UNESCO World Heritage Site #46: Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas) (Jordan)

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:13-17

The official baptism site of Jesus, a little ways away from where the Jordan River flows today
The official baptism site of Jesus, a little ways away from where the Jordan River flows today

My Visit to Bethany Beyond the Jordan

If I’d known what kind of shenanigans lay in store for me with Sultan behind the wheel, I might not have gotten in the taxi that morning. But this four hour trip to the Jordan River had only the smallest hint of what was to come the following day.  Our first day together was pretty tame, save for the hour-long sales pitch to continue using his services.

Our drive from Amman to the site was pleasant. We pulled over for the King of Qatar’s motorcade. He told me about his feelings about the politics of the region. And he didn’t laugh when I turned down boiled eggs for breakfast and picked up a canister of Pringles and a Diet Pepsi.  (Jordan is a country where it is remarkably difficult to find Diet Coke or even the lesser Coke Zero).

Standing in front of the Jordan River
Standing in front of the Jordan River

 

We arrived at the site, and I bought a ticket for the mandatory tour. My guide drove us to the start of the tour, walked with me to the water, detailing the history of the place where Christian tradition believes that Jesus was baptized by Saint John the Baptist. I had as much time as I wanted at the actual river, where you can see groups of religious tourists baptizing themselves, praying, and swimming in the river. I dipped a toe in, more for my Catholic family back in the States than for my Atheist self.

After the walk back, I had time to peruse the gift shop (where I picked up some sweet, sweet magnets), before riding back to the starting point where Sultan was waiting for me. It was a pleasant morning of history and people watching.

Dipping my toes in the Jordan River
Dipping my toes in the Jordan River

The Site

The Jordan River forms the border between the West Bank in Palestine and Jordan. Because it’s both the Palestinian border and the Israeli border, there’s a strong military presence on both sides. My first look at the river was during my tour of the West Bank the week before. The river is incredibly narrow, and the tours take you to the same exact point across the water from each other.

While both countries (all three countries?) have the river banks, only Jordan has the official baptism site, which is no longer on the actual river because the path has changed over the millennia.

Watching a family baptize themselves in the river
Watching a family baptize themselves in the river

 

From UNESCO’s description:

Situated on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, nine kilometres north of the Dead Sea, the archaeological site consists of two distinct areas: Tell Al-Kharrar, also known as Jabal Mar-Elias (Elijah’s Hill) and the area of the churches of Saint John the Baptist near the river. Situated in a pristine natural environment the site is believed to be the location where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist. It features Roman and Byzantine remains including churches and chapels, a monastery, caves that have been used by hermits and pools in which baptisms were celebrated, testifying to the religious character of the place. The site is a Christian place of pilgrimage.

A modern Orthodox church built by the banks of the Jordan river
A modern Orthodox church built by the banks of the Jordan river

How to Get to Bethany Beyond the Jordan

The site is included on many tours, but it’s also an easy taxi ride from the Dead Sea or Madaba. It’s a longer ride from Amman.

Once you’re at the Visitor’s Center, you’ll escorted to the site via electric minivan.

Only one on the tour!
Only one on the tour!

Things to Do While You’re There

  • Check out the ruins on the way from the churches that have been built there over the centuries
  • Get as wet as you desire (or don’t desire)
  • See the separate Baptism Site that’s not on the river any longer
  • Check out the awesome mosaics of the Pope and King Abdullah II in a golf cart
  • Check out the gift shop
  • You can pre-arrange a religious ceremony or celebration 
The Pope, King Abdullah II, Queen Raina, and one of the Jordanian princes, memorial in a fancy Golf Cart mosaic
The Pope, King Abdullah II, Queen Raina, and one of the Jordanian princes, memorial in a fancy Golf Cart mosaic

Tips

  • The walk is about 1km each way, so prepare for the weather and for walking on paths.
  • Bring water
  • The gift shop takes credit cards, but have dinar for your entrance ticket
  • Check hours and prices here. Hours change during Ramadan.
  • The weather will feel hotter than in Amman because of the drop in sea level (the site is near the lowest point on Earth)

Further Reading

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UNESCO World History Site #46: Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas) (Jordan)
UNESCO World History Site #46: Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas) (Jordan)

3 Comments

  1. Nice information,
    keep it up.

  2. Pingback: April 2017: Adventures & Updates - History Fangirl

  3. Amazing Post that you have shared with us. thank you. all things are really helpful.

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