 'desert' stop was for lunch: another lovely resort/restaurant on the Dead Sea, with the most astonishingly clear blue swimming pools and access to the water. The Amman Beach Resort or some such thing, I think. I thought our guys were going to jump into the water, but there was not enough time. But some did at least wade into the water - seven times more salty than normal sea water, and quite slimy to the touch. But still astonishingly blue, sometimes dark and sometimes light, and sometimes green... Fascinating, this Dead Sea. Surely another of the wonders of the world. The lowest point on the planet. Part of the great Rift Valley stretching down to faraway Malawi. Still, viscous, and quite dead. A communication link in the old days, surely, as the Madaba mosaic indicates, but no more.

I think across the sea are the Qumran caves, the Essene settlement. We were not far from the place where the Jordan enters the Dead Sea. Not far, therefore, from the Baptismal Site and the city of Jericho. Rich, therefore, with biblical resonances.

Fascinating. The Dead Sea. The Madaba mosaic, with the comic scene of the fish turning away in fright as the Jordan approaches the Dead Sea. But still so much life and history around it. 

The Arnon or Wadi Mujib


Our third stop on the way to the Baptismal Site was spectacular: the Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve, the lowest Nature Reserve in the world – really the place where the torrent Arnon – which we had seen from a viewpoint earlier in our trip – disgorges into the Dead Sea – though now the water is all sent up to Amman. But a stunning place, where tourists are expected to enter with lifevests. We were allowed to walk inside as far as the metal walkway: no going further without the mandatory tickets and lifevests, I suppose. Still, stunning, for the astounding beauty, and the promise of the wild life and the wild flowers. I cannot believe that it is still possible to find ibex here. 

The sad thing is that every drop of water - and this seems to be a perennial stream, and more than a stream - is sent up to the capital. Can't be helped, I suppose. But no wonder the Dead Sea is shrinking. And both sides are doing it. 

Lot and the Pillar of Salt


We left Aqaba by the Desert Highway, on our way towards the Baptismal Site. The Desert Highway runs parallel to the Israeli-Jordanian border. No fences here, no walls, not even barbed wire. Only a minefield. So close at times. The Arabah - great desert for the most part, but every now and then green fields, pointing to the availability of water. But also the classical desert sand dunes here and there, with quicksands according to our guide.

We stopped four times on the way. The first stop, if I remember right, was to remember Lot and his wife who turned into a pillar of salt. Vernet said archaeologists had discovered the remains of 5 great cities, the Pentapolis, with some 20,000 tombs, etc.


The second was a little further down, to admire the Dead Sea, with a pillar of mud overlooking the place, perhaps intending to evoke Lot’s wife.

Astounding colours that kept changing with the sun.

And layers of salts.

A little peninsula with two capes named after explorers who died in the process of mapping the Sea. A very young Irishman, who died of dehydration at the age of 28.

Lovely Aqaba - perhaps Solomon's Ezion Geber



Sunday, 22 April 2012. Took a walk to the sea after breakfast. Very different in the day time. I should have gone a bit earlier to really enjoy the scene. After loading the bus at 0830, we went down to the beach again, where we saw the hoisting of the Arab League flag – very much like the Jordanian flag, but with a different placement of the horizontal colours, and no star. A huge flag, though torn and rather shabbily hoisted, without ceremony.

A brief history of Aqaba. The settlement dates back to the 4th millennium BC. The original name was Ayla, very close to the Israeli Eilat. In the 14th century it was given the name Aqaba. Tel Al-Khalifeh, 3 kms north of Aqaba, was identified as the Ezion Geber where King Solomon built his fleet (1 Kgs 9:26), and from where he imported ivory, peacocks and apes from Ophir (perhaps the little and now land locked village of Sopara in Vasai, north of Mumbai), but recent excavations seem to disprove this. In the 1st century BC Ayla was inhabited by the Nabateans. Around 106 AD, the Romans took over, made the town one of their main trading posts, and built a road, the Via Nova Traiana, linking it with Bosra, the new capital of Arabia. In 630 AD Ayla came under Islamic rule, and became known as the ‘Door to Palestine’. Just prior to Islam, the Ghassanid Phylarchs, a tribe from western Arabia, controlled Ayla on behalf of Byzantium, and the bishop of Ayla attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Nabatean-Roman town of Ayla was 2 kms from Tel Al-Khalifeh, as per excavations initiated in 1994. The walled city of Ayla was constructed early in the Islamic era. Islamic Ayla benefited from the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and prospered till the 12th century AD, when it suffered from a series of earthquakes, Bedouin raids and Crusader attacks. The Crusaders eventually captured Ayla, built a castle on Pharaoh’s island. This castle became Saladin’s Castle when Saladin captured Aqaba in 1182 AD. Since the beginning of the 16th century, Aqaba was ruled by the Ottomans. It declined to a little fishing village. In 1917 it was attacked by the Arab Army of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the Hashemite leader of the Great Arab Revolt; the Ottoman forces withdrew from the village.

Wadi Rum and Lawrence of Arabia

On the way from Petra to Aqaba we passed Wadi Rum: a spectacular series of hills, very similar to those of Petra. Wadi Rum is known in recent times as the headquarters of Prince Faisal bin Al-Hussein, and is associated with Lawrence of Arabia (T.E. Lawrence) and his key role in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence’s book, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, takes its name from one of the mountains here, which also has Ain Ashalleleh, also known as Lawrence’s Spring. 

Petra of the desert

ἀποστελῶ ὡς ἑρπετὰ ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν μὴ πέτρα ἔρημός ἐστιν τὸ ὄρος σιων. (Is 16:1, Septuagint)
"Emitte agnum dominatorem terrae de Petra deserti ad montem filiae Sion" (Is 16:1, Vul)
"SEND forth, O Lord, the lamb, the ruler of the earth, from Petra of the desert, to the mount of the daughter of Sion." (Douay-Rheims)
שִׁלְחוּ־כַר מֹשֵׁל־אֶרֶץ מִסֶּלַע מִדְבָּרָה אֶל־הַר בַּת־צִיּוֹן
[shil'chû-khar moshël-eretz miŠela mid'Bäräh el-har Bat-tziYôn]
"They have sent lambs to the ruler of the land, from Sela, by way of the desert, to the mount of the daughter of Zion." (RSV)
"Send lambs as tribute to the ruler of the land, from Sela, across the desert, to the mount of the Daughter of Zion." (NIV)
The Masoretic text has Sela; but, very interestingly, the Septuagint has Petra. 
Saturday, 20 April 2012. Petra. We loaded our luggage into bus and left the lovely hotel. The bus parked at the Visitors’ Centre, a mere stone’s throw from the hotel. The fee of 50 Jordan Dinars had been paid already. Included was the horse ride up to the Bab el-Siq, the beginning of the canyon; we were instructed, however, to give a tip of 2 JD or US $ 3. As far as I know, none of us took advantage of the offer.
Petra: one of the seven new wonders of the world. Discovered by a Swiss traveller called Burckhardt who had to convert to Islam before the Bedouins would lead him to this wonder. I found David Roberts’ pictures of the Khazna (Treasury – our Hindi khazana) much more attractive, however: the vegetation, the stream flowing past, very charming. The Khazna site today is at its most impressive when one first catches a glimpse of it through the canyon walls. The actual site is very touristic, with ropes and netting blocking the way to the main structure, a tea- and curio shop, lots of tourists chattering and clicking photos, camels, and boys young and old trying to sell things. But the Khazna is impressive, at least for its size and grandeur. The Nabateans seem to have been eclectic in their tastes. Being caravaners and merchants, they were probably familiar with different styles – the Egyptian, the Greek (from Alexandria), and eventually the Roman. The Khazna seems to be a mixture of styles, Egyptian and Greek especially.

But I have stepped too far ahead. Leading up to the Khazna is the Siq, the canyon originally carved out of the living limestone rock by a channel of water. The Nabateans seem to have realized the peril of flash floods, and cleverly diverted the water away from their city through an 80 metre tunnel in the solid mountainside. The Siq itself is impressive, with a small channel / earthenware pipes leading water to the city.

Along the way, funerary monuments, and lots of bas-relief figures of the Father (Dushara), the Mother and the Daughter, the three Nabatean divinities.

We did not climb up to the High Place of Sacrifice for lack of time. Not far away is the Theatre - constructed once again by the Nabateans, not by the Romans, but certainly manifesting a Roman influence and the eclectic tastes of the Nabateans. The theatre is carved into the solid rock, except the 'stage' which had to be freestanding, and which has now been partly reconstructed.

Then the Urn Tomb, the second most impressive monument, the largest of the Royal Tombs, with a large courtyard and an immense chamber. Carved out probably in 70 AD, it was altered in the middle of the 5th century to serve as a Byzantine church.

Further on the Palace Tomb, also magnificent, but badly eroded. And further down, the Sextius Florentius Tomb, the only Roman tomb in the whole complex, and most significantly Roman, given the abundance of inscriptions and information, in stark contrast to the mysterious Nabateans who wrote nothing and gave away nothing. Sextius, the Roman governor of the province of Arabia, was buried here at his express wish; his tomb was carved c. 126-130 AD.

Then, lower down, in the direction of Ad-Dayr, the Monastery, there are three free standing temples, one of impressive Roman proportions like the ones we had seen in Jerash. This was the temple to the Father God, later probably easily assimilated to Jupiter. The second was to the Mother, and the third to the Daughter. The temples are aligned on the sides of a Roman type of colonnaded road. There is a Nymphaeum in a sorry state of ruin at one end, with a lovely terebinth growing out of it. The interesting thing was that some pieces of the overlaid marble are still to be seen, thanks to the type of cemented repair work carried out by the Government.

However, Vernet pointed out Sela – probably the place conquered by the Judean king Amaziah, the place from which he threw down 10,000 of his Edomite enemies (2 Kgs 14:7). There was a settlement right up on the top of the Sela. Vernet said he had been there, and that there were cisterns and ruins of human habitations.

A reconstruction of the Monastery, with the colonnaded portico


After a good lunch in a restaurant not far from the temples, we were free to go up to Ad-Dayr, the Monastery. 887 steps, if Colney’s count is correct, and not an easy climb, especially after a heavy lunch. But there was the option of the mules, for 7 JD or $ 10, which Vernet and some others took. The Dayr or Deir proved to be another monumental Nabatean construction or carving onto the rock face, later used by Christians as a monastery. There probably was a portico before the monastery and steps leading up to the central cavity, both quite vanished now. Inside there is the usual nothingness. The graves, if they existed, have long been robbed and denuded. Unlike their neighbours the Jews, and the Greeks and the Romans, the Nabateans left no writings, which, according to Vernet, adds to their charm and mystery. There is only one Roman tomb in the whole of Petra, and that one is full of writings and inscriptions.

Facing the Deir, on an elevation, is a mysterious cave known simply as no. 468. There was a row of free standing columns before it, now all gone except the stubs, but the niche inside the cave was astonishingly fresh and sharp.

Above and around this, the viewpoints, overlooking the absolutely rugged mountains in which this myserious pink city is set, and the Arabah. And, far away, on one of the highest peaks, Jabel Haroun, the grave or tomb of Aaron. Vernet said he had not been there. The tomb was a Muslim affair, but at the base there was a Byzantine monastery, and he said it was likely that the Muslims inherited the tradition from the monks there.

The most interesting piece of information for me was about Nestorius: Vernet told us that the Patriarch Nestorius was banished to Petra, after his dissension about the Theotokos. But some scholars also believe that it was to Petra that Paul came, when he talked about going into the Arabian desert.

Petra reveals the intelligence of the Nabateans. Why did they make Petra their capital? A clue is provided by Jerusalem: Jerusalem exists from the Chalcolithic period, and the reason is the availability of water: the spring of Gihon. The same in Petra: Petra lies in the middle of a terrible desert. But it had a wonderful spring, the Ain Musa (now Wadi Musa), reputedly the spring that Moses made with his staff to slake the thirst of the Israelites in the desert. At any rate, after Hadrian visited Petra, he was so impressed that he changed its name to Petra Hadrianea. Hadrian was welcomed to Petra: we saw the remains of the triumphal arch set up to welcome him.

Another indication of the intelligence of the Nabateans was their handling of the water of the spring. From what I gather, the Siq was the original path of the water - it has been carved, probably, by the water down the centuries. In the rains, the water becomes a torrent, and was found to be dangerous for the city through which it passed. The Nabateans made a wall and a 100 m. tunnel through the hills to deviate the water. When the Arabs (Muslims?) came later, this tunnel was abandoned, the dam built by the Nabateans to divert the water was destroyed, and so the waters followed the ancient path and crossed the city. In 1964 this led to a tragedy. A group of French pilgrims, led by a priest collabvorating with the Ecole Biblique for the Jerusalem Bible, was warned by the Bedouins not to go into Petra because of bad weather. They went in anyway, and all of them perished in the flash flood that followed. After this, the Jordan government restored the old Nabatean solution, rebuiding the dam and making use of the old tunnel.

So the Nabateans - a mysterious Arab people who have left behind remarkable feats of architecture on both sides of the Rift Valley. A people who lived in difficult places, places such as Nizzana and Shivta, but who knew how to harness the little rainfall that they received. A people who loved to build, who had a passion for building, but who did not love to write. They seem to have lived a long time in N-E Arabia, on the Silk Route linking China and India to the Mediterranean cities, a nomadic, caravaneering, merchant type of people, and then settled down in cities in N-W Arabia. It was the profits from their trade that allowed them to build in such a grandiose manner.

Wadi Musa, the Spring of Moses


Finally, Petra. We stopped briefly at Wadi Musa, to see the spring of Moses, reputed to be the place where Moses struck water from the rock at God’s command. The spring is still flowing strongly, and it would seem that the people of the town depend completely on it for drinking water. The water was cool and potable, though we also saw young boys coming to wash dirty cups there.

The Petra Palace Hotel is not far from the Wadi Musa. We stopped here for dinner and for the night. A very well kept hotel, with lovely rooms, and a very lovely pool, with many of our rooms giving out on to it. Several of us jumped in before mass, and after mass, went on for dinner.

The Arnon, and Montreal, or the Crusader Castle of Shawbak

The Arnon

The Arnon, dammed up

From Machaerus we went to the torrent of the Arnon, mentioned several times in the Bible. A magnificent view, though the torrent itself is quite small, made still smaller by a dam now constructed across it.
The Crusader Castle of Montreal or Shawbak

We were supposed to proceed to Kerak, but had to cancel the trip because it was Friday, and our guide said there was possibility of violence after the Friday namaaz. We decided instead to see another crusader castle, that of Shawbak. But first we visited Umm er-Rasas, which is the site of the ancient city of Mefaa. The Jordanian government has recently enclosed the site, and put up a Visitors Centre, and we had the privilege of being the first to pay to see the ruins.  Not much work has been done on the ruins, but the treasures here are several priceless mosaics in the ruined Byzantine churches. The marks of the iconoclast controversy were clearly to be seen in the mosaics: most human and animal figures were defaced, the bits being replaced so as to efface the figures. The mosaics in the church of St Stephen cover the entire nave, and are noted for their representations of churches in the major cities then known: Hagia Polis (Jerusalem), Madaba, and so on.

Lunch was really in the desert: a very large tent-like place, quite spacious and airy. The usual fare. Then on to Qa’lat ash-Shawbak, earlier known as the castle of Montreal. A crusader castle, conquered by the Ummayids, and rebuilt. I think the towers were added by the Muslims, because they all have a frieze quite high up with Arabic inscriptions, probably quotations from the Koran.

Machaerus - the beheading of John the Baptist

View of Machaerus / Mukawer

What remains of the palace of Herod the Great... and that too, reconstructed

Friday, 20 April 2012. We left at around 0830 hrs. After passing through the fertile Madaba plain, we reached the ancient fortress of Machaerus, now known as Mukawer, important for us because this is the place where John the Baptist was beheaded. Machaerus has a splendid view of the Dead Sea, and on a clear day probably many cities and towns of the other bank of the Jordan are clearly visible. The fortress was built by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC), in order to provide protection to his territory of Peraea on its southern border with Nabatean Petra. It was rebuilt by Herod the Great (37-4 BC) in around 30 BC. The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius described the fortress as over 300 ft long and 200 ft wide, with three corner towers. Herod’s palace lay in the centre. Pliny in his Historia Naturalis called it the strongest fortress in Palestine after Jerusalem. Herod’s son Herod Antipas inherited the fortress with the surrounding lands. It was this Herod who, during a birthday party held in his honour, had John the Baptist beheaded. It would seem that Josephus, though knowing that John had criticized Herod Antipas for taking his brother Philip’s wife, gives another reason for his beheading: he says the king was afraid of John’s growing following among the people.

After the sack and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jews fled, and some came to Machaerus. Within two years, the Roman Governor, Lucius Bassus, retook the fortress, after having besieged it. Some marks of the Roman camps are still visible, though less clearly than at Masada. Vernet said one of Bassus’ strategies was to build a ‘circumvallation’ around the fortress and the habitations at the bottom of the hill, so that no one could escape. Some signs of this wall were also visible. The Romans had begun building a ramp, the remains of which are clearly to be seen. The ramp was never completed, because the Jews surrendered before that. The story, narrated by Josephus, goes like this. The Jews were in the habit of making daily sorties against the Romans. They were usually led by an enterprising and bold young man called Eleazar, who would cover the flanks of the retreating ambushers, and see them safely inside the stronghold. One day, however, the young man grew too careless. After a sortie, he stood outside the walls talking with the defenders on the ramparts above, when one of the Romans, an Egyptian by origin, came and captured him bodily. He was stripped naked and flogged in the sight of the Jews, who could not bear to see this and began wailing. Then Bassus began preparing a cross, and the Jewish resistance broke down. they surrendered, and Bassus spared their lives and the life of young Eleazar. That was how the fortress was taken; but the beautiful buildings were completely razed to their foundations, and so they remained down the centuries until archaeological work began in 1968.

Friday 20 April 2012

The Madaba mosaic

The famous mosaic map of Jerusalem

This church was rebuilt some time in the 19th C, if I am not mistaken. The mosaic was discovered under the ruins
Next the Nebo’s Pearl mosaic enterprise, where people are engaged in creating mosaics. We had a demonstration, and saw the large shop briefly. We had to rush to see the famous Madaba mosaic, in the Greek Orthodox Church of St George. This mosaic, which contains the famous ‘map’ of Jerusalem, used to cover the whole floor of the original Byzantine church, but now there is only a small section left, which thankfully contains the ‘map’ of Jerusalem in the 4th century, therefore much smaller than that enclosed in the walls of Salah-ud-din. The Cardo Maximus is clearly seen, with the present Damascus Gate at one end (the pillar is clearly seen). There is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Nea Church, the Hagia Sion church, and the Probatica.

Madaba is also the home town of our Latin Patriarch, Fouad Twal. H.B. is building here the American University of Madaba, which is really a Catholic university.

Mt Nebo

What Moses was shown from the top of Mt Nebo

From Araq al-Amir we proceeded through Madaba to Mt Nebo, where God showed Moses the Promised Land. Extraordinarily beautiful, this part of the country: serene hilly terrain, with olive trees, greenery at this time of the year, lovely little houses. All in all, an atmosphere of peace.
A representation of the bronze serpent

Vernet disagreed with the interpretation that God was angry with Moses, or that he punished him by not allowing him to enter the Promised Land. He quoted the Salesian Machetto who interprets pi-gah as “God took Moses into his mouth” – which means, God kissed Moses, or took him into his embrace, as if to say: there is no need for you to enter the Promised Land; come, enter into my joy, for I am the true Promised Land.
Another view of the Promised Land

An extraordinary place, with a remarkable peace and serenity. We could not enter the church which is under reconstruction, but we did see a little museum, and part of the mosaics which are on display.

The Franciscans seem to have bought this property somewhere in the 1930s. They then began archaeological work on the site, reconstructing what they could of the church, and discovering an extraordinary series of mosaics.

Araq al-Amir

Then on to Araq al-Amir, where we saw a Hellenistic construction at the bottom of a wadi. It appears to be a private house (there was some doubt whether it was a temple), rather extraordinary in its conception and execution, but, as Vernet pointed out, not Herodian: it had beauty, grandeur, but not solidity. Its walls were barely 1.5 m.thick, whereas the Herodian walls were usually 4 m. thick. The animal motifs were, however, remarkable, and, judging from the DVD which we saw in a little shack nearby, the original construction was standing in the middle of an artificial lake. The structure has been reconstructed a couple of decades ago: it was lying in almost complte ruin, perhaps because of an earthquake. It seems to have belonged to Tobiah the Servant, mentioned in Nehemiah. (Nehemiah really has it in for this man, Tobiah the official of Ammon, or Tobiah the Ammonite, who, together with Sanballat of the Samaria Temple fame, tried to oppose Nehemiah's reconstruction of the Jerusalem walls plan.) This same man also seems to have constructed several caves in the nearby hills, which he used to entertain guests. 

