Friday 21 October 2011

Baptism Site

There can be fewer more important sites in the history of Christianity than the location of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist - 'Bethany beyond the Jordan'; this was where it all began. The site, which only became accessible in the 1990s due to its sensitive border location, now has its own website (

The Baptism site proper; the website shows a photograph with water in the bottom, but generally this is not watered on a regular basis. Photo: Bob Bewley.

This extract from the New Testament summarizes the significance of the location to Christians:

Jesus left Nazareth, until he reached Bethany beyond the Jordan and went to John for baptism. Jesus joined in the line of penitents asking for baptism, yet he was pure, free from all sin. He was the one who would say to the Jews, 'Who among you can provide evidence that I have committed a sin'. John knew of Jesus from the revelation and inspiration of the Holy Spirit (John 1:32). John, however, objected to baptizing Jesus saying, 'I am the one that needs you to baptize me!' But upon Jesus' continued insistence, John acquiesced and baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. Therefore, the water of the Jordan River became holy and all the waters that flow along the baptism site were purified, reviving the souls of people at every place and time.

The West Bank, as viewed from the Baptism site. Photo: Rebecca Banks.

For both pilgrims and merely interested tourists there is so much symbolism surrounding the visit (not cheap at 12JDs per person), which earns you an audio guide and a short bus ride to the start of a 45 minute walking trail. There is also a so-called tour guide - but ours was more of a 'whipper-in' than anyone who wanted to ensure we had a meaningful or interesting visit; always rushing us on.

This is the one place where Jordan and the Israeli occupied West Bank (see photo above) all but meet - sans frontiere, across a few metres of highly symbolic river. On the Jordanian side visitors arrive via the baptism site itself (now 100m from the current river, as result of the lack of water in the river Jordan); on the other side there are no archaeological features but a well-constructed limestone terrace (which I imagine is part of a visitor centre) and steps leading you down to a piece of water on the opposite bank of the river from the baptism site.

There is a Greek Orthodox church, newly built in traditional style and which will become a place of pilgrimage itself. There are tantalising glimpses of other newly built churches - one looks to be a Russian Orthodox one; another is part of the former monastery on Elijah's Hill, but there was a distinct lack of information or orientation - all in all a missed opportunity but a fascinating place nonetheless and well worth the trip.

The reconstructed Greek Orthodox Church. Photo: Bob Bewley.


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