No Christian pilgrimage is complete without a tour of Jordan. And no tour of this ‘other holy land’ is complete without walking where Jesus walked to the place where John the Baptist helped initiate Christ’s ministry – Bethany Beyond the Jordan. A now muddy, oily creek that separates Israel from Jordan, while uniting the hearts of Believers for decades – as reflected in some of the following blog posts by the posts of pilgrims visiting its banks:
Leading off some photos of this historic locale presented by a Malaysian expat living in Thailand visiting Jordan this past May:
The Baptism Site (Arabic: el-Maghtas) on the Jordan side of the Jordan River is one of the most important recent discoveries in biblical archeology. Excavations only began here in 1996, following Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel in 1994, but have already uncovered more than 20 churches, caves and baptismal pools dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods …
… Note: This Bethany should not be confused with Bethany in Jerusalem, where Mary Magdalene lived and Lazarus was raised from the dead.
Not done with the Biblical / historic portion of this post Leslie Dieterle on her blog appropriately named “Journeys in the Holy Land” reminds us of a bit of Old Testament history happening at this spot when she writes:
We arrived in Bethany where Elijah was taken up to heaven. This part of our journey was very hot as we walked out to a spot on the Jordan River where, our Saviour, Jesus Christ was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist.
BTW, nice perspective photo of one of the many archaeological digs! And speaking of great graphics of the various findings at this location, MISHKAN ED – or “the exotic melon” not only offers some crisp, well-lit photographs of the site, but also this cool Palestine survey map which she annotates:
This map shows the area of the southern end of the Jordan River in the 1880s, as recorded by the Palestine Exploration Fund. This map is included in high resolution in the Survey of Western Palestine: The Maps CD. For a careful discussion of the correct location of Bethany beyond the Jordan, see this article (pdf) by J. Carl Laney.
Of course I had to snicker about another blogger who in anticipation of a visit to the site wrote “The Jordan valley is a dry wilderness, with many place names we would recognize from the Bible …” as Bethany Beyond the Jordan is anything but dry and arid – but more like a lush, verdant glade – explaining why John the Baptist was able to engage so easily in his diet of locusts and honey.
A dietary account corroborated by yet another post by those traveling scientists whom make up the not-so-notorious “Jordan Soils Gang” who add these “geo-political” descriptions of the place where Jesus was Baptized:
… then we headed west to Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the site of Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. We walked down right to the river, and most of us leaned in and touched the water. Sean even brought back a water bottle full of it. The water was very greenish. We could see Israel only 10 feet away from us, there was a flag flying and some guards and construction workers. The Jordanian side had guards too, actually they took pictures with me, not sure what that was about!
We ran into one of the architects behind the rebuilding of the site, and he was very enthusiastic and said that he is hoping for a million people to visit the site per year. Then we left and on the way out saw “Elijah’s hill,” where the bible says that the prophet Elijah was taken into heaven.
In fact we find out from a recent post on the “On Not Being a Sausage” blog, that Bethany beyond the Jordan and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusale where professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary in New York Deirdre Good writes:
The Christian Century reports that King Abdullah of Jordan has given a 2 and a half acre site at the traditional location of Bethany beyond the Jordan to the Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Jerusalem. A church and a retreat center are to be built there. The Baptismal Site (Bethany beyond the Jordan) is already a proposed World Heritage Site.
She then offers some pictures and links, as do Donna and Dale Finch on their blogspot address that’s probably better named “News from East [of] Jerusalem” in their post bearing the strangely catchy title “On the Road Again!”
I could certainly continue writing about this must-see site for all Christian pilgrims, but for now, I’ll leave you with these other links on the topic:
- The Identification of Bethany Beyond the Jordan (BiblePlaces.com) A detailed examination of various possible locations, from the doctoral dissertation of J. Carl Laney. PDF format.
- Bethany Beyond Jordan: John the Baptist: In the Decapolis (Dabar.org) A survey of the various positions by W. W. Winter of Cincinnati Bible Seminary, with good footnotes and the correct conclusion, in our opinion.
- Bethany: Sunrise of Faith (Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities) Offers several pages of information about the Baptism Site in Wadi Al-Kharrar with some photos of the area.
- Baptism Site – Bethany (The Baptism Site) Describes the archaeological survey of Wadi El-Kharrar and presents the historical data of early pilgrims relating to the baptism site of Jesus. A description of the excavations in the area, including Elijah’s Hill, the prayer hall, the cistern, the pools, and the churches, is located here. Also, a detailed discussion of the water system is found here.
- Bethany Beyond the Jordan (ASOR) Lengthy article describing the archaeological findings in Wadi Kharrar.
- Holy Sites (Jordan Tourism Board) Provides a discussion of the site and its history as well as some pictures.
- Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Walking in Their Sandals) Thoroughly discusses the issues involved in identifying Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Also briefly discusses its historical and biblical significance.
- Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Catholic Encyclopedia) Presents the evidence for preferring the reading “Bethabara” over “Bethany,” but in the end settles on “Bethany.
Oh yeah, add to that my account from 2004 simply entitled “Where John Baptized Jesus” – I think it’ll minister many of you struggling to find some form of contact with the Christ.by