Biblical Jordan

Who knew that Amman, the capital of Jordan, was the original Philadelphia? Certainly not me, and the cheese here bears no resemblance to the classic cream cheese of the USA. (“Philadelphia” comes from the Greek, meaning ‘brotherly love’.)

While I’m on the USA connection, this is where the tillers of the soil and the graziers of animals first came to blows. The feud began when the folks who dug copper out of the earth and heated it up in about 3000BC decided to diversify. Some of them were happy to continue herding goats and sheep for milk and wool, while others decided a) olives looked better in groves, b) wheat worked a treat when ground up and turned into bread, and c) barley made a not-half-bad imitation risotto, and even better booze.


Thus was created the original social schism between ‘the desert and the sown’.

Copper was grand, but amalgamating it with tin was better, providing the source metal for better tools and creating a marketable brand for the ‘Bronze Age’.

Oh, look at that – the Canaanites, a Semitic tribe, turned up somewhere around 2500BC and created a suite of defensive city states that capitalised by trading the materials coveted by their neighbours – the Syrians, Palestinians and Egyptians.

The usual Middle-Eastern tribal and regional kerfuffles (i.e. same culprits, different millennium) barrelled along though the Iron Age, then, if the Old Testament is anything to go by, it was time for Moses’ Exodus from Egypt, herding the Israelites through the wilderness of Egypt and north through the Jordan in search of the Promised Land. They managed to avoid the wrath of the locals in the three kingdoms of Jordan and snuck up the (now) King’s Highway to Mount Nebo, south of Philadelphia, whereupon Moses took a quick peek across the Jordan to the land of milk and honey and promptly carked it, true to God’s prophecy, so you can’t say he wasn’t warned. And so Joshua picked up the baton and led his band of Israelites across to Jericho (gospel singers refrain, please). By the way, the word ‘Semite’ derives from Noah’s little boy, called Shem.


Fast forward several centuries to the days of King David and that mega-merchant, King Solomon, who controlled the trade routes and the Aqaba entrepot so he could ship massive cargoes of African gold and Arabian spices across to the Euphrates. But it was too good to last, the Israelites squabbled among themselves, and in 586BC King Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and bundled the Israelites off to exile in his garden city, Babylon.

In 333BC, Alexander the Fairly Impressive stormed through Jordan while building the largest empire of all time, which stretched from the Nile to the Indus. After his death ten years later, his generals divided up his empire and Jordan spent several decades being scrapped over by the Egyptians and Babylonians, all the time speaking Greek! A century before Christ, the Jews were back in control of Northern Jordan, while in the south, the nomad Nabataeans became brilliant traders and middlemen, becoming enormously wealthy by producing nothing but bitumen (for sealing boat hulls), but exploiting their knowledge and control of all the desert strong points and water sources. Petra was their base and their empire, built on the spice and incense trades, eventually spread from Arabia to Syria, peaking around the time of Christ.

Their language was that of the bible, Aramaic, and they gradually transformed themselves into great architects, hydraulic engineers and craftsmen, with wide influence that ended up connecting Arabia with the Mediterranean. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the Romans, having rocked into Syria, started salivating over the wealth of the Nabataean empire, which Trajan finally annexed in AD106.

The Romans then used their road building expertise to link up a league of commercial and well-fortified cities – the Decapolis (there were actually more than ten) that included Philadelphia (Amman), Gerasa (Jerash) and Garada (Um Qais). But up north, Constantine was busy building a city and naming it after himself while converting to Christianity, which spread quickly and churches were constructed across Jordan. It helped the tourism coffers somewhat that pilgrims to the Holy Land also stopped by the sacred sites in Jordan – Bethany, Mt Nebo and Lot’s Cave, which is curiously located a camel trot from the town of Salt, and not so strangely, a short stroll from Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot and his two daughters hovelled here after Mrs Lot made the mistake of looking back, before the girls’ behaviour took a turn for the worse. They spiked their dad’s drinks, had their ways with him and nine months later gave birth to two sons.

The book of Genesis has it that God had lost patience with the SG inhabitants after they tried to shag his envoy angels (they’d been sent to tell the locals to cease their wicked ways), so He rained down ‘brimstone and fire’. There’s a Bronze Age site – Babh adh-Dhra – on the edge of Wadi Krak that was destroyed in 2300BC, which fits the criteria for Sodom. It had a population of 1000, but houses 20,000 tombs holding perhaps 500,000 bodies! Given its location on a major fault, it’s probable an earthquake and resultant cataclysmic slip swallowed the town through soil liquefaction, or that the underground gas and bitumen exploded (the local ‘slime pits’ rate a mention in the Old Testament).

I prefer the Wrath of God version.

#Amman #Babylon #Jordan #MountNebo #2011

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