Holy Jordan

A Mosaic of faiths: Atop Mount Nebo

May 21, 2024

Towering over the Jordan Valley, Mount Nebo is a holy site that resonates across all monotheistic traditions. While the mountain itself offers a stunning view, its true treasures are (quite literally) below your feet: the floors of its Byzantine church display a stunning mosaic. Known locally as Siyagha (“monastery”) Mount Nebo is the highest point in this part of the ancient kingdom of Moab.


From a biblical perspective, Mount Nebo holds deep meaning. The Book of Deuteronomy says that after leading his followers for forty years through the wilderness, Moses went up to Mount Nebo in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho (Deuteronomy 32, 49). From this peak, God showed him the whole Jordan valley (Deuteronomy 34, 1-4). This well-known story makes the visitor feel like walking on the footsteps of pilgrims past –Moses being the very first one. The Moses Memorial Church, built in the 4th century AD, is a testament to this.


(The Moses Memorial Church site)

A look inside the church is sure to amaze the visitor. The Byzantine-era mosaics on the floor are a true masterpiece of storytelling. Intricate geometric patterns weave together with images of animals, landscapes, and even scenes of everyday life in Late Antiquity. These colorful mosaics from the 6th century show us what art and beliefs were like back then –and how these traditions have endured throughout the years. Some of these mosaic elements may have a specifically Christian connotation, but their beauty goes beyond that. The details and rich colors speak to everyone.


(Moses Memorial Church mosaics)

Indeed, the mosaic tradition of Mount Nebo (and of Jordan, as a whole) crosses religious boundaries, bringing them together in a single embrace. These artworks show how the region’s artistic heritage is shared by all, reflecting the rich tapestry of faiths, traditions, and peoples that have lived and flourished in Jordan for millennia.


From Mount Nebo, you can see for miles. Imagining Moses taking in the vastness of the land is not hard at all.  The biblical passage goes into detail about the specific areas Moses could see, which included “Gilead to Dan, all Naphtali, Ephraim, and Manasseh, all Judah as far as the Western Sea, the south, and the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar” (Deuteronomy 34, 1-3).  This shared experience of awe and wonder at the many natural wonders Jordan has to offer builds a strong sense of community among visitors to the legendary mountain.


(The top of Mount Nebo)

A visit to Mount Nebo is a pilgrimage to a place where traditions built around Moses have taken root and blossomed. Its artistic treasures are a reminder that despite cultural differences, we all have a shared experience of the divine, the natural, and the human.

By Daniel Esparza
Daniel Esparza

Daniel Esparza is currently an associate professor of communication ethics and aesthetics at the Ramon Llull University in Barcelona. He holds a PhD in Religion from Columbia University (NYC). He is also an art historian who has developed communicational projects and campaigns for online and print media to promote the cultural and religious heritage of the Americas and the Mediterranean. He is a founding member of Viator Media and the Pilgrimaps project.

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