We depart the Amman Firas Hotel on a sunny morning and make one last shopping stop to use up the last of our Dinars. As we descend down into the Jordan River Valley we see some morning fog. The fields of sheep and nomads give way to banana plantations, palm groves and vegetable fields.
Even though the newly developed site of Wadi Kharrar is still being prepared for next year's onslaught of tourists, David is able to get us in for a short briefing by Rustom Mkhjian, an Armenian archaeological restoration engineer.
As he showed us around the site, and Gordon recorded him for THE BOOK & THE SPADE program, we learned that Wadi Kharrar has been under excavation for about two years. His excitement in sharing with us about this site and all of its discoveries was contagious.
Tradition associates the small hill at this site with Elijah's ascent into heaven but it also could be called the starting place for Christianity. For near here it is believed Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The River Jordan is just 2 kilometers west and Jericho just a couple more kilometers beyond that and Jerusalem itself only about 25km away.
The mosaics and pottery excavated here indicate that it was settled early in the Christian era. The foundations of several churches and monasteries have been uncovered, plus pipes and wells and other waterworks. There will be a memorial placed here for John the Baptist, once the site is developed, as well as the typical amenities for tourists and pilgrims.
Entering Israel via the Allenby bridge was uneventful. The Jordan River is little more than a stream in this area. Our Customs check was uneventful and after we passed through the metal detectors we met our new guide, Tom Brimmer. Tom is an American who has lived in Israel for about the past ten years. Our driver, Isam, is an Arab Christian.
Our first stop is Hisham's palace, which took nine years to build in the 6th century. Tom tells us it was destroyed by an earthquake before Hisham was able to live in it. The gate has the look of wood instead of marble, as they carved lines in the marble to give it that effect. Inside one the rooms is one of the most beautiful mosaics that can be seen in Israel.
After lunch we visit the mound of ancient Jericho where we see an ancient tower 9,000 years old. It is here that the Bible records the walls came tumbling down before the army of Joshua. Archaeologists differ as to whether the excavated remains indicate such destruction took place. We see a line of newly constructed steel towers and are told that a cable car will soon transport visitors from ancient Jericho up to the Mount of Temptation.
We drive through modern Jericho to the site of New Testament Jericho, specifically the remains of King Herod's Jericho palace. We walk down through Wadi Qelt and up the other side to the palace, where Tom tells us that they painted bricks and plaster to make it look like marble when this palace was constructed. The grand ballroom had all different kinds of colored marble.
Finally we arrive at Qumran, what an exciting place! The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a cave near here in 1947. The new video introduction to the site suggests that John the Baptist may have stayed here before he began his baptism ministry. We see the remains of what is believed to be the settlement of the Essenes, and look across the Wadi to Cave #4 where many of the scroll fragments were found.
Right next door to Qumran is Kibbutz Kalia, our home for the night. We arrive at dusk, when it is still light enough to see all of the beautiful flowers planted around the guest cottages. They raise and milk about 250 head of dairy cattle and had ostrich running around on the grounds. Dinner was very good and we were ready for a good night's sleep, as a full moon shone down on the Dead Sea.