I am so grateful that I had this opportunity to follow the Bible trail via the Holy Land Tour that me and four other family members participated from 2 to 13 December 2022. We were part of a group of 49 individuals plus one tour leader from the Philippines. For most members, this was a pilgrimage: following the way of Jesus from His birth to His passion to His death and His resurrection. Besides, the travel agency responsible for this trip has marketed and publicized the entire 11 to 12 days as a trip that would change one’s spiritual life after the trip. In fact, we were accompanied by a chaplain (a Catholic priest) to transform the journey in a sort of religious encounter.
I have to admit, however, that my participation was not motivated by this. I have always wanted to visit this Middle Eastern region to understand the historical Jesus (and other biblical figures). More so, to add cultural and political contexts in understanding the Bible. Since my younger years, I have always been fascinated with religion – both theological and cultural efficacy.
After almost 20 hours of travel, we arrived in Amman, Jordan around 11 AM on 3 December. After a long queue at the immigration and a sumptuous lunch in a local restaurant, we went to Mount Nebo.
It was at Mount Nebo where Moses “supposed his toes were roses” because of his very long adventure from exiting Egypt, traveling the Red Sea, missing Israel (as the promised land) and arriving to Mount Nebo in then Moab (now Jordan). Just imagine, that’s about 850 kms (if we believe the exodus commenced in Cairo) and in today’s time, a walk of about 6 days and 3 hours. Let us not forget maps, as we know them today, were non-existent at that time. According to tradition, Moses was already 120 years old when he, together with the “chosen people” arrived in Nebo.
According to the Bible, Moses ascended Mount Nebo, and from there he saw the Promised Land. If we remember the story of Moses, Yahweh punished Moses by not allowing him to enter the promised land. Remember, Yahweh stated that Moses broke faith with Him in the presence of the chosen people: “For both of you (referring to Moses and Aaron) betrayed me with the Israelites at the waters of Meribah at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. You failed to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel there. So you will see the land from a distance, but you may not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 32: 51 – 52).
It was there at Nebo, that Moses died. Nobody knows where his burial place is located. There are several debates. Israel claims that it is in West Bank, while Jordanians claim that it is somewhere in the Jordan Valley (a popular candidate: St. George Church in Madaba).
Today, Mount Nebo is an archaeological site. A Christian church from the Byzantine period stands on the top of the mountain. Of course, the current Church is no longer the original Byzantine structure. The modern Church was built to protect the site and provide worship space, remnants of mosaic floors from different periods can be seen. When you enter the Church – the interior gives a glimpse of how the Byzantine Christians venerated the area through elaborate floor mosaics and magnificent columns.
Our tour guide told us that Pope John Paul II visited the summit of Mount Nebo during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000. During his visit, he planted an olive tree next to the modern Byzantine chapel, as a symbol of peace. Accordingly, Pope Benedict XVI visited the site in 2009. He delivered a heartfelt speech before the other pilgrims telling everyone: “Here, on the heights of Mount Nebo, the memory of Moses invites us to “lift up our eyes” to embrace with gratitude not only God’s mighty works in the past, but also to look with faith and hope to the future which he holds out to us and to our world. Here, on the heights of Mount Nebo, the memory of Moses invites us to “lift up our eyes” to embrace with gratitude not only God’s mighty works in the past, but also to look with faith and hope to the future which he holds out to us and to our world” (see Pope Benedict XVI’s full speech here).
I think this is exactly the message of Nebo to everyone. Sometimes we tend to celebrate nostalgia and forget that utopia awaits us on the other side. Like Moses, we are invited to see a future full of hope, full of life. It is not true that Moses did not see the promised land. He saw it from Mount Nebo. That’s his communion with the chosen people. He never lost that spark of hope. Often, we need a Mount Nebo to lead our gaze forward.