Sunday, October 4, 2015

ISRAEL AND JORDAN: BAPTISMAL SITES

After stopping at the Dead Sea, our next destination was another famous body of water, the supposed "baptism of Christ site" on the Jordan side of the Jordan River.
But first, I want to go back to a different baptismal site on the Israel side of the Jordan River, which we had visited earlier in the trip.

The Israel site is called "Yardenit," which means "Little Jordan" in Hebrew.
It was a well-cared for site, really gussied up for tourists:
When we first arrived, there was some major action on the other side of the river--a group of young men catching an enormous fish. I didn't know a fish could grow that big in a river:
Yikes!

Yardenit has twelve separate baptismal pools, and visitors can be baptized there for free--with the rental ($10) or purchase ($25) of baptismal clothes and a towel. Many groups come here on pilgrimage, and I think that seems like a fair exchange. Their pastor or whomever they choose can perform the baptisms.
There are even facilities for handicapped:
It is a lovely site, with lots of beautiful landscaping:

We saw a few baptisms going on, sometimes with one person doing the baptism, and other times with two officiators in the water, which I think is the case in the picture below where the person being baptized is under the water:
It was nice to see the white clothing, to watch the immersion, to sense the reverence, and to feel the joy of the newly cleansed:

Nice changing facilities are provided
There are many scriptural references at the site, but I don't remember seeing anything that claimed this was the actual baptismal place of Jesus. The entrance sign was a little vague:
I think being baptized in the same river as Jesus is enough for most people.

The description of Jesus's baptism from Mark 1:9-11 is presented in many different languages. The wall below shows Finnish, Icelandic, Romanian, Latvian, Polish, and . . .
. . . Hawaiian Pidgin, my favorite:
The best part is the words spoken by the Father: "You  my boy! I really get love an aloha fo you, an I stay good inside cuz a you!"

There are displays of previous baptisms and visits of important people:
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar (of the reality TV show 19 Kids and Counting) with the first seven of their kids:
Shimon Perez, the Jewish President of Israel, on the left, and Mr. Goodluck Jonathan (gotta love the name), the President of Nigeria from May 2010 to May 2015, on the right:
Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee:
For a mere $5, visitors can take a gallon of water home, but not in their carry on, of course. I'm not sure I'd want to put something this heavy and with potential leakage issues in my checked bag.
One of these smaller bottles might be a better option:
In the gloaming, the colors started to fade, and the scene took on a hazy, dream-like quality:
Overall, all the landscaping and fancy improvements to the shoreline didn't do much to help me visualize the baptism of Christ. It all felt very 20th century.  I much preferred the less manicured baptism site on the Jordan side of the river:
There were no people in white wading into this muddy but still beautiful section of the Jordan River, which was much further south than the site we had visited on the Israel side of the river, making it closer to what was probably John's "wilderness":


Like the fish on the far bank at Yardenit, there was a strange critter on the far bank here as well:
It was quite large, maybe the size of a full-grown beaver. Bob later determined that it was a nutria, aka coypu, an invasive aquatic rodent species not native to the Middle East.
Hmmm. For the first time I understand the practice of sprinkling water on a person's head vs. full immersion. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be dunked in this water.

The improvements at this site are generally much more in keeping with the historical events being highlighted--no fancy landscaping, no visitors center, no display cases:
Very natural, very peaceful:

It was a warm day, and it was nice to have this shaded walkway, perhaps just a bit more modern-looking than the rest of the site:

Mine-clearing operations in this area in the 1990s led to archaeological digs at this site, which revealed baptismal pools, chapels, and monks' caves. The area was opened as a tourist attraction in 2002. Many modern scholars and archaeologists agree that this is a likely site for the baptism of Jesus, and just this year (since our visit, in fact) UNESCO declared it (along with two churches on the site) a World Heritage Site. It's been given further credence because it matches the site shown on the Madaba map, and by the fact that three popes have visited the site in the last fifteen years.
A mosaic on the site shows the visit of John Paul II, accompanied by local leaders.
I think that is King Hussain standing in front in the dark suit. 
Signage at the site makes claims to the validity of this location:
Accounts from the fifth century describe this cruciform pool, accessed by a marble staircase, and identify it as a pilgrimage site for those who wanted to be baptized near the spot where Jesus was baptized:
The official Arab name of this area is "Al-Maghtas," which means "baptism." Others call it "Bethany Beyond the Jordan," a reference to the scripture in John 1:28 that reads: "These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing" (KJV). 

This looks like a modern baptismal font for those who aren't too thrilled about the muddy water and the swimming rodents:

Using another of the many informative murals, Isam explains the layout of the site:
Water comes to the site via the appropriately named "John the Baptist Spring":
I love the use of mosaics in Jordan. It seems to be their national art form. The setting for this one of the baptism (by sprinkling) is especially beautiful:

I have no idea what the mural below represents. Can anyone help me?

A shade structure covers the foundation of an ancient church that once sat on this site:
The foundation for a pillar and part of the mosaic floor remain:
Across the narrow chocolate-colored river is what Israel claims to be the actual baptismal site of Jesus (NOT Yardenit, the site I addressed at the beginning of this post). The only problem is that it is in an Israeli occupied part of the West Bank, a place that doesn't seem very tourist-friendly, although it is possible to arrange a visit there. Like the Jordan side, it has marble steps that descend into the river and ruins of Crusader and Byzantine churches. Here was our view looking at Israel from Jordan:
A modern building on the Israeli site:
. . . was guarded by soldiers (who do not make the best tour guides):
On our way back to the van, we stopped to admire the Orthodox Church of St. John the Baptist, constructed in 2003:
I wish we could have gone inside, but the door was locked.  And no, that's not the Leaning Bell Tower of Jordan; it's just trick photography:




This area is also associated with the crossing of the Jordan river by Joshua and the Israelites (see Joshua 3), and with the Prophet Elijah ascending to heaven in a chariot of fire (See 2 Kings 2). Therefore, it is a holy site for more than Christians. Christians dominate the area, however. In fact, there are plans to build a total of twelve Christian churches at this site. Land was granted to the churches for this specific purpose by the Baptism Site Commission and the "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan." I've seen different lists that in addition to the Orthodox church above include Anglican, Armenian, Coptic, Evangelical Lutheran, Ethiopian, Maronite, Syrian, and Catholic churches. Construction has begun for at least four of them:

On the left is the new Armenian Church, and on the right is the Coptic church:
Looking back as we left, we could see the Orthodox Church dome and bell tower:
The churches are close to what is called "Elijah's Hill," the place where Elijah was reportedly taken to heaven in a fiery whirlwind. 
The Christians have claimed this spot for themselves, indicated by the cross rising up from the top of the hill:
Like other places with Old Testament significance, I wonder how Jews and Muslims feel about that. While there aren't many (any?) Jews in Jordan, the country is 94% Muslim.
We were fortunate to be at this site when there were no other people around. It was a peaceful, thought-provoking place.

5 comments:

  1. I loved both these sites, even though they were very different. I like seeing the faith of those who would travel all this way to be baptized in the Jordan River, and I loved the quiet rustic-ness of the "real" site. Nothing beats the Pidgin Hawaiian.

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  2. I think your mystery mosaic is a pilgrim receiving the Eucharist from a priest. I would love to have a whole quad translated into Hawaian pidgin (or Liberian pidgin which is even more colorful - How da body? instead of How are you?). I know Mormons who brought back water form the Jordan to add to the baptismal font for grandkids - it would be easier to fill a nice bottle with Vegas tap water and just tell them it came from the Jordan. I have always loved the symbolism of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant actually stepping into the waters of the Jordan before the waters parted for the others to walk across on dry ground - like we often have to take a step into the dark before the Lord will light the right path to take.

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    1. Thanks for interpreting the mystery mosaic. As this is a pilgrimage site, that makes sense. Good insight into the Ark of the Covenant story. I have had that feeling of stepping into darkness. It is a hard thing to do.

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  3. Fun to have both baptism sites in the same post. I suspect that the water way back when was more like the water at the upper site. Lots of it now gets sucked up for use before it gets to the lower Jordan now.

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  4. It would be fun to be baptized where Jesus was baptized.

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