Philadelphia - or Amman


We did not visit Gadara. From Jerash, we made our way to Amman, which was in former times Philadelphia – after Ptolemy Philadelphus – and even before that, Rabbat Ammon. About half of the Jordanian population of 6 million lives here, so Amman is a very large city. We stayed in the Al Fanar Hotel, and some youngsters discovered the sauna, the Jacuzzi and the pool right after a heavy dinner.
On 19 April 2012, we left the hotel at around 0830 and went to the Citadel of Amman, the site of Rabbat Ammon, Philadelphia and ancient Amman. The site is rather well kept, with the government having taken interest in its maintenance. It is important from a Christian point of view chiefly because this was the place where Uriah the Hittite met his end at the orders of King David. Joab and his army were besieging Rabbat Ammon when Joab received the order from David, and Uriah the Hittite perished when the army fell back at a crucial point. The Romans naturally have left their mark here, with a Temple of Hercules (two smallish pieces of what must have been a colossal statue of the champion survive). There is a small but very important museum on the site, with material coming from all over Jordan, and even from Jericho (we must remember that Jericho was very much part of the kingdom of Jordan till 1967).
Just outside the citadel is a very well preserved and restored Greco-Roman theatre, perhaps the best and largest exemplar of its kind in the Middle East. There is also a small folkloristic museum beside it, and just outside, a smaller theatre, also well preserved, called the Odeon (coming from the Greek ode, meaning song).

Gerasa or Jerash

Hadrian's Arch, Jerash

Hippodrome, Jerash

Our next stop was Jerash (Gerasa), another one of the cities of the Decapolis. Gerasa was a rather large Roman city built by Hadrian, though perhaps the triumphal arch itself – very well preserved – was built by the population of the city to welcome Hadrian. Vernet said that the arch was bigger than the one on the Via Sacra in the Roman Forum, and I think he is right.
One of the two theatres in Jerash. The marble in the 'orchestra' seems to be original - preserved only because it had been lying under layers of rubble for centuries

Another view of the theatre

At any rate, we saw the arch, the hippodrome close by, and then the ruins of the city itself. There are two gates at either end of the Cardo Maximus, and several Decumani. A large temple to Jupiter, another large and very elegant temple to Artemis. Several churches, with rather well preserved mosaic floors. The semi underground passage of the Jupiter temple is very well preserved, most likely because it had been used as habitations. The people were removed by the government, and the place is now a small museum. An oval place surrounded by columns – the St Peter’s square could not have been based on this, because Jerash was excavated only recently.

Trip to Jordan

The STS Ratisbonne is on a study trip to Jordan. Jordan is a biblical land. Three of the tribes of Israel had their assigned lands on this side of the Jordan. Jesus walked in the Decapolis. The patriarchs of course passed through. And Moses was shown the Promised Land from Mt Nebo, which is found in Jordan.

Jordan is of course another country now, and so we had to pass through Israeli immigration, then through no man's land to Jordan immigration, and so on. The whole process took a good deal of the morning.

One of the first places we visited on 17 April 2012 was Tel Deir Alla, which is probably Jacob’s Succoth. The torrent of Jabbok, on the banks of which Jacob wrestled with the stranger all night, is not far from here, but can hardly be identified because it passes through the little town. There is not much to see, really: the tel has not been excavated, and the town is shabby.

From Tel Deir Alla we went to Pella, one of the cities of the Decapolis.

We keep hearing of the Christian community in Jerusalem, and how it sometimes moved or fled to other places, and we wonder where they could flee to. Well, one of the answers is Pella. Pella, being part of the Decapolis, was already a Roman city.

Pella is dear to us because it was was the city that welcomed the Christian community fleeing from Jerusalem before the siege and destruction of the city by Hadrian. The fleeing community probably carried the Shroud of Jesus along with them.

