Sunday, March 8, 2015

Where Was Jesus Baptized?

According to the Gospels, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river. This marked the beginning of his public ministry and served as a rite of initiation immediately prior to his temptation in the wilderness. It's the moment when the Spirit descends on him "like a dove," anointing him for his coming mission. To this day, Christians regard Jesus' baptism as the foundation for the Christian ritual of baptism. But where did it actually happen? The Synoptic Gospels tell us it was near Jericho and Jerusalem. The Gospel of Mark suggests that the whole country of Judea and the people of Jerusalem were going out to see and hear John the Baptist. The Gospel of John is a bit more specific. It says that John was baptizing “in Bethany beyond the Jordan” (1:28). He describes Jesus going “away again across the Jordan to the place where John at first baptized (10:40),” suggesting that John’s baptism of Jesus took place on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Today "Bethany beyond the Jordan" is called Al-Maghtas and is located in Jordan, about twenty-five miles west of Amman. Since 1996, archaeological excavations have uncovered a cluster of Byzantine churches with mosaic floors, marble steps, monasteries, and baptismal pools. The site, identified as the “Church of John the Baptist” by medieval pilgrims, marks an area rich in biblical history - where Elijah is said to have ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kgs. 2:11), where God showed Moses the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, and where Joshua crossed over. The remains of Byzantine churches suggest that this site commemorated Jesus' baptism by John. It is all the more ironic, then, that Jesus' original baptismal site is still a war-zone, a dangerous area with land-mines and electric barbed wire, a literal “no man’s land” located on an ancient river too toxic to bathe in.