Jesus' Baptism by John the "Immerser"
Spring, 29 AD

 

"The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 3:2-3).

Around the year 30 AD, at age 36, Jesus left his orthodox hometown of Nazareth and came to the Jordan River, along the main pilgrim route from Galilee to Jerusalem, where many people had been attracted to John. The son of an aged priest named Zechariah, and his wife Elizabeth, John was some 6 months older than Jesus, having been born about 7 BC. According to Luke, John's mother was a relative of Jesus' mother Mary (Jesus and John may have been second cousins).

John chose to retire to the Judean desert and to preach to those who came to him. With a roving band of followers, John offered to immerse his listeners in the "living water" of the Jordan, water that renewed and cleansed them in the eyes of God, thus preparing them for the coming of the Kingdom of God (see Zechariah 14:8). In Greek the term for this ritual purification is "baptizo," to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge, to make clean, to overwhelm:


"And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey" (Mark 1:4-6).


In the gospels, John takes the role of a prophet called to testify that Jesus was the promised Messiah (Hebrew mashiyach; Greek christos meaning "anointed"). Then, as so many times before, the Jews were awaiting the coming of the Messiah, believing that he would deliver them from Roman oppression and be an ideal national leader, like Judah Maccabeus of the Hasmon family of priests, who led a successful rebellion against the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV "Epiphanes" in 164 BC, and established a brief period of independence under the Hasmonean dynasty. The people expected this leader to establish a secular kingdom, not a spiritual  one. Because of this misconception, John was called to prepare the way.

John's hermit lifestyle, rough clothing and diet were by no means offensive to the throngs of people who came to hear him. Cloth of camel hair, a loosely woven fabric, allowed water to penetrate the garment during immersion, ensuring full contact of the body with the water. His diet of locusts and honey also reflected a concern for maintaining ritual purity; they were not man-made or cultivated and were among the clean foods (Leviticus 11:21-22). Furthermore, according to Luke 7:33 and Matthew 11:18, he also "came neither eating bread nor drinking wine." Thus he ran no risk of violating the laws of kashruth (kosher) and by his simple lifestyle he became a visual protest against self-indulgence. In fact, according to one ancient writing, there were 800 kinds of edible locust. Some were cooked quickly in salt-water, which gave them a shrimp-like taste and color. Sometimes they were dried in the sun, minus heads and legs, and mixed with honey or vinegar, or ground to powder and mixed with flour for making biscuits.

Sadducees perhaps attracted by curiosity and skepticism and Pharisees possibly expecting words of praise for their numerous customs and practices and anxious to see which of the rival sects the prophet would commend left their comfortable homes in Jerusalem, headed 20 miles eastward to the Jordan River valley, following the dusty Wadi Qelt road through the Judean desert. But John exposed their hypocrisy. Drawing on images from his surroundings, he rebuked them...


"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:7-9).


In response, some of his listeners asked: "What should we do then?" Probably some were wealthy, especially those coming from nearby Jericho; according to the custom of people at the time they would have been clad in two tunics. John answered them...


"The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same" (Luke 3:11).


Undoubtedly some were tax collectors, like the diminutive Zacchaeus Jesus later encountered in Jericho while on his way to Jerusalem. John told them...


"Don't collect any more than you are required to" (Luke 3:13).


To some soldiers (probably Jewish police officers) he recommended...


"Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely be content with your pay" (Luke 3:14).


To summarize, John cautioned his Jewish listeners against claiming special privileges as descendants of Abraham ("God's Chosen People"), and urged everyone to be faithful and honest in the performance of their duties and to humbly confess their sins.

John's baptism ministry had grown so popular that he has become known throughout Judea as John the Baptist, or Immerser. The Jews in the 1st century AD were accustomed to ritual bathing. Immersions in ritual baths called miqvot (singular miqvah) were a necessary part of daily life to restore people to ritual purity. Gentile converts to Judaism washed themselves as a form of ceremonial cleansing. The Essenes, a sect living a monastic lifestyle near the Dead Sea, also practiced ritual washings, and it has often been suggested that John grew up among them. This theory, while attractive, cannot be proven. While John's baptism may owe something to their practices, his baptism was new and unique. It was a washing away of the old sinful life in preparation for the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of God's kingdom.

