According to the Old Testament (Deuteronomy, 34:6), Moses–at 120 years–ascended the highest crest of Mount Nebo (800m) to view the Jordan Valley.
Although Moses led the sons and daughters of Israel out of bondage from Egypt, Moses was forbidden by God to escort them to the Promised Land.
With every step up the mountain, Moses would contemplate his sin of doubting God’s concern and commitment to The Chosen People. Was it anger or despair that provoked Moses into raising his staff and twice striking the Rock so his congregants and their cattle could drink from the wellspring that burst through the ground, and quell their complaining?
A shrine in Wadi Musa purports to be the perennial natural spring that arose from the rock struck by Moses. The site is most popular among Christian and Muslim pilgrims who travel from all parts to drink from the sacred well.
As for me, I took a hard pass; the water was running slow and low, and too risky to sample.
But the miracle performed by Moses sealed his fate. With Joshua assuming a new leadership role, Moses trekked to the highest point on the western ridge of the ancient Plains of Moab for a view of the Holy Land.
Perhaps God provided Moses with a befitting yet bittersweet panorama before he died, other than the hazy scene that I managed to capture.
All the churches atop Mount Nebo were erected over time to commemorate the death of Moses. The earliest known chapel dates to the 3rd century, followed by a 4th century monastery built to support Christian pilgrims.
20th century archaeologists excavated an intact mosaic floor within the baptistery of the chapel that depicts the cultural life of the Byzantine era–
surrounded by figurative motifs with geometric design flourishes…
that also adorn the walls.
and it’s all been preserved in a new church sanctified by the Franciscan Order in 2018.
The mountaintop is rich with artifacts sponsored by the Franciscans. The serpentine cross atop Mount Nebo was created by Italian artist Gian Paolo Fantoni to symbolize the miracle of the bronze serpent forged by Moses in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4–9) and the crucifixion of Jesus, whereas the stone Monolith was sculpted by Vincenzo Bianchi in honor of Pope John Paul II’s visit during the Great Jubilee of 2000.
As part of the Pope’s pilgrimage to Jordan, he planted an olive tree seedling that he dedicated to peace in the Holy Land.
Ironically, while the tree has prospered, peace has yet to bloom.
Having admired the mosaics of Madaba and Mount Nebo, our group got a personal look at the process at Jordan Jewel Art & Mosaic, which was created in 2008 through Jordan’s Queen Noor Foundation Community Development Initiative as a means of preserving an ancient artisanship introduced by the Greeks over two thousand years ago.
The project has also been a boon to tourism and employment within the governate, with over 100 mosaicists working at the studio or from home, creating historical souvenirs for tourists.
Depending on the pattern and the size, the mosaic can be extremely detailed, at times requiring tens of thousands of intricately-sized tiles and several weeks to complete.
Our crew eventually returned to Madaba for a traditional lunch at Hikayet Sitti (“My Grandmother’s Story”)–a family-owned restaurant in an old home belonging to the Karadsheh family through many generations.
It now belongs to Feryal, the gracious owner/chef who prepared a tasty array of mezza (appetizers) to start,
and a kettle-sized helping of Maqluba–a traditional Middle Eastern dish of chicken, vegetables and rice that’s prepared in a pot and presented upside down.
Feryal distributed the recipe to the home chefs among us, but as I read through the prep and ingredients, I was certain the dish was more complicated:
• Fry pieces of eggplant, cauliflower, and potatoes
• Boil pieces of chicken
• Arrange at the bottom of the cooking pan pieces of tomatoes, carrots, onions, sweet pepper,
• Then add the fried eggplant, cauliflower, and the potatoes
• Add pieces of chicken
• Cook them together with water
• Add the rice to cook together
• Add black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, cumin, cloves, coriander
• Cook until water is evaporated
• Put it on low fire for 5 minutes
• Let it rest for 5 minutes
• Serve it as upside down
As we savored every bite, we were invited to put our tastebuds to the test by identifying all seven spices in our food. My mind immediately raced to episodes of Hell’s Kitchen, when contestants competed in blind tastings for Gordon Ramsey, and the winner received a hot air balloon ride with a champagne lunch.
But Feryal was offering something much better. The prize at Hikayet Sitti was a cold beer from her brother’s brewery… and it was delicious.
After lunch, the coach stopped briefly at Shobak Castle (12th century) enroute to Petra, just as the sun broke through the haze to shower the ruins in golden light.
The castle is a stark reminder of Crusader glory amidst the plunder and ruin of the times.
Our coach driver raced the last hour to Petra with the hope that we’d arrive in time for sunset, and we were duly rewarded with a perfect sky in Wadi Musa just as the sun was falling behind Mount Hor.
It was a good omen for our excursion to Petra the following day…