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The Patriarchs in Jordan

Around this same time or slightly later, the Bible introduces the Prophet Abraham (pbuh), the common patriarch of Jews, Christians and Muslims, who passed through northern, central and southern Jordan. The only caravan route from Mesopotamia to Jordan and Canaan explicitly identified in the Bible was the one Jacob (pbuh) used during his return journey from Haran to Canaan.

The Bible indicates that this route passed through the hills of northern Jordan, across the fords of the Jabbok River (the modern Zerqa River) and the Jordan River (Genesis 32:22). It then passed through the central Jordan Valley around Succoth (modern Tell Deir Alla) and up into the hill country of Canaan and Palestine in the area of Shechem, modern Nablus.

While traveling this route from Mesopotamia to Canaan, Abraham also would have traveled along the King's Highway, the world's oldest continuously used communication route. Today the scenic King's Highway is a fine paved road that winds, dips, twists and rambles through the heart of the Jordanian highlands. It links ancient Bashan, Gilead and Ammon in the north with Moab, Edom, Paran and Midian in the south, passing through the country's most beautiful landscapes and most important ancient sites.

The King's Highway

The King's Highway was first mentioned by name in Numbers 20:17 in relation to Moses (pbuh) as lie led the Exodus through southern Jordan. He told the King of Edom that he and his people would "go along the King's Highway" during their journey to Canaan; but the request was refused.

This same route was used in the earlier story related in Genesis 14:5-8: four kings from the north attacked Sodom and Gomorrah and the three other Cities of the Plain in southern Jordan and took hostage Abraham's nephew Lot (pbuh), only to be chased and beaten by Abraham (pbuh).

The infamous Sodom and Gomorrah and the other Cities of the Plain or (Cities of the Valley) were the subjects of some of the most dramatic and enduring Old Testament stories. Soon after Abraham and Lot arrived in the area around the Dead Sea Plain, they separated their herds and people, and went their own ways (Genesis 13:1-13).

Lot's Wife as a Pillar of SaltGod said He would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of the inhabitants' wicked and arrogant ways, but Abraham successfully argued with God that Lot and any other righteous people there should be spared. Lot's wife disobeyed God's order not to look back at burning Sodom, and was turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26).

Lot and his two daughters survived, fled to the small town of Zoar (modern Safi), and reportedly lived in a nearby cave (Genesis 19:30). The biblical text says they gave birth to sons whose descendants would become the Ammonite and Moabite people, whose kingdoms were in what is now central Jordan (Genesis 19:31-38).

The New Testament recalls that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the other Cities of the Plain was an "example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire" (Jude 1:7). Jesus Himself, speaking of human behavior during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, specifically warned, "Remember Lot's wife". He said that "it would be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed", meaning that on judgment day every person's fate would depend on whether he or she chose material possessions or God's Kingdom (Luke 17:28-32).

The events in the lives of Abraham and Lot (pbut) probably took place during the Early or Middle Bronze Age, around 2500-1500 BC, though the long continuity in historical and religious traditions in Jordan means that events that took place in the times of Abraham and Lot would continue to affect lives for all of recorded time.

By the 6th century AD early Christian era, more than 2000 years after Genesis events related to Sodom and Gomorrah and to Lot and his daughters, the Land of Jordan was dotted with Christian monasteries and churches.

On a hillside above the town of Zoar (modern Safi), along the southeastern Dead Sea coast, the Byzantine faithful built a church and monastery dedicated to Saint Lot (pbuh), recalling the events of Genesis 14. The complex was built around a cave that the Byzantines believed marked the spot where Lot and his daughters had found refuge.

Saint Lot's Monastery

The monastery complex has been excavated and can be easily visited. A museum under construction there will display the results of the archaeological excavations at the important sites along the southeastern Dead Sea plain.

The best available candidates to be the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah are the ancient remains of the walled towns of Bab Eddhra' and Numeira, in the southeastern Dead Sea coastal plain. They still show the remains of fiery destructions in the Early Bronze Age, after which they were never inhabited again.

The three other Cities of the Plain were "Admah, Zeboiim and Bela, that is Zoar" (Genesis 14:2). Their remains are still buried somewhere around the Dead Sea. Archaeological remains of other Early Bronze Age towns, including massive cemeteries with thousands of graves, have been identified along the haunting Dead Sea plain at places such as Feifeh, Safi, Khneizirah and others.

Visitors today can easily visit these sites on new roads linking the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley with Aqaba and Petra to the south, or with Amman and northern Jordan. The Dead Sea itself is one of the most dramatic places on earth, its stunning natural environment matched by its powerful spiritual symbolism. The Bible variously calls it "Sea of the Arahah", the "Salt Sea" and the "Eastern Sea" (Genesis 14:3; Deuteronomy 3:17; Joshua 3:16; Numbers 34:12; Ezekiel 47:18). Arabs have always known it as Bahr Lut (Lot's Sea), while medieval texts called it "The Devil's Sea".

The Dead Sea

The entire length of its eastern shore, including new hotels with amazing spas of Dead Sea and local thermal waters, is easily accessible on fine roads from central and southern Jordan. Somewhere along its coastal plain is the Valley of Salt, where King David (pbuh) "slew 18,000 Edomites" (2 Samuel 8:13).

The broad plain at the southern end of the Dead Sea still sparkles with natural salt formations along the water's edge. The Araba desert, a "wilderness" of the Bible (Deuteronomy 1:1), is the semi-arid region in southern Jordan between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, known in Arabic today as Wadi Araba. The 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel was signed in the southern Wadi Araba, north of Aqaba city.

Abraham fathered two sons in his old age, first Ishmael, and then Isaac (pbut). When Ishmael and his mother Hagar were banished by Abraham to please his wife Sarah, they traveled eastwards into the lands of southern Jordan and northern Arabia, the area called Paran and Midian in the Bible (Genesis 14:6, 21:21, Exodus 2:15).

Isaac's descendants eventually would become the people known as Israel, while Ishmael would father the Arabian tribes and peoples of the east or the "sons of the east" (Judges 8:10, Isaiah 11:14). Through these two sons, blessings of God would pass on to all humanity.

Continue to: Jacob and Esau
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