Why did so many sophisticated city people go out of their way to be taught by this rough man of the wilderness whose preaching was harsh and demanding? It seems that his very lifestyle and outspoken manner reminded them of Elijah, the fiery desert prophet of nine centuries earlier. Elijah didn't die, but was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot. Maybe, the people thought Elijah had returned to earth to prepare them for the day of the Lord, as Malachi had prophesied:


"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse" (Malachi 4:5-6).


Whatever his appeal, John's ministry was given the highest possible honor when Jesus himself came to be baptized by John. Why did Jesus, who was sinless and had no need to repent, come to John to be baptized in the shallow, muddy flow of the Jordan River? Because, for the Jews, the Jordan was an important symbol of new beginnings, salvation and hope. After forty years of wandering in the desert Joshua led the Children of Israel across the Jordan into the Promised Land. Their exodus journey was complete; at last they had crossed into their new home. And just as Moses handed the torch to Joshua, who then took the Israelites across the Jordan to a new beginning, John pointed to Jesus who would take the people forward to a new relationship with God. Jesus' baptism served as a dramatic confirmation that he was indeed the son of God. As Mark stated:


"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased'" (Mark 1:9-11).


John' Gospel, however, says nothing about the baptism of Jesus. Instead, he has Jesus suddenly coming to John the Baptist, who is the first to bear witness to Jesus, and attests that he is the son of God:


"Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel...I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God" (John 1:29-31, 34).



In the footsteps of Jesus...


The exact site of Jesus' baptism is unknown. Matthew states only that John baptized "in the Jordan River" (Matthew 3:6); Mark gives the locale as "in the desert region...in the Jordan River" (Mark 1:4,5); Luke gives the scene of John's activity as "all the country around the Jordan" (Luke 3:3). Only John's Gospel gives us a specific location where John baptized Jesus:


"This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing" (John 1:28).


Of the Gospel writers, John is seen as the most precise in his descriptions of the locales of events in Jesus' life. For example, in his account of Jesus healing a man crippled for 38 years, he gives the location as a pool "near the Sheep Gate...which in Aramaic is called Bethesda." (John 5:2) Furthermore, he locates the interrogation of Jesus by Pontius Pilate "at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha)." (John 19:13) If John's description "on the other side of the Jordan" is taken literally, the Bethany where John baptized would have been located somewhere on the east bank of the Jordan River, in the region known as Perea, ruled by Herod Antipas in Jesus' day (now part of the kingdom of Jordan). This Bethany is not to be confused with the village of the same name described in John 11:18 as located "less than two miles from Jerusalem" where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

We may never know the actual place where John baptized Jesus. Yet, today there are two "official" sites commemorating this significant event, one in Israel, another directly east in Jordan:


Qasr al-Yahud


On the west bank of the Jordan, 5 miles north of the Dead Sea and east of Jericho, is Qasr al-Yahud. It features a Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. John built in the 5th century AD and Franciscan chapel from 1933. In the past this Israeli site lay within a militarized zone and was accessible to visitors only three times a year. Pope John Paul II visited Qasr al-Yahud on March 22, 2000 during his Holy Land pilgrimage and soon afterward plans where announced to renovate the site and clear land mines along both sides of the access road to make it more accessible to pilgrims. The Greek Orthodox Church welcomed Israel's decision.

Qasr al-Yahud (above left) the Israeli site on the west bank of the Jordan River
commemorating the baptism of Jesus; (above right) Jordan River at Qasr al-Yahud

As for the other "official" site: Over a three-year period, archaeologists with the Jordanian Department of Antiquities systematically surveyed and excavated a series of ancient sites on the opposite bank of the Jordan from Qasr al-Yahud. They claim to have located the settlement and region of "Bethany on the other side of the Jordan" referenced in John 1:28 where John baptized Jesus.

The area comprises the entire length of the Wadi el-Kharrar ("murmuring spring"), a lush, 1.2 mile-long perennial riverbed that starts at the natural springs and oasis at Tell al-Kharrar, and winds its way westward towards the Jordan River. In Arabic it is called al-Maghtas. Just 45 minutes by car from the Jordanian capital of Amman (the Decapolis city of Philadelphia at the time of Jesus), the Roman Catholic Church has placed al-Maghtas on the list of five official pilgrimage sites in Jordan. But a Vatican representative stated that only the river in which Jesus was baptized matters, not the specific site. Because of its proximity to the Israel/Jordan border and the land mines in the area left from the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, al-Maghtas was previously off limits. However, since the excavations of the late 1990s, the site has been extensively developed by the Jordan Tourism Authority.


