We got an early start on Tuesday with a cab from Ecole Biblique to one of three border crossings into Jordan–the Allenby Bridge crossing near Jericho. The drive takes you down the steep, winding road from the heights of Jerusalem to the Jordan River valley which is below sea level. Along the way there is a sign to the Good Samaritan Inn. This is because, you will remember from Our Lord’s parable, that the man was traveling on the road to Jericho when he fell among thieves. It’s easy to imagine. The road goes through stark hills and dunes with caves in the hillsides where bandits might lurk. The steep road also makes vivid the line from the gospels that they “went up to Jerusalem”. It was a hard climb, and I’ll bet Joseph and Mary were not too pleased, having come all the way down to have to climb back up to find their twelve year old son in the temple.
I had arranged to meet Jusef Hilo–the Jordanian guide from our 2018 parish pilgrimage on the other side of the border, but forgot how long and involved the border crossing can be. First you wait for the border to open, then you wait in line to have your documents checked. Then you wait in line to pay an exit fee. Then you wait in line to go through into no man’s land. Then you get on a bus that takes you through no man’s land. Then you wait on the bus. Then you get to Jordan immigration post where you wait some more and pay some more fees.
Finally Yusef met us and we began the three hour drive to Petra. The drive is stunning as you make your way along the Eastern coast of the Dead Sea the views across the sea into the barren landscape of the Judea desert are matched by equally rugged mountains on the Jordanian side. There are Biblical landmarks everywhere–here is Lot’s cave where he escaped from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is the tomb of Aaron the brother of Moses…Eventually we turned East and took a treacherous road through the mountains of Edom. Does the Old Testament refer to the red mountains of Edom?They are there and they are red.
Modern Petra has been developed extensively for tourism by the Jordanian government over the last thirty years. It has been done so pretty well–lots of hotels and restaurants. The town has also grown as subsidiary industries and housing for workers have gathered to the site.
We arrived at Petra in time for lunch and Elias sampled a camel burger. After lunch we hiked down the trail to tour Petra. I’m still not as strong as I’d like and tire quickly, so while I had. siesta Elias went off exploring and found some terrific trails and took some great photos which I’ve put on Twitter.
Those who have read my book The Mystery of the Magi will know of my special attraction to Petra as I believe the wise men who came to pay homage to the Christ child were Nabatean diplomats from the court of King Aretas IV sent to pay homage to what they thought was a new King of the Jews–a grandson of Herod the Great. The famous “Treasure” in Petra has only recently been identified as the tomb of Aretas IV and our guide Yusef (who seems to know everyone in Jordan) introduced us to the archeologist who made the discovery.
We bought some Frankincense to bring home for our altar servers to use at Mass and tromped back up the hill for a rest, then out for supper.
Jordan is a predominantly Muslim country so while we chose to get a pizza I was disappointed not to find a place that served a glass of beer with the pizza. Elias said one fellow offered “non alcoholic beer” but I’d just as soon eat a vegetarian steak.