24 April 2004
“Turn here for Lot’s Cave,” reads the sign on the side of the Dead Sea Highway. Not even one kilometer off the main road, midway up a bluff overlooking the water, are the ruins of an old monastery, built at the entrance of large cave. On a pleasant, slightly overcast Saturday morning I scrambled up the hill and entered the shadowy dugout. I wasn’t exactly sure what happened in Lot’s cave, so I pulled out my worn, army Bible. It seems that after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his two daughters took refuge in this place. Genesis, 19:31-32 quotes the eldest daughter: “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. Let’s get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father.” Hmm. I don’t recall ever hearing that passage read in church.
Back on the Dead Sea Highway, moving north about 20 kilometers, I spied a tall pillar of salt standing atop a hill, facing northwest. I recognized this geological formation from a photo I’d seen in a guidebook. It was old Lot’s wife, petrified for looking back at those wicked twin cities as God was throwing fire down on them. After staring at it long enough, I could see in it the likeness of the woman, or at least a person. I wondered if that really was proof of an act of God, or had the story been invented around some ancient campfire to explain the distinctive formation towering above the large salty lake.
Heading north to roughly the midpoint of the Dead Sea is another turn off. That road takes the traveler to the goat-and-donkey village of Mukawir. Near there is a big hill. High up on top of that big hill, overlooking the deep blue sea, are the ruins of King Herod’s castle. It was there, some 2000 years ago, that a young vixen named Salome shook her money maker skillfully enough to whip the Talmudic tetrarch into a frenzy. Like the patron of a modern day gentlemen’s club, Herod emptied his metaphorical wallet by promising the young ingénue anything she wished, up to half his kingdom. “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter,” Salome replied. Nowadays a $100 bottle of champagne will usually do.
Continuing north one finds Mount Nebo. This is the place where Moses saw the Promised Land. From the top of Mount Nebo, the rest of Jordan drops off steeply, all the way down to 400 meters below Sea Level, where the Jordan River empties out into the Dead Sea. The land rises up again on the Israeli side through Jericho and on up into the mountain-top city of Jerusalem. The twelve miles of road between Jerusalem and Jericho are clearly visible from Mount Nebo. This is the road traveled by the Good Samaritan, when he stopped to help a Jew who’d fallen into the hands of robbers.
Back down hill, five kilometers north of the Dead Sea, is the silent bend in the Jordan River where Jesus got baptized. The trees and river grass grow under a brilliant big blue sky; the scenery in all likelihood identical to the one Christ gazed upon long ago.
Growing up hearing all these stories, I envisioned the Holy Land to be some vast expanse of earth. Well it turns out, the distance between Lot’s Cave and Jesus’ baptism site is the same as between Denver and Colorado Springs. It takes me twice as long to get from my parents house in Castle Rock to Copper Mountain as it does to get from Amman to Bethany. Its compactness and richness of history make Jordan a Biblical ground zero and a perfect place for an unforgettable vacation.