About thirty miles outside of Amman, heading towards the Dead Sea, along the east bank of the River Jordan, is the place where John the Baptist lived and where he most likely baptized Jesus Christ. This desolate plain (and HOT, 105 degrees F today) has historical significance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. [For those of you who care, the first mention of this area is in the book of Genesis, when Lot separated from Abraham and “chose the plain of Jordan” to pitch his tents, after which Jacob wrestled with God a little way north at Penuel. A large part of the Book of Numbers is set at the Israelites’ camp, “pitched in the plains of Moab by Jordan opposite Jericho,” following which Moses delivers a long summation in Deuteronomy before going up “from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo” where he died (remember, we went there a few weeks ago?). Joshua led the tribes across the river, which miraculously halted its flow, an event mirrored centuries later in Kings 2, when the prophets Elijah and Elisha again stopped the flow of the river, as a chariot and horses of fire took Elijah up to heaven. It was because of the associations with Elijah that, a thousand years later, John, an ascetic holy man with a prophetic vision, took up residence here, using the numerous small springs branching off the river to symbolically cleanse people of sin; locals soon flocked to this John the Baptist.
When you arrive at the Visitors’ Center, you are picked up in a bus and driven to the site, about five minutes from the parking lot. A guide leads you along the path to a few different sites. The first site along the path brings you to a clearing marked by a modern pool and the sheltered remains of the 6th or 7th century Church of John the Baptist, situated alongside two or more churches, which were built on top of each other. You can see the floor of the lower one tiled in triangular, square and octagonal flags of marble. There are also Corinthian capitals lying nearby.
After viewing the remains of the church, our guide gave us (I’d like to say ME) the VIP treatment. The rest of the tour went on ahead of us as he offered to take us “behind the scenes” (in this case underneath a rope) to stand on two of the most sacred spots (the first pictures is supposedly the spot where Jesus disrobed and the second is THE site of Jesus’ baptism).
After the behind the scenes tour, we met back up with the rest of the group–those unfortunate people who were not privy to our part of the tour–and headed to the bank of the river to cleanse away our sins.
The River Jordan used to be deep, fast-flowing, and often flooded the banks. ( FYI, in Aramaic, yardeen–from which Jordan is derived–means “fast-flowing water.”) Today, at the height of summer, the river is low. The tour lasted about an hour, which was about all we could take in the heat.