Monday, May 7, 2012

Israel, Galilee: River Jordan and Hellenistic splendor

A wide spot on the River Jordan
Both Jordan and Israel make much of the Jordan River and both lay claim to "the" spot where John baptized Jesus. Most likely that was near Jericho where roads joined to cross the small river. (Which country's side the two entered the river from is evidently the point of debate.)

Entrance to Yardenit.
Israelis readily admit that Yardenit is not "the" spot (it was a swamp until the 20th century), but for pilgrims, it is where they get baptized. As our guide reminded us, the concept of total immersion is a much simpler version of the Jewish mikvah, ceremonial bath.

Stairs lead down to river-level platforms.
A group had just finished their total immersions as we arrived at the lushly green and shady river bank. Concrete walkways and steps down to the water level have been built and there is, of course, a large gift shop.

Gotta take a "dip".
Even though we know it isn't "the" spot, we all feel compelled to walk down and put our hands in the famous water.

Robes for rent or sale at the gift shop.
Anyone can be baptized here but they must rent a white robe from the gift shop.

Tip: Didn't write down a step count but if memory and photos serve, there are 26 steps down to each of several concrete platforms.

Nutria? In the River Jordan? Who knew?

As the crowds dispersed and the river waters calmed, the nutria came out to beg a snack. Somehow over-sized aquatic rats with big orange buckteeth didn't quite fit with my Sunday School version of the Jordan River.

A nice surprise were the large tile plaques of the baptism passage from the Gospel of St. Mark in a variety of the world's languages.

Bet She'an
Grander yet less commercial is Bet She'an, which had been a major city since 400 B.C. when it was an important caravan stop under Egyptian rule. As is so often the case, excavations have unearthed Canaanite, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Arab cities. 

The grapes in the hair identifies this as Dionysus.
Its glory days were in the Hellenistic era when it was the capital of the 10 Greek cities known as the Decapolis. After the Jewish state was declared the area became a popular site for kibbutzes.

Biblically, King Saul died at nearby Mount Gilboa during a war with the Philistines who hung his body from the city walls.

Many of us had traveled and written about remains from all of those eras but most of us had never heard of Bet She'an Now we aren't likely to forget it.

Spread across a valley, these ruins are impressive, but thoughts of what had been before the earthquakes of 363, 409 and most destructively, in February, 749, set our imaginations to flight. 

Oven kept the coals hot and pipes under the floor of this portion of the 1 1/2-acre bath complex kept the steam pouring in when water was splashed on the coals around them.
Especially considering only 10 percent has been excavated.

The power of that earthquake cracked these massive columns.

Up to 8,000 people sat here ...
The most impressive ruins are those of the circa 200 Roman theater which sat about 8,000.
... to watch performers here.

Tip: You are going to have a lot of walking here. Steps are minimal but you descend on foot to the valley bottom and back up. 

One of the more elegant streets as this earthquake-ripped flooring demonstrates.
Roman streets are uneven and earthquakes have made the terrain very irregular. 

Take your time, use a walking stick and it's doable. 

If you prefer to leave the walking to others, there's an excellent scale model of what it used to look like on the pleasant patio outside the bathrooms, small gift shop and canteen with outdoor tables and chairs at this national park. 

The views from this vantage point are encompassing. Feral cats will happily but warily share your snack.

While you're looking, that cross atop the high hill is left over from the filming of  Jesus Christ Superstar.


Post a Comment