Wadi el-Kharrar/Al-Maghtas


To reach Wadi el-Kharrar, you head east from Jericho on Route 449, and drive 5 miles to the Allenby Bridge. Known as Jisr al-Malek al-Hussein (King Hussein Bridge) to Jordanians and Palestinians, it is the main crossing point over the Jordan River between Palestine ("West Bank") and Jordan. Originally built by the British army in 1918, it was destroyed 1967 Six-Day War, but was replaced in 1968 with a temporary truss-type bridge. The unimpressive structure was rebuilt at a cost of nearly ten million dollars, increasing the number of lanes from two to four (below left).

About three-quarter-mile east of the the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge crossing, a road leads south to Wadi el-Kharrar (above, satellite view; below, overall view). Wadi Kharrar is a small tributary of the Jordan River fed by about five springs, which tradition provided the water used by John the Baptist. Twenty-one Christian sites have been uncovered in the area, including the remains of a prayer hall, several churches, a water system, a number of pools, a cistern and caves used as churches by monks. (Below right) "dueling" baptism sites on opposite sides of the Jordan River: looking from el-Maghtas/Wadi el Kharrar in Jordan toward Qasr al-Yehud in Israel.

Near the place where Wadi Kharrar flows into the Jordan River, it becomes clear what inspired the term "Jordan's thickets" in Jeremiah 49:19. The dry desert turns tropical as the paths lead into a thicket of reeds and tamarisk bushes. The air is filled with the sounds of birds, buzzing insects and running water from the fourteen springs flowing all around. (Below left) unimpressive Jordan River at Wadi el-Kharrar; (below right) trail through heavy thicket along the Jordan.

"Bethany beyond the Jordan" is only mentioned in John's Gospel. In John 1:28 the best and earliest Greek manuscripts read "Bethany," as well as a variant reading of "Bethabara," meaning "house of the crossing" (Arabic Beit el-Obour; Beit Anya in Arabic language Bibles).

In the 3rd century AD, the early church father Origen, a resident of Palestine, could not find a location named Bethany on the eastern bank of the Jordan, and he suggested that John 1:28 should really be read "Bethabara." Many later New Testament manuscripts include this change, which was incorporated in the King James Version of the Bible:


"These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing" (John 1:28, KJV).


Both St. Jerome and the 4th century AD historian Eusebius identified the site as an integral part of the early Christian pilgrimage route between Jerusalem and Mount Nebo, where Moses viewed the Promised Land. It also appears under the name "Saphasaphon" or "Saphsaphas" (from Hebrew tsaphtsaphah meaning "willow tree") on the famous 6th century AD mosaic map of the Holy Land in the Church of St. George at Madaba, Jordan. However, on the Madaba map, the baptism site is shown on the west side of the Jordan and depicts a church dedicated to John the Baptist. Although Byzantine writings indicate that the patriarch Elias of Jerusalem built a church and monastery on the east side of the river in the 6th century AD, the Madaba map doesn't show it. Pilgrims, however, mentioned two churches, one on the east side and one on the west. During the Crusades the east bank fell into Muslim hands, and pilgrims feared crossing the river. Gradually the shrines there were abandoned.

(Below left) preserved remains of the Church of St. John the Baptist; (below right) aerial view of Elijah's Hill (Jeber Mar Elias in Arabic), because the area is also associated with the ascension of the prophet Elijah "to heaven in a whirlwind" (2 Kings 2:11) after crossing to the other side of the Jordan River. The arch in the lower left corner is called "Church of the Arch of Pope John Paul II," who inaugurated the site during his visit to Jordan, March 2000. It was built for the pope's visit on site of a 5th-6th century AD church.


Death of John the Baptist


According to Josephus, after his arrest by Herod Antipas, John was imprisoned at the tetrarch's fortress-palace of Machaerus (below left and right), perched on an isolated 2,200-foot-high mountain (Qal at al-Mishnaqa, in Arabic) in the region of Perea east of the Dead Sea, overlooking the hot springs of Ma'in, some 15 miles southeast of the mouth of the Jordan River. To the north are the ruins of the Roman-Byzantine village of Mukawir, Jordan, which preserves the ancient name.

