Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mosaics and the Promised Land

We should have spent more time in Madaba, the mosaic Mecca of Jordan. Like many visitors, we spent a good chunk of time studying the famous mosaic map of the Holy Land. But, in retrospect, we should have visited other mosaics as well -- they are quite stunning.

The mosaic map was constructed back in the Byzantine era (second half of the sixth century), and is now housed in St. George's Church. Back then it was common to construct maps oriented so that up = east and down = west. With that orientation in mind, the photo shows a portion of the Dead Sea and the Jordan river, with Jordan to the east (above) and the promised land to the west (bottom). Jerusalem is in the bottom right; Jericho is toward the bottom center. (You can see more detail if you click on the photo).

There are many nice touches in the mosaic -- e.g., the fish in the Jordan River trying to swim away from the Dead Seas (where it would die). Also of interest is the blur of tiles toward the upper center. That was originally a lion chasing a gazelle, but at some point it was destroyed as part of an anti-icon effort. That's a recurring theme in our visit to both Egypt and Jordan. Either for reasons of religion (e.g., opposition to icons) or politics (e.g., desire to destroy images of past kings), many great statues, carvings, and mosaics have been defaced.

Near Madaba is Mt. Nebo, believed to be the resting place of Moses. Mt. Nebo provides a great view of the promised land. It was a bit hazy the day we visited, but that's the West Bank over there (with the Dead Sea off to the left), and if it were a clearer day you could see Jerusalem. Moses' fate was to be able to see the promised land, but not reach it. Thus, he passed away once he reached Mt. Nebo.

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