Monday 6 March 2023

Three Tales from the Book


Three Tales from the Book

 Jordan — Mount Nebo

 Standing on top of Mount Nebo in Jordan I can see over the plain of the valley of Jericho, over the Jordan Valley to Palestine and the lands of Judah unto the uttermost sea.  If God did show Moses the promised land (Deuteronomy Chapter 34 verses 1 and 2), this is the spot where he would have got the best view. I could well be standing where Moses stood 34 centuries ago. There is a modern monument here dedicated to Moses and the ideas that unite the three great Abrahamic religions: the People of the Book.

While there is no archaeological evidence to show that Moses existed, the story is an ancient one and these stories do not appear from nowhere.  There will be an origin.  For now, it is enough that the story is sanctified by centuries of belief.

Photo Adrienne Higham

 River JordanBethany

 The River Jordan here is a green stream about 20 feet wide flowing slowly south towards the Dead Sea. On each side of the river, wooden platforms are set into the reeds. The river and desert are silent but there is a low hum of voices from the opposite bank.  A man and a woman in white cotton robes immerse themselves completely in the holy water of the River Jordan.  They emerge, holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes. They have undergone a profound and joyful experience.  They believe they have been baptised in the very place that John the Baptist baptised Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 3 vv 21-23).

Photo Adrienne Higham

The remains of a first century Christian church have been found here.  Jesus was thirty when John baptised him.  An early Christian seeking the site in the first century could have visited this place within living memory of John the Baptist’s mission as described in Luke’s Gospel.  It is plausible that this is the right spot.

 Baggage Carousel 2 — London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 3

 We have shared our return flight with pilgrims returning from the Hajj.  The luggage carousel carries white box after white box marked ZamZam Water.  I ask and I am told that this is water, holy to Muslims, from the well at Mecca.  It has physical and spiritual healing properties and they will share it with their family and friends.

The story of ZamZam water is even older than that of Moses. In the Genesis story, Abraham (Ibrahim) has a child, Ishmael, by Hagar (Hajar) the slave of his wife Sara. At Sara’s bidding, Abraham abandons Hagar in the desert, where according to Genesis Chapter 16 Verse 7 …the angel of the LORD [Gabriel or Jibreel] found her by the fountain of water in the wilderness…

Muslims trace their descent and the descent of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) from Ibrahim by Ishmael’s line. 

The Islamic traditional story (there is more than one version) has it that Hajar walked between two hills in the desert seven times looking for water and help.  The angel Jibreel came down and created a spring.  Hajar, seeing the water going to waste cried out “Zam, zam!” [Stop, stop], hence the name of the well, which is sited close to the Kaaba at Mecca. That Hajar, a slave, should be so horrified by water going to waste that she dared shout “Stop!” at the angel Gabriel feels like the authentic voice of a true desert dweller.  It was in this place that Mecca was founded.

Muslim pilgrims recreate Hajar’s walk between the two hills as sanctioned by the Holy Qur’an at Sura 2: Safa and Marwa [the two hills] are among the rites of God. Whoever makes the Pilgrimage to the House, as performs the Umrah, commits no error by circulating between them…

Three tales from the Book and a common reverence for water show that we all base much of our culture and beliefs on a small set of very old stories.

 I was travelling with the excellent Jules Verne

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