About 100 BC, the naturally defended site was chosen by the Hasmonian ruler, Alexander Janneus, to build a fortress; it was demolished by Gabinius (57 BC). Aristobulus and his son Alexander sought refuge among the ruins. Around 30 BC, Herod the Great rebuilt the fortress and upon his death, his son Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Perea and Galilee, inherited it.

Now desolate, the mount of Machaerus is a long hot walk from the nearest road. The Bedouins call the deserted place "al-Mashnaka," the "Hanging Palace," and originally it was quite different from the mountaintop ruin seen today. The area itself may have been more hospitable; over-grazing and deforestation have taken their toll on the southern mountains of Moab. Machaerus consisted of an upper city on the top of the mountain, and the lower city built on the steep northern slope (similar to the Herodium, another of Herod the Great's fortress-palaces, near Bethlehem). The upper city was composed of the royal palace defended by four towers, of which only three have been identified. The lower and upper city were reached from the east via a 50-foot-high bridge which connected the fortress to a high plateau. It also served as an aqueduct diverting rain water to cisterns hewn in the northern slope of the mountain. The greatest attraction of Machaerus was the stunning panorama of the surrounding countryside, the Dead Sea, and the Judean desert. On a clear night one could easily make out the lights of Jerusalem and Jericho. The palace also had a walled garden filled with fig trees where vines dripped down upon reclining dignitaries and guests of Antipas, relaxing in the palace's many baths an appropriate setting for the end of John the Baptist's life.

We are not told when or under what circumstances John met Herod Antipas, but from the synoptic Gospels we learn that Herod, swayed by his wife, Herodias, "bound him and put him in prison" (Matthew 14:3).

According to Mark, "Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him." (Mark 6:19-20).

Why did Herodias want John killed? It all stemmed back to a trip Antipas made to Rome, where he got to know his cousin, Herodias, who also happened to be the wife of his half-brother, Philip (not the tetrarch mentioned in Luke 3:1 who ruled over Gaulanitis, but another son of his father Herod the Great, also named Philip, but not mentioned in the Bible). Antipas became enamored with Herodias, divorced his first wife and wooed her away from Philip. According to the Gospels John denounced the union because, according to Mosaic law, marriage to a sister-in-law was forbidden. But in the eyes of the enraged Herodias John's condemnation could only be expiated by his death.

Josephus tells us another story, containing perhaps also an element of truth: "As great crowds clustered around John, Herod became afraid lest the Baptist should abuse his moral authority over them to incite them to rebellion, as they would do anything at his bidding; therefore he thought it wiser, so as to prevent possible happenings, to take away the dangerous preacher...and he imprisoned him in the fortress of Machaerus." (Antiquities of the Jews)

While John was being held at Machaerus some of his disciples kept him informed of events. He thus learned of the wonders wrought by Jesus. Accordingly, he sent them to Jesus to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

"Jesus replied, 'Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor'" (Matthew 11:4-5).

Probably for some time John languished in the fortress of Machaerus; but Herodias' anger never abated and she bided her time seeking an opportunity to have John executed. Finally her opportunity came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his "high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee." When Herodias' daughter (Josephus gives her name as Salome) "came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, 'Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you.' And he promised her with an oath, 'Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.' She went out and said to her mother, 'What shall I ask for?' 'The head of John the Baptist,' she answered. At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: 'I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.' The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother." (Mark 6:22-28) John's disciples, upon hearing of his death, "came and took his body and laid it in a tomb." (Mark 6:29)

Antipas' unjustifiable execution of John shocked the Jews; they attributed his later defeat by Aretas, his rightful father-in-law, to divine vengeance. In 36 AD, Aretas made war on Antipas for having divorced his daughter, with such success that he completely destroyed his army. Afterward, this same Aretas ruled over the region of Damascus (how it came to control it we do not know), and placed an ethnarch (governor) over the city, who attempted to capture Paul (referenced in 2 Corinthians 11:32).

John's movement did not stop after his death. The lasting impression made by John is best illustrated by the awe that seized Herod Antipas when he heard reports about Jesus and thought that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead (Luke 9:7). Furthermore, the book of Acts indicates that his teaching had been carried as far north as Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia (western Turkey) and south to Alexandria in Egypt (Acts 18:24-25). Quite independently so does Josephus.


John's burial place


An old tradition holds that John was buried at Sebaste (OT Samaria; modern Arab village of Sabastiya, 7 miles northwest of Nablus, in the "West Bank").

