Imagine walking in the footsteps of Elijah, John the Baptist, or even Jesus. There is a verdant place amid an arid country where one can experience that – it is a place referred to in the Bible as Bethany beyond the Jordan in John 1:28 – the place where Jesus was baptized.
Now located on the border of Jordan and Israel, we lost quite a bit of daylight before being allowed down by the river because the soldiers whose job it was to escort us did not have a direct command from their lieutenant, even though the general in charge of the area had already given the green light. It sounds dicey, but actually it is how peace and harmony are ensured.
Geopolitics aside, in the background of the following video, one can see the green glade that surrounds this river – which in 2007 – is more like an oily stream as you’ll see:
Even in it’s diminished state, one is still humbled by the significant history of the location – an emotional state that is nudged along that way by the numerous Byzantine churches whose remnants are currently under various states excavation. In fact, he Jordanian Department of Antiquities has now identified nearly 20 related sites within an area stretching some 3 km east of the Jordan River.
The site of Bethany beyond the Jordan has also been known by other names over the past 2000 years, including Beth-Abara of Bethabara, Beit el-Obour (`house of the crossing` in Arabic), Beit `Anya, Bethania , Bethennabris,`Ainon where now Saphsaphas`( on the sixth century Byzantine Madaba mosaic map of Holy Land), Saphsas or Sapsas, and perhaps also Beth-Barah (Judges 7:24-25).
The Byzantine writers Jerome and Eusebius mentioned `Bethabara beyond the Jordan` in the fourth century as a pilgrimage destination where people went to be baptized. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, is to have crossed the Jordan River and visited the cave where John the Baptist lived, and built a church there to commemorate him.
Helena also visited the nearby (adjacent) Elijah’s hill – which for anyone who remembers the prophet’s encounter with God in 1 Kings 19:9-15, or for that matter my March 2004 recollections of this site – reminds one that God does not always speak to us in the tumult of fire or wind, but in those quiet moments in the glade where quiet waters flow:
God is my shepherd,
I want for nothing.
My rest is in the pleasant meadows.
He leadeth me where quiet waters flow.
My fainting soul doth He restore
and guideth me in the ways of peace,
to glorify His name.
And though in death’s dark valley
my steps must wander,
my spirit shall not fear
for Thou are by me still.
Thy rod and staff are with me,
and they shall comfort me.
Text of Psalm 23 from Antonín Dvorák 10 Biblical Songsby