Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan: the Baptismal Site of Jesus

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.

Waiting for the Bus

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.

Under the Shelter or Remains of the Church of St. John the Baptist
Corinthian Columns

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).

Where Jesus disrobed before entering the water
This is the Baptismal Site of Jesus

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.

Making the Sign of the Cross
The guide is telling me that they use this baptismal font for children
Braving the brackish water with tadpoles in it
Inside the church next to the river (new construction)
The altar
One of many mosaics on the floor in the church

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.

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8 thoughts on “Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan: the Baptismal Site of Jesus

  1. Fabulous commentary. I am learning so much about ancient culture and history as I read you blogs. I hope you will be able to continue to do this as your life becomes more complicated in Jordon.

  2. What time was mass? You have been on quite the Holy Land pilgrimage lately. Do you remember the shrine we went to in Chimayo, New Mexico, the one with the crutches hanging from the ceiling? Do you remember the shameless commerce going on to cash in on the holy site? What were they selling in the gift shop? You should have worn your St. John the Baptist Class of 1986 t-shirt, you might have got a discount or maybe you whispered to the guide that you were an SJB alum and therefore got the vip treatment.

    1. Ha, ha,. No mass here and no pilgrimages either. There’s NOTHING else to do but religious stuff here. They were selling religious figurines made out of olive wood. I REALLY tried to buy something, ANYTHING at the gift shop, but I’m not in the market for a nativity set right now. Do you need one? My mother says you’re waiting for a care package. What is it that you’re expecting. Do you need religious “holy water?” That was for sale here. Let me know. I don’t have any SJB alumnae shirts. Please send me one. Imagine what the VIP treatment would be like then?

  3. I think it is so awesome you get to experience all this history. And you can do it at a leisurely pace because you aren’t on a vacation/travel schedule. Such a lucky lady! Thanks for sharing your adventures.

  4. WOW. To think these special sites are just around the corner from your place.. I am soooo happy you are getting to see everythng around town.. Also, you all look like movie stars to me.. It must be the light…Keep taking pictures and writing..

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