Sunday, November 20, 2011

Stylite Tower, Machaerus, and Kerak Castle

About 2 km outside the ancient city of Umm ar-Rasas stands a 15-meter-tall Stylite Tower, at the top of which is a small room where a monastic spent his life. The inside of the tower is not hollow, so the only way to reach the top seems to have been by a removable ladder. In the photo above, you can see one of the cross etched into the side of the tower.

This particular tower was set out by itself, 2 km from the town. There, the monk lived at the top of the tower, praying. Any food or water he received had to be brought to him by someone and hauled up by rope. Frequently, these sites became major sources of pilgrimage, in which the faithful would ask for the holy man's prayers or spiritual advice. I highly recommend reading the life of St. Symeon the Stylite, which is available in an excellent translation by my former professor.

Our next stop was Machaerus (modern day Mukawir), one of Herod's fortresses (like the famous Masada), where St. John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded. Above and below are the views from the top. You can see the Dead Sea about 8 km to due west.

Here are the ruins of the fortress on top of the hill . The columns mark the hall of Herod's palace, where Salome danced for Herod and then requested St. John the Baptist's head. This was also the fortress where St. John was imprisoned and beheaded.

St. Mark 6:14-29:

14 And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.” 15 But others were saying, “He isElijah.” And others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!”

17 For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; 20 for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; [l]but he [m]used to enjoy listening to him. 21 A strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and [n]military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; 22 and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and [o]his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” 23 And he swore to her, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of [p]his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bringback his head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison, 28 and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.

Another view from the top of the fortress.

Next we headed south down the famous King's Highway, the extremely important ancient trade route between Egypt and Syria, dating back 5000 years. We passed through Dhiban, the ancient capital of Moab and the home of the famous Mesha Stele, commemorating the Moabite victory over Israel around 850 BC.

In something of a common theme for this area, villagers found the stele, amazingly perfectly intact after 2000 years, in the 1860s. Greed and ignorance, however, would soon undo this. Realizing that the Europeans would be interested in it, the villagers tried to start a bidding war between the French and the Germans. Either because the villagers had a dispute among themselves about who would get the money, or because they realized they could get paid more if they sold the stele in individual pieces (as happened when the Bedouin ripped the intact Dead Sea Scrolls into tiny pieces), they decided to smash the stele.

After passing through Dhiban, we hit "Jordan's Grand Canyon," Wadi Mujib, which was the dividing line in biblical times between the Moabites and the Edomites.

This took us down to Kerak Castle, the siege of which may be famous from the film Kingdom of Heaven. We watched this film when we returned to Thessaloniki and, although I would say it's worth watching (only the Director's Cut, though -- the theatrical version cut was made confusing by all the cuts), it's heavily influenced by the director's modern ideology. As one reviewer perfectly put it: "An epic about Christian crusaders who happen to be liberal humanists willing to die for the sake of religious tolerance."

Above is a photo of the castle's dungeon, which once hosted several rulers. Above, you can see scratches into the wall, probably depicting the number of days, weeks, months, or years that had passed.

Above, my dad inside Kerak Castle. Behind him to the left are the remnants of its main Catholic church.

Above, my dad scaling the walls!

Another view of the remnants of the main Catholic church.

For more photos from this day, click here.

No comments: