Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What kind of fish live in the Dead Sea?

A day off in America can often mean a trip to the lake or kicking back for a sporting event; or maybe a trip to grandma's house or helping out at the Church.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan, site of Jesus' baptism
In Jordan, a day off could mean a trip to Lot's Cave (near where Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt) or a walk to the top of Mount Nebo, where Moses looked down upon the Promised Land. For most visitors to this ancient land, a day off could very well mean a visit to Bethany on the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Bethany on the Jordan is where it is believed that John baptized Jesus, according to Luke 1:28. But, as a native guide explained, Jesus was not actually baptized in what is the present day location of the River Jordan, but at Bethany, beyond the Jordan. What remains is a large hole in the ground several yards from the river, where interpretations of biblical history say John frequently performed his full salvation submersions, including one on the man whose sandal John said he was not fit to tie. A trail leads from the baptism site to the river itself where it is possible today to walk into the river or simply dip your toes in. (And yes, you can take home water from the River Jordan. It comes in small (10 JD) and large (15 JD) in the River Jordan gift shop. Forget, though, about filling your own container with water from the river itself.)

Need a ride? Camels are for hire along the Dead Sea Highway
The Dead Sea has certainly earned its name throughout history: the saline content in the water is so high nothing can live in this water, actually not a sea in the true sense at all but rather simply a large body of water. Mentioned throughout the Old Testament, the Dead Sea is shrinking now because of present-day irrigation needs in the Jordan Valley. The high saline rate is due to the extreme summer heat and the fact that the water has no outlet. At 1,388 feet below sea level, it is the lowest point on earth.

Amman Beach, the Dead Sea.
These two biblically historical points are not typical American visions of vacation resorts, although the eastern shoreline of the Dead Sea is speckled with chain hotels. Holiday Inn and Marriott are open, others are up and running, more are coming — and Dead Sea skin products are a hot commodity these days.

This is harsh land, even in October. The highest temperature recorded ever in the area was 50 degrees Celsius (roughly 122 degrees Fahrenheit), according to our driver. The region receives little rain and to put the topography into a Texas and southwestern perspective, think of a much, much larger Terlingua only with less vegetation, and without the picturesque mountains that skirt either side of the Rio Grande. Sitting in a Dead Sea restaurant looking east toward the mountains that lead to Amman, I was reminded of the first few miles of the drive east from Alamogordo to Cloudcroft, NM. And to the west, instead of the White Sands, there is the Dead Sea's blue sapphire appearance.

Two of the more interesting sites briefly mentioned by the Jordanian guide were the city of Jericho, vaguely visible across the Jordan, and the site where Elijah was "carried by a whirlwind" into heaven on a chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire.

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