In the Bible and History
The country we know as Jordan was established as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1950. Numerous events from the Bible took place in that territory. For example, Moses was not permitted to enter the promised land but he viewed it from afar at Mount Nebo. Ruth was a Moabite who followed her mother-in-law, Naomi, and then lived in the Beit Sahour area of the present Bethlehem District. The area, during the Hebrew bible times, was home to the Edomites and Amorites as well as the Moabites.
In the New Testament we hear of Jesus visiting cities in the Decapolis, including Gerasa (Jerash) and Philadelphia (Amman) and it is believed that the baptism of Jesus took place on the east side of the Jordan River. Gerasa is also known for the story of Jesus and the Gadarene swine (Matthew 8:28-34 and Luke 8:26-37) John the Baptizer was imprisoned in Macarius prison.
Early Christians fled to Pella (a city of the Decapolis) after the Romans banished the Jews (and the sect of Jews we know as Judeo-Christians). During Byzantine times, churches were founded here and there are a considerable number of Christians in the country.
When Great Britain received the mandate for the Palestine area, it recognized Transjordan as a separate state. As a result of the 1948 and 1967 wars, huge numbers of Palestinians refugees fled to Jordan adding to Jordan’s economic problems and almost destabilizing the government. Jordan’s small Christian population today is mostly a result of the Christians among the refugees.
Christians today are estimated to be about 150,000 (about 4.2% of the population) and are guaranteed freedom of worship and religious education. They are usually middle and upper class and active in the professions and public administration.
Relationships between Christians and Muslims are very good with a religious mix in neighborhoods and in social life. Prince El Hassan Bin Talal (uncle of King Abdullah II) created the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies and is the author of Christianity in the Arab World.
Special Sites to Visit
Bethany Beyond the Jordan
The loop in the Jordan River opposite Jericho is often identified with the baptism of Jesus and just east of there is the probable settlement of Bethany, home of John. It has been excavated and is accessible to visitors. It is also identified as Elijah’s Hill, where Elijah ascended into heaven.
Machaerus (modern Mukawir)This is a fortress/palace with a view over the Dead Sea and the hills of palestine and Israel. It is where John the Baptizer was killed although no one knows the site of his burial.
Mt. Nebo was developed for tourist visits for the year 2000 celebrations. The first church was built there in the 4th century in the shape of a trefoil and is famous for having been visited by Egeria, and early pilgrim who wrote a journal of her visit. Today’s church is known for its mosaics.
St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Madaba
Madaba was a well to do center of the church in early Byzantine times and St. George church still contains the remnants of a famous 6th century mosaic map. The section showing Jerusalem is well known and is still a credible map of the city. The humor of the artist comes through in the boats on the Dead Sea and the fish swimming up river out of the Dead Sea. Other churches in the city and the archeological museum also have good mosaics.
There are crusader forts and castles, as well as the desert area of Wadi Rum. Petra is the main city of the Nabateans, an Arab people of south Jordan and the Negev. We would know more about the Nabateans except they were in the shadow of Biblical events of the time.
For more information
The Middle East Council of Churches has a small office in Amman
Notes from personal visits
A good hotel in Amman is the Hisham Hotel (lots of NGOs stay there)
The citadel in Amman has good museums. The archeological museum has an excellent display on the evolution of oil lamps
The Abdullah Mosque on Jebel Weibdeh is beautiful and worth a visit. It is right next to a bus terminal.