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JESUS CHRIST BAPTISMAL SITE
Bethany is the most important and extraordinary biblical site in Jordan. It marks the place in el-Kharrar Valley (Saphsaphas), East of the Jordan River, where our Lord Jesus Christ came 2,000 years ago, to be baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John to be baptized of him” (Matthew 3: 13), and where Prophet Eiljah is said to have ascended into heaven in the 9th century BC, on a chariot of fire from Elijah’s Hill which is located at the eastern edge of the valley.
The Baptism Site (al-Maghtas) is about 9 km north of the Dead Sea, depicted as Saphsaphas on the 6th century AD mosaic map of the Holy Land in Madaba, and known in the Holy Bible as Bethany or Beth-abara (the Place of Crossing) “These things were done in Beth-abara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing” (John 1:28). From the days of John the Baptist, when he started his ministry and where he was baptizing, Bethany was considered a major Christian pilgrim station en route between Jerusalem and Bethlehem to the west and Mount Nebo to the east.
Recent excavations have revealed a 5th century AD monastery built on the remains of a church around a cave, on the western side of Elijah’s hill, believed to be where John had lived and where Jesus was known to have visited him. The site is still very much the same as to how it would have looked in the time of Jesus and John, where the Bible describes the reeds and the small rough bushes which are habitats for bees, reminding us of what John the Baptist used to eat in the wilderness while he was preparing the way to the Lord, wild honey and locust. A wealth of sites was uncovered. Recent excavations have revealed caves, where monks and hermits used to live, dug into the upper layers of the eastern side cliffs of the Jordan River, the remains of churches with mosaics and marble floors dating back to the Byzantine era, and some to the late Roman era, along with ancient baptismal pools, where pilgrims descended through the marble steps into the water to be baptized. A vast water system that used to bring water from the valley to the church and a water reservoir were also found.