The site of Jesus’ baptism

It’s supposedly here, not far from the Dead Sea resort where we were staying.  Well, who knows?  Here’s an interesting article about UNESCO designating the Jordan baptismal area (where we were) as a World Heritage site:

For years, Christian pilgrims have waded into the Jordan River from both its eastern and western banks to connect with a core event of their faith — the baptism of Jesus. The parallel traditions allowed Jordan and Israel to compete for tourism dollars in marketing one of Christianity’s most important sites.

But now UNESCO has weighed in on the rivalry, designating Jordan’s baptismal area on the eastern bank a World Heritage site. The U.N. cultural agency declared this month that the site “is believed to be” the location of Jesus’ baptism, based on what it said is a view shared by most Christian churches.

The decision drew cheers in Jordan, where the number of tourists has dropped sharply since the 2011 Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State group. Israel has kept silent while a Palestinian official said the western baptismal site, located in an Israeli-occupied area sought for a Palestinian state, should have been included.

It “has nothing to do with archaeological reality,” said Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We don’t have any sites with evidence or archaeological remains that were continuously venerated from the first century on.”

Jordan certainly makes a big deal of how tolerant it is to be operating this site.  Here is a large photo at the entrance of King Abdullah chillin’ with Pope Francis:


The place where you buy your tickets isn’t all that inspirational:


You take a bus part of the way down to the river and then you proceed the rest of the way on foot, along covered boardwalks to, finally, stone paths.  Here’s what things look like in the neighborhood.  My son tells me that the area was mined until Jordan and Israel signed their peace treaty.


A small Greek Orthodox church was recently built near the site:


And here, finally, is the Jordan River, looking across to the Israeli side.


A couple of points:

The spiritual “Michaell Row the Boat Ashore” has this line: “Jordan’s river is deep and wide, hallelujah.”  Well, not anymore, at least not at the time of year we were there.  You could throw a rock to the Israeli side of the river (not that I’d recommend doing this, of course).

Also, note that the river isn’t exactly beckoning you to come in and dunk your head in it. My wife had a vague idea beforehand about doing this, but she took one look at that muddy brown color and decided not to bother.  On the other hand, I saw a couple of people on the other side wearing white robes with red crosses on them who looked like they were getting up their nerve to take the plunge.  We had to return to the bus before we could see how that worked out for them, though.

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