Flowing south from its sources in the mountainous area where Israel, Syria and Lebanon come together, the Jordan River passes through the Sea of Galilee and ends in the Dead Sea. A large portion of its length forms the border between Israel and Jordan in the north and the West Bank and Jordan in the south.
The Jordan River runs through the land and history of the Bible, giving its waters a spiritual significance that sets it apart from other rivers. John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the waters of the Jordan. The prophets, Elijah and Elisha, crossed the river dry-shod; and the Syrian general Naaman was healed of leprosy after washing in the Jordan at Elisha’s direction.
The place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist is believed to be in the country of Jordan, on the east bank of a large loop in the river opposite Jericho. It has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site. A site less than 2 miles east of the river’s present course, at Wadi Al-Kharrar, has been identified as Bