The customs agent at New York's JFK airport looked at my papers and then eyed me with what I took to be professional suspicion.

"What countries did you visit?"

"Jordan."

"Any others?"

"No."

"Purpose of the trip?"

"I was on a tour visiting historic sites."

The agent's brow arched. "Israel has historic sites," he said dubiously. "What historic sites are in Jordan?" He looked at me as if I'd just told him I'd been on a skiing trip to Kansas.

I realized it was a reasonable question. I'd asked it myself when I was first invited to go on a history tour of Jordan. But now, but after spending a week in what Bible readers know as Moab and Edom, the Jordan River valley and Dead Sea basin, the hills of Gilead and the cities of the Decapolis, the question now struck me as a comic one-liner. He might as well have said, "America has cities. What cities are in Europe?"

I wondered where to begin.

"Well, there's Mount Nebo, where Moses looked into the Promised Land just before he died. There's the Ravine Kerith (now called Wadi Kharrar), where the prophet Elijah hid from Jezebel and was fed by ravens. He later returned to the place known as Elijah's Hill, where he was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. There's also Petra, the ancient city carved into the craggy, rose-colored rocks and popularized in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."

I was about to describe the extensive Roman theaters and temples in Jerash (or Geresa, ground zero in the biblical "region of the Geresenes") and Machaerus, the mountaintop fortress just east of the Dead Sea used by Herod Antipas as a place for relaxation and leisure, and where he imprisoned and eventually beheaded John the Baptist. But before I got that far, the customs agent said, "Okay, okay. You can ...

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