Where John the Baptist baptized Jesus
Any spiritual journey to Jordan will include a stop at the UNESCO World Heritage site "Bethany Beyond the Jordan
," the land east of the Jordan River designated in ancient times as a place of refuge that links the lives of Abraham, Lot, Moses, Job, David, Ruth, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. It is at this point where John, who lived east of the River Jordan opposite Jericho, met Jesus, and baptized him. Note that the River Jordan arrived at this point at the time Jesus was baptized, when the churches were built, and John the Baptist Spring met the Jordan river here. Today the river is further away, but still within easy walking distance. Just seven miles north of the Dead Sea, it's an easy drive from your Dead Sea resort hotel or about an hour from Amman.
JPII roadside sign blessing Jordan
Upon entry to the area, you're likely to first pull up to the roadside markers, one a gift from Pope John Paul II following his 2000 AD visit.
I will keep all the people of Jordan—Christian and Muslim—in my prayers, especially the sick and the elderly, with gratitude. I invoke abundant blessings upon His Majesty, the King, and upon the whole nation. God bless you all. Bless Jordan." - Pope John Paul II
Pathway Bethany Beyond the Jordan
Pilgrims who described the site include Theodosius (AD 530), Antoninus of Piacenza (AD 570),
Arculfus of France (670 AD), Epiphanius (AD 750-800), and Abbot Daniel (AD 1106 -1107). Their testimonies encouraged pilgrimages since the late Roman–early Byzantine periods.
Pro Tip: Add some mint essential oil to your nostrils to decrease the odor from the fly-catching traps along the path. And consider bringing a "horse tail" fly swatter. The flies will run you out long before you're ready to go.
John answered them, 'I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.' This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing."
Walking through the entrance, past the museum, paths lead you into the various sites. Start with what you came for: the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
You'll find this on the nearby explanatory placards in multiple languages:
Churches built in the memory of the baptism of Jesus.
Five uniquely designed churches and a unique cruciform baptistry that used the water of the Jordan were carefully described by pilgrims to be built from the 5th up to the 12th centuries of the place where Jesus was baptized.
To our excitement, the discovery is fully matched with the description of the Pilgrims who visited the site following the trail of the prophets. But our question was why did early Christians insist to build churches at the point where there is no community to serve? In the middle of the wilderness at a point where earthquakes or floods caused the destruction of 1 church after the other? The answer was clear! Depending on the Bible, the mosaic map of the Holy Land, pilgrim's accounts, and the archaeological discoveries, we see the determination of believers to build memorials, just east of the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized, and Christianity started."
Each person experiences a unique sensation here, from a casual acknowledgment of a 2000-year-old event to a profound sense of wonder at being present where Jesus and John the Baptist walked, worked, loved, taught, and changed the world. I fell solidly into the latter.
Bethany Beyond the Jordan Artist Rendering from c28 AD
The space requires some explanation. The deep area 2,000 years ago held the confluence of the Jordan River and what became known as "John the Baptist Spring." Since that time, the River Jordan has moved towards the west. Beyond the baptistry, though, the outline of ruins we come to know are multiple churches are easily visible and small structures, including one performing the baptism, line the path.
We learn that Tell el-Kharrar or Tel Mar Elyas aka "Elijah's Hill" is about two miles east, identified as the place where the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven.
Pope John Paul II visits Jordan with the Royal Family
Walking around the path to view the churches, pass two mosaics of Popes that have visited in modern times. First, John Paul II. His visit here in 2000 included planting an olive tree on Mount Nebo and honoring this space.
Pope Francis and the Royal Family visit Bethany Beyond the Jordan
Second, Pope Francis in 2014. After saying mass in Amman, he visited this Baptismal Site with the Royal Family and the cousin that is the caretaker of this area.
Close up Madaba Mosaic Map on the fish at the Dead Sea
Our guide reminds us of the mosaic map we'd viewed in Madaba. He speaks of conflicting stories about the site and uses the map to defend this placement. "Looking at the mosaic map, you'll note two fish, one going towards the Dead Sea while the other goes away. It's not lost on Christians that fish were most frequently used as a symbol of Christ. Using the symbol of baptism, the fish specifically at this point in the river Jordan is thought to be because Jesus was baptized here, So this is where Christianity started."
Cave in which John the Baptist is said to have lived
It's also where John the Baptist lived in a cave, an impossibly small space now but perhaps it's silted up over the years and was more conducive to life then. It seems unlikely.
Church of Saint John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church
Bethany Beyond the Jordan includes churches, a monastery, baptismal pools, a pilgrim's station, and the cave where John the Baptist lived. As we approach the John the Baptist Church, a Greek Orthodox Church built in 2003, we're drawn to the music to our right. With armed guards on both sides of the river to prevent anyone from crossing, each side has access to a cordoned-off area upon which you could dunk yourselves as you wish.
The River Jordan with Baptisms on the Israeli side
Across the River Jordan on the Israeli side, we saw people in gift shop style long T-shirts stating "I was baptized in the Jordan" immersing themselves in the Jordan River.
On our side, a Minister from the Church of Scotland blessed those that traveled with him and a willing member of our group. He offered a lovely, sincere prayer for her and for all our journeys. This remains a spiritually impacting experience and an unmissable event on any tour of Jordan.
Churches and Mosques about at Bethany on the Jordan
This tour was taken during a press trip sponsored by Visit Jordan and IFWTWA. All the opinions contained herein are my own.