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Biblical Decapolis in Jordan

In the New Testament period, northern Jordan was the region of the Decapolis (ten cities in Greek), where Jesus (pbuh) taught and performed miracles (Matthew 4:25; Mark 5:20). The New Testament records that, "... there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis and from Judaea and from beyond Jordan" (Matthew 4:25). All the Decapolis cities except for one are located today in northern Jordan or southern Syria, on the eastern side of the Jordan River Valley.

Panoramic view overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Umm QaisThe Decapolis city of Gadara (modern Umm Qais), with its spectacular panoramic views overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is the site of Jesus' miracle of the Gadarene swine, where he sent demented spirits out of a man who lived in tombs at the entrance to the city.

Jesus (pbuh) sent the spirits into a herd of pigs that ran down the hill and drowned in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). A rare five-aisle basilica from the 4th century AD recently was discovered and excavated at Umm Qais.

It was found to be built directly over a Roman-Byzantine tomb, with views into the tomb from the interior of the church. It also was located alongside the Roman city gate on the road from the Sea of Galilee.

This distinctive arrangement of a church above a tomb clearly was designed to commemorate the very spot where the Byzantine faithful believed that Jesus (pbuh) performed this miracle.

Several other Decapolis cities in Jordan are easy to visit by car. Philadelphia (modern Amman), still sports two theaters, a Roman temple and several Byzantine churches. Amman Archaeological Museum has one of the finest collections of ancient artifacts in the Middle East, including some of the Copper Dead Sea Scrolls and the famous plastered skulls from the late Stone Age town at Jericho.

Gerasa (modern Jerash), the most complete and best preserved Greco-Roman city in the Middle East, is included in the Bible's mention of "the region of the Gerasenes" (Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26). At a fountain within a large ecclesiastical complex, the city's Byzantine citizens annually celebrated the miracle of Jesus' turning water into wine.

This "Fountain Court" in Jerash is a favorite destination for modern pilgrims who want to re-enact the travels and teachings of Jesus (pbuh) in the splendid 1st century AD cities of the Decapolis.

Ruins at Jerash

Pella (Tabaqat Fahl) nestles exactly at sea level in the northern Jordan Valley foothills, with its antiquities from the Old and New Testament periods. Persecuted early Christians from Jerusalem fled to Pella for safety. Pella also may be the site of Old Testament Penuel, where Jacob (pbuh) wrestled all night with God in the form of a man.

Ghost-like Umm Al-Jimal in northeastern Jordan is a Classical era provincial town built totally of black basalt stone, and is particularly noteworthy for its numerous Byzantine churches. It is not mentioned as a Hellenised Decapolis town, but for most of its eight centuries of life was an indigenous Nabataean-Arab town on the frontier of the Decapolis.

Today it offers pilgrims and tourists a powerful example of the provincial towns in the Greco-Roman period that Jesus (pbuh) and His Disciples and Apostles would have visited during their ministry.

During the time of Jesus and the Apostles, one of the East Mediterranean's greatest commodities emporiums was located in the southern Jordan city of Petra, the largely rock-cut capital of the Nabataean Kingdom.

The site flourished during Nabataean rule from the 3rd century BC to the early 2nd century AD, when it was occupied by the Roman Emperor Trajan. Petra seems to have been mentioned in the Old Testament under several possible names, including Sela and Joktheel (2 Kings 14:7).

Al-Deir (The Monastery), Petra

Petra was, almost certainly the last staging post of the three kings who took frankincense, gold and myrrh to honor the baby Jesus in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1- 12). The King Aretas mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:32 was a Nabataean king who ruled from Petra.

After Jesus' days, the Apostle Paul would have passed through northern Jordan on his route from Jerusalem to Damascus. Paul's years in Arabia after his conversion on the road to Damascus were spent in the Nabataean Kingdom that dominated Transjordan at that time (Galatians 1:17). Thus the land of Jordan was a significant setting for the formation of early Christian theological doctrines that thereafter would define the new Christian faith and church.

Another critical moment in the history of the new movement that ultimately would become known as Christianity occurred east of the Jordan River in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, when Nazarenes, Ebionites and other early Jewish-Christian groups fled Roman persecution in Jerusalem and found refuge in the eastern bank of the Jordan Valley.

Byzantine writers of the 4th century AD record that in particular these groups settled safely in or around Pella, where archaeological excavations have uncovered distinctive coffins and artifacts associated with these first Christians.

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