Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Dead Sea and Moses

After a night in Amman, it is off to the Dead Sea for a swim. Everybody knows that it is impossible to sink in the Dead Sea due to its very high saline content (around 31% which is 9 times that of an ordinary ocean). The high content comes from the fact that water flows into the sea but not out of it, hence the salt content has increased over time.

Dead Sea Sign

Everybody also knows that it is the lowest place on earth being 408m below sea level. This means that the drive from Amman is a continuous drop totalling nearly 600m.

Dive in the Dead Sea

It is indeed impossible to sink so I can lie back in the water and read Dive Magazine whilst Pat is happy to float around. The water is so saline that the slightest cuts and grazes stings tremendously. If you get even a drop of water in your eyes, they hurt a lot so great care has to be taken in the water.

Commercail Beach 

The sea is very popular with tourists as well as Jordanians and so over the past few years, there have been some unfortunately ugly developments along its coast. These, added to the fact that the sea is shrinking because of heavy water extraction from the feeding freshwater rivers, means that it is under threat.

One of the things we are finding it difficult to get used to is that wherever you go, you run into places of significance in the Bible. Mount Nebo is 30 minutes drive from the Dead Sea up a winding road which passes numerous Bedouin encampments.

Bedouin Encampment Adj 

The land is mountainous, dry and very harsh  it was approaching 40C when we were there and temperatures approaching 50C are common.

Harsh Landscape 

The Bedouin  scratch a living from the land by rearing goats and camels and taking any work they can find – then they move on. Almost a replica of biblical life.

Mount Nebo is where Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land and also to have been told by God that he would die and not get there himself. From the top, the view is far and historical and from here

Mount Nebo sign

we could see Jericho on the horizon and the Baptism place favoured by John the Baptist on the River Jordan (apparently if you bring your own priest, when you visit this spot you can also be baptised). On clear days you can see even further to Jerusalem.

The town of Madaba nearby contains what would have been a wonderful mosaic map of Palestine. Made in 560 AD from over 2 million pieces, it shows all of the sites of historical importance pictured and labelled in Greek.

Madaba Mosaic Map 

Madaba Church

If it were in its original state, it would have looked brilliant but following an earthquake, a new church was built around it in the late 1800s and the architects decided to put a pillar straight through the middle of the map (hence the large missing area in the replica above.

Madaba Mosaic

On this small section, Jerusalem is in the top middle of the picture. It is hard to see because the mosaic is not kept very clean despite its importance.

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