Wednesday began with a lot of “hurry up and wait” for folks traveling with the Campbell University Divinity School/Nurturing Faith Experiences tour group. We left early and headed straight for the border crossing into Jordan near Beth She’an (no photos allowed). Crossing the border involved unloading our luggage from the bus we use in Israel, carrying it into the departure station to stand in line for Israel’s passport control (which had only one window open for quite a while), taking a shuttle bus to the Jordanian border station, standing in line again for Jordan’s passport stamp, carrying our luggage through security for a quick X-ray scan, boarding one of our two Jordanian buses (none big enough for our group in Jordan), then flashing our passports once again for a policeman who walked through the bus just before opening the gate to let us pass. Ninety minutes, at the least.
A two-hour drive through the lower area known as Gilead in the Bible (sorry, no “balm” on view), through land once controlled by the Ammonites, and then into former Moabite territory brought us to a narrow winding road to Mount Nebo, where we stood in line for the bathroom and enjoyed a terrific lunch at the Terrace Souk overlooking the stark but amazing hills bordering the eastern shore of the Dead Sea.
At Mount Nebo, we were happy to see that renovations to the Musa Memorial Church had been completed. “Musa” is the Arabic pronunciation of Moses. Deuteronomy 34 tells the story of how God called Moses to the top of Mount Nebo so he could look into the Promised Land, though he would not be allowed to go there as punishment for striking a rock to bring forth water when God had told him to speak to it only.
Moses died then, “at the LORD’s command” – but what happened next? The Hebrew text says “he buried him there,” implying that God buried Moses, explaining why the location of his burial place was unknown to the day Deuteronomy was written, and remains unknown. The Samaritan Pentateuch and the Greek Septuagint preserve a different reading, “they buried him there,” implying that the people of Israel buried Moses – but if that was the case, could we imagine they would not leave some memorial and remember the place? The uncertainty over what happened to Moses’ body led to a tradition during the intertestamental period that Moses did not die, but was taken directly to heaven, like Enoch and Elijah before him. A pseudepigraphal work called “The Assumption of Moses” claims to tell the story.
As we stood in the sun and took in a view hardly changed from the time of Moses, Corey Mitchell challenged us to consider what it meant to stand “on the edge of the promise” and not see it fulfilled due to a lack of faithfulness.
Inside the church we examined Mosaics from the sixth century BCE, listened in on a Mass conducted for a group of Catholics from India, and admired the symbolic stained glass windows, which had been reset.
From Mt. Nebo we drove a few miles to the town of Madeba, where the St. George Church, built in the late 1800s, preserves a famous sixth-century mosaic floor depicting a pilgrim map of the Holy Land, and displays scores of other artworks, many of them also made from mosaic tiles.
After more time standing in line for a two-stall unisex bathroom with no toilet paper, we made our way back to the bus for a bumpy four-hour ride to Petra – with the promise of a bathroom break along the way: another chance to hurry up and wait.