Later, when Aelia Capitolina was built on the ruins of Jerusalem, some of the Christians decided to return. This was providential: thanks to them we are able to identify the holy places: Gethsemane, the Cenacle, the Sepulchre. Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth vol. 2 speaks about Pella and the return. But the Shroud was probably not carried back, because of the uncertain situation in Jerusalem. It was taken eventually to Edessa, where it was hidden in the walls of the city. Later it found its way to Europe and finally to Turin.
Pella: the columns of a church are barely visible

Pella: more ruins 

Pella: the spring is probably in the wadi seen here

Pella is spread out on several hills, and has not been properly excavated. It has been inhabited from ancient times, probably because of the spring there. We only had time to see the ruins of several churches from a viewpoint which we had to enter through a little restaurant. 

Saturday 14 April 2012

Tall plant, small violet flowers





Tall plant with smallish violet flowers spaced along the stem. Sebaste, near the amphitheatre.

Thursday 12 April 2012

A crusader view


A lovely view through a blocked door, Crusader Basilica, now a mosque, Sebaste / Samaria

Sebaste or Samaria

Apse of the Basilica, Sebaste

Amphitheatre, Sebaste

Orchestra of the Amphitheatre, Sebaste

Ruins, palace of Omri, Sebaste
Sebaste (Sebastiye today) is the Greek name of Samaria. 1 Kgs and 2 Kgs speak about Shomrom. In the 9th century BC, Omri shifted the capital from Tirzah to Samaria. He bought a field from Shemer, and so called the place Shomrom, from which our Samaria. Samaria had an opening to the sea, while Tirzah did not.

Omri's son was the famous Ahab, who married Jezebel.

Samaria was an important city. It was criticized by the prophets as a den of corruption, wealth, injustice. Archaeologists have found ostraca and ivory here, precisely as described by the prophets.

In 721 BC, Samaria fell to Sargon II and was destroyed. Many people fled to Jerusalem. This was providential for the history of the Bible, because they carried with them the books of Deuteronomy, Hosea, and Amos. This led to the second reform of Josiah, and to the Deuteronomic Collection.

In 27 BC, Octavian was proclaimed Augustus. His friend Herod the Great decided to rebuild Samaria and named it Sebaste, which is the Greek form of Augustus.

Sebaste is known also for two Byzantine churches dedicated to John the Baptist, one that kept his head, the other his body. John had been baptizing at Aenon, the place of many waters (Jn 3:23), not far from Tirzah, because in the heart of Samaria he was safe. In Bethany beyond the Jordan, where he had been baptizing earlier, he was not safe: it was under the control of Herod Antipas. It is likely that John's Samaritan disciples brought his head and body to Sebaste for burial and honour. When, later, it became possible, under the Byzantines, they built churches.

The Arabs carried the relics of John the Baptist to Damascus, where even today they are, in a little chapel within the Great Mosque of Damascus.

The Crusader basilica in Sebaste is now a mosque. 

Mt Gerizim and the Temple


View of the Temple on Mt Gerizim


Students on the Steps

The masssive steps leading up to Sanballat's Temple

Place of the sacrifice of Isaac according to the Samaritans
Mt Gerizim is 881 m. high. It is the Mount of the Blessing; Mt Ebal (940 m) opposite is the Mount of the Curse. Rev. Husne pointed out that it is barren, while Gerizim is green.

The Temple was built on Mt Gerizim at the end of the 4th century BC (but Rev. Husne and the Samaritans believe there was a place of worship here from the time of the entry into Israel).

There is a love story behind the building of the Temple here. Nehemiah wanted to return to the strict observance of the Law. Mixed marriages were common among the Israelites at the time, and Nehemiah wanted purification. Manasseh, the son of the high priest, was himself married to Nikasso, daughter of Sanballat, governor of Samaria. Since Manasseh could not remain in Jerusalem, Sanballat invited him to Samaria, with the promise to make him high priest and build him his own Temple, like the Temple in Jerusalem, which he did. So for 200 years there was a Sadukite priest in Gerizim.

In 128 BC, John Hyrcanus destroyed Shechem as well as the Temple. Hadrian came and built on the ruins a Temple of Jupiter. In 484 AD, the Emperor Zeno built, on the site practically of the Holy of Holies, an octagonal basilica to the Theotokos (we were unfortunately not allowed to see it today), to celebrate the golden jubilee of the dogma of the Theotokos. A 100 years later, Justinian built a wall around the basilica. 

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