But if there be any truth in Josephus' assertion that John was put to death at Machaerus, it is hard to understand why he was buried so far from the Herodian fortress. At any rate, about the middle of the 4th century AD, his tomb was honored there, as we are informed by Rufinus and Theodoretus, who add that the shrine was desecrated under Julian the Apostate (c. 362 AD), the bones being partly burned. A portion of the rescued relics were carried to Jerusalem, then to Alexandria, Egypt where, on May 27, 395 AD, they were placed in a basilica dedicated to John on the site of a once famous temple of Serapis. However, the tomb at Sebaste continued as a pilgrimage site.

Muslims hold that the head of John the Baptist, whom they rank as a prophet, is preserved in a shrine within the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, Syria, built between 705 and 715 by the Caliph al-Walid I. The mosque stands on the site of an earlier Temple of Jupiter, converted to a Christian church dedicated to John the Baptist, probably during the rule of Emperor Theodosius (379-395 AD).  

(Below left) remains of the Church of St. John at Sabastiya (ancient Samaria); the supposed burial place of John the Baptist's head; (below right) Shrine of St. John (Yahya in Arabic and in the Qur'an) inside the Umayyad Mosque, Damascus.

 

Additional insights

 


Jordan River


The Jordan is a narrow river, not much more than a desert stream. Yet, it played a significant role in several important Biblical events. Despite its narrowness, it presented an impassible barrier for the Children of Israel when crossing into the land of Canaan after the Exodus. Only a miracle enabled them to ford it. Healing powers have been attributed to its waters since at least the time of the prophet Elisha, who cured a leper there (2 Kings 5:10-14). In the New Testament, the Jordan was where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Christian tradition, since at least from the 6th century AD, has placed Jesus' baptism near Jericho, 4 miles north of where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea.

The largest river in Palestine, the Jordan flows through part of the Syro-African rift, a huge geological fault in the earth's crust the deepest valley on earth. Snow, rain and dew falling on 9,200 foot Mount Hermon seep deeply into the ground. At the foot of the mountain, the water emerges as springs that quickly form three main streams the Banias (or Hermon) River, the Dan (or Leddan) River, and the Hasbani (or Senir) River. These streams join near Kibbutz Sede Nehemya, above the northern end to the marshy Hula Valley, forming the narrow, shallow, meandering Jordan River.

The river flows southward about seven miles before entering Lake Hula, a small, triangular body of water, some 230 feet above sea level. The vegetation consists of reeds, bulrushes, high grass and papyrus used for making paper in the ancient world.

Leaving Lake Hula, the Jordan flows about 10 miles to the Sea of Galilee. Over this short stretch it descends to almost 700 feet below sea level and for seven of these miles it cuts its way through a gorge of black basalt rock (right) tumbling and cascading continually, and changing its appearance from clear to muddy.

The Sea of Galilee is a heart-shaped lake measuring 13 miles long by 8 miles wide and reaches depths of 150 feet. It is hemmed in by hills around its entire perimeter, with only occasional stretches of plain.

At the southern tip of the lake, the Jordan spills over and resumes its southward flow, twisting and turning its way in a meandering course to the Dead Sea. This stretch of the river is the one that appears most often in the Biblical narratives. Averaging about 5 feet deep and thirty feet wide, the little river ambles along a twisting winding path, leading through citrus groves and other semi-tropical vegetation while willow trees drape their limbs over the water in profusion. Over this stretch between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea it drops about 590 feet, an average of 9 feet per mile, and meanders two hundred miles, though the direct distance is only sixty-five miles. It is dirty and brown in color and not at all beautiful. The length below the Sea of Galilee is the only place the river has any tributaries the Yarmuk from the east, the Jalud from the northwest, then the Jurm, Yabis, Kufrinjeh, Rajib and Jabbok. Many cities were built close to these points of junction, such as Adam, Succoth, Zaphon, Zarethan, Jabesh-gilead and Pella (on the east side), and Jericho, Gilgal and Beth Shan (on the west). Explorations have uncovered at least 70 places where people have lived and worked along its banks

The closer the river gets to the Dead Sea, the more its valley becomes divided into levels. The lowest, called Zor in Arabic, is a deep trench. Both sides are covered by an impenetrable jungle of tamarisks, oleanders, willows, poplars, thorns, thistles and vines. On either side of the Zor are desolate hills in all sorts of shapes and forms, completely unsuitable for cultivation. These lead up on both sides to the highest part of the valley, the Ghor, a fertile area that slopes downward from the cliffs that hem in the valley

All total, the Jordan is some 310 miles long and descends from 1700 feet above sea level at is sources to just under 700 feet below sea level at the Sea of Galilee, to 1290 feet below sea level when it enters the Dead Sea, the lowest point of the surface of the earth, where the water escapes only by evaporation. In fact, Jordan, from Hebrew Yarden, means "descender."


The accounts of travelers who visited the area from the 4th century AD to the present day provide some useful information on the al-Maghtas site:


In the itinerary of the Bordeaux pilgrim (333 AD): "From the Jordan where the Lord was baptized by John, is five miles. Here there is a place by the river, a little hill on the far bank, where Elijah was caught up into heaven."

According to Theodosius (530 AD): "In the place where the Lord was baptized there is a single marble pillar and on the pillar on the iron cross has been fastened. There too the church of St. John which the emperor Anastasius built; this church is very lofty, being built above layer chambers, on account of Jordan when it overflows. Monks live in this church who receive six solidi annually from treasury as a means of livelihood."

Antoninus Martyr (560-570 AD) mentioned: "On that side of Jordan is the fountain where John used to baptize. From it to the Jordan is two miles. In the valley itself Elias was found where the raven used to bring him bread and meat. On the side of the valley lives a multitude of hermits."

The anonymous pilgrim from Piacenza, Italy (570 AD) said: "We arrived at place where the Lord was baptized. This is the place where Elijah was taken up. In that place is the little hill of Hermon. In that part of the Jordan is the spring where St. John used to baptize, and which is two miles from the Jordan, and Elijah was in that valley when the raven brought him bread and meat, the whole valley is full of hermits." Piacenza pilgrim had the opportunity to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany at the river together with the Christians of the region. He further related: "I celebrated Epiphany at the Jordan At the spot where the Lord was baptized, there is an obelisk surrounded by a screen, and in the water, where the river turned back on its bed, stands a wooden cross. On both banks there are marble steps leading down to the water"

In the 7th century AD, the pilgrim Arculf wrote about his visit to the site: "The holy, venerable spot at which the Lord was baptized by John is permanently covered by the water of the River Jordan." Arculf, who swam across the river in both directions, says that "a tall wooden cross has been set up on the holy place... A strong man using a sling can throw a stone from there to the far bank on the Arabian side. From this cross a stone causeway supported on arches stretches to the bank, and people approaching the cross go down a ramp and return up by it to reach the bank. Right at the river's edge stands a small rectangular church which was built, so it is said, at the place where the Lord's clothes were placed when he was baptized. The fact that it is supported on four stone vaults, makes it usable, since the water, which comes in from all sides, is underneath it. It has a tiled roof. This remarkable church is supported, as we have said, by arches and vaults, and stands in the lower part of the valley through which the Jordan flows. But in the upper part there is a great monastery for monks, which has been built on the brow of a small hill nearby, overlooking the church. There is also a church built there in honor of Saint John Baptist which, together with the monastery, is enclosed in a single masonry wall."

Willibalad (721-727 AD) said: "They next went to the monastery of St. John the Baptist. At a distance of a mile from the monastery he went to the spot in the river Jordan where our Lord was Zenith. Here is now a church raised upon stone columns and under the church it is now dry land where our Lord was baptized. A wooden cross stands in the middle of the river, a rope is extended to it over the Jordan."

The Russian pilgrim Abbot Danial (1106-1107 AD) said: "On the other side of Jordan near the bathing place there is sort of forest of little trees like the willow. And not far from the river a couple of bow-shots to the east is place where prophet Elias was carried to heaven in a chariot of fire and here too is the cave of St. John the Baptist. A beautiful stream of water, which flows over pebbles into the Jordan, was found here, the water is very sweet and very cold. And John the forerunner of Christ drank it, when he inhabited this sacred cavern."

John Phocas (1135 AD) mentioned: "Beyond the Jordan opposite to the place of our Lord's baptism, is much brushwood, in the midst of which, at the distance of about one stadium, is the grotto of John the Baptist which is very small, and not capable of containing a well-built man standing up right, and opposite this, in the depth of the desert is another grotto, in which the prophet Elias dwelt when he was carried off by the fiery chariot."


Jesus' Life Home n Temptation in the Judean desert