Tour Of The Long Forgotten Places: Part Three

الأحد 23 آذار 2008

Wendy Merdian and Melissa Manning continue their journey through Jordan’s biblical archeological sites, completing the final part in the series. [1] [2]

Biblical Archeology In A Day
Written By: Melissa Manning & Wendy Merdian
Photography By: Melissa Manning

Site VII – Um Ar Rasas, Burj Sa’man

The ruins we visited in the vicinity of the village, Um Ar ‘Rasas, are not actually biblical sites as they date from the Byzantine and Umayyad periods, the fifth to the eighth century AD. Before visiting the ruins of the Byzantine town, Kestron Mefaa, we stopped about one km away to see an usual tower; unusual in that the 15 meter tower is solid and has no internal stairs, though it appears to have had a room at the top of the tower with four windows, once facing each directions. Rough crosses are hewn into three sides of the tower, with finer carving at the top.

The peculiar architecture of this tower, Burj Sam’am in Arabic, seems to indicate that it is a Stylite tower of the fifth century, used by a Christian holy man.

During the pre-Constantine rule of the Roman Empire Christians were persecuted and many were martyred for their faith. Once Christianity became the official religion of the Empire and intense persecution ceased, a movement sometimes known as “white martyrdom” rose up, with holy men and monks demonstrating their piety by undertaking such ascetic feats as living atop pillars or towers. One of the most famous, Simon Stylites, a Syrian ascetic, lived atop a pillar in Aleppo, Syria for 37 years. Pilgrims came from miles around to visit this holy man and to listen to him preach God’s Word. After Simon Stylites became famous, other holy men began to imitate him, themselves living atop towers in order to pray and preach away from the distractions of the world. Our guide suggested that these Stylite towers may have even been the prototype for the Islamic muzzein, from which the call to prayer is given.

The scaffolding surrounding the tower is part of ongoing excavation and preservation work. Near the tower is the ruins of a church, cisterns, and a three-story building which may have been some sort of lodging quarters for visiting pilgrims.

Site VIII – St. Stephen’s Church and Kestron Mefaa

Leaving Burj Sa’man, we traveled by car, through a “road” of fine, powder-like dust, to the entrance of St. Stephen’s church. The short journey left our vehicles looking like they had just exited a dust car-wash. Dated at 785 AD, St. Stephen’s church, and the mosaic floor for which it is visited, was built after Islam was established in the region. The center area of the mosaic floor boasts what were once lovely hunting, fishing and pastoral scenes. Unfortunately, the iconoclasts defaced many of the human and animal figures in the mosaic.
Left intact, however, were the frames bordering the center area, depicting the cities of the region. The south row, shown in part below, shows seven Jordanian cities: Kestron Mefaa (Um Ar Rasas), Philadephia (Amman), Madaba (still, Madaba, one of oldest cities mentioned in the Bible and still a thriving city), Esbounta (Hesban), Belemounta (Mai’in), Areopolis (Rabba), and CharachMouba (Kerak). Frames from other parts of the border depict cities of Palestine and Egypt.

Now mostly ancient rubble with a few intact arches, the ruins at Um Ar’ Rasas were once part of the Roman garrison city of Kestron Meffa, city which continued to thrive in the Byzantine and Omayyad periods.

Site IX – Tell Mudayna, Jahaz

Well into the afternoon hours, we were all beginning to suffer from what our guide had previously coined “rock fatigue.” Adding dust and heat to the equation, we were almost ready to call it a day. However, our mentor was so enthusiastic about our next site that we pressed on. What particularly endeared him to Tell Mudayna was the fact that “hardly anyone knows about it!”

We could see why. We turned, turned, and turned again, through dusty, barren territory. And just when we thought that we were in the middle of a dull-brown nowhere, a tin-roofed shanty town appeared, inhabited by workers who were pumping water out of some underground reservoir. The only external evidence of a water source was a lovely oleander-filled valley.
We descended, on foot, through the valley, and then ascended Tell Mudayna, believed to be the site of the ancient Amorite settlement of Jahaz: But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. He gathered all his people together and went out against Israel to the wilderness and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. (Numbers 21:23,24)

Site X – Tell Heshbon

Finally, the last stop. We pressed on to the modern town of Hisban, a quiet agricultural town, on the outskirts of which is located the large tell of Heshbon. Returning once again to the Old Testament passages, Deuteronomy 2 and Numbers 21, we find mention of: “… Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon…” and “Heshbon…city of Sihon, the king of the Ammorites…”

The capital city of Sihon’s Ammorite kingdom, Heshbon was conquered by the wandering Israelites during the time of Moses. It is believed the tribes of Gad and Rueben settled in this area and that Heshbon later fell under Moabite rule. From antiquity, Tell Hesbon has been occupied by many peoples. Eventually abandoned by the Moabites, it was re-fortified in the 2nd century under Roman rule and was an important ecclesiastical center from the 4th century until the time of the Umayyad takeover. It was later occupied by the Abbasid’s (8th century) and then, the Mamluks (14th century).

Not to be forgotten is this royal tribute to Heshbon’s beauty from King Solomon recounting the beauty of his beloved from Song of Solomon 7:4: “Your eyes are like the pools in Heshbon…”

Conclusion

This one-day jaunt increased all our understanding and appreciation of the wealth of biblical and archaeological history in Jordan. One historian claims that most of the recorded words of Jesus Christ were spoken on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Our tour leader has spent over twenty years studying in Jordan and Syria, without having set foot west of the Jordan River: “I don’t feel cheated at all in focusing my study on the Eastern side of the Holy Land. There is enough here for valuable and complete study of the geography and climate of biblical life.” We agreed, and look forward to another such trip in the future.

Directions to Each Site:

Tell IlUmeiyri

Take the turn off for the Seven Hills restaurant ( the turn off is
just after a gas station) and you will see the tell on your left.

Ataroth

A few kilometres before Macchaerus there is a hill that abuts
on the road directly on your left. It is part of the village of
Ataruz. Ask a shepherd if it isn’t clear.

Macchaerus

Take the Libb turnoff to the right off the Kings Highway
and follow the signs for Macchaerus.

Dibon

Go down the Kings Highway as far as the town of Dhiban and
you will see the very large tell on your right just as you are
entering the town

Aroer

Go through Dhiban and towards the end of the city you will see an
intersection, take the road to the left signposted Um Er Resas.
Follows this road for a few kilometres and you will see a sign for
Arair ( not Aroer). which is a turnoff on the right. Follow this for
a few kilometres and you will see the tell which is on Wadi Mujib
directly.

Um Ar Rasas

There are several ways to get to Um Er Resas. You can go directly
along the desert highway and there is a turnoff on the right opposite
some antenna.

Tell Il Madaynah

As you are coming out of Madaba there is an intersection next to the
Apostles church. Turn left here and follow the road for about twenty
kilometres. You will then see a blue sign to Jiza on your left just
before a Wadi. Follow the road to Jiza for just under two kilometres
and you will have an opportunity to turn left. Turn left and follow
the road for just over two kilometres when you will have an
opportunity to turn right. Turn right and you will shortly come to an encampment made
up of corrugated iron dwellings. You will see the tell beyond this
as you keep the dwellings on your left.

Heshbon

Take the Dead Sea road and then take the turn off for Madaba. Heshbon
is a few kilometres before Madaba. The tell is clearly visible behind
the modern village.