The Other Holy Land
In the past 12 months, I’ve had the honor of traveling to both Holy Lands. Back in March 2010, I spent 10 days is Israel with our CU Holy Land study tour. And then somewhat unexpectedly over the fall, I was invited to Amman, Jordan to visit the “other Holy land.” Seeing both in one year is an eye-opener to say the least.
Jordan has several key biblical sites: Mt. Nebo where Moses viewed the promised land for the final time (Deu 34), Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan where Jesus was baptized by John (see John 1:28 for exact location), Macchareus where John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded by Herod (Matt. 14:1-12), and many other cities with important ties to the Canaanite peoples, such as the Ammonites, Edomites, Moabites, etc.
There are also the cities of Pella and Gadara (Umm Qais) which were part of the Roman Decapolis which Jesus traveled in and around during his ministry. And who could forget Petra, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world which was a functioning city of the Nabaeteans long before the Romans took it over and made it a capital of the south.
Today, Jordan is ethically diverse. The majority group are former Palestinian refugees who have fled Israel over the past 50 years to live in a moderate Islamic state. So you have a mixture of Palestinian Arabs and Jordanian Arabs along with the Bedouin nomads living out in the rural areas.
But the cultural mosaic doesn’t stop there. There are a large number of Iraqi refugees living within Jordan’s borders, along with groups from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and immigrants from Yemen and the UAE. But that’s not all, Amman itself is a significant international city. There are Brits, all sorts of Europeans, Americans, Australians, and Filipinos constantly roaming the streets, filling cafes for the coffee and free wi-fi.
This other Holy Land, however, is starkly different from the original holy land. Israel has spent millions making its biblical sites attractive to charter tour groups. The tourism industry is a 4 million per year business. Jordan, not so much.
Israel is constantly pushing Palestinian Arab and the Islamic culture further and further toward its outer borders (Gaza Strip and West Bank). While in Jordan, you know that you are in an Islamic country. There are going to see plenty of mosques and you will hear the call to prayer 5 times daily.
In Israel, they take US dollars because they love American currency. Don’t try that stuff in Jordan. Jordanian Dinars are all you are going to spend.
The other Holy Land is different. Not better. Definitely not worst. Just remarkably different from its Jewish counterpart across the Jordan River. Both Holy Lands need to be visited by Christian pilgrims and biblical tourists. But beware, you are going to receive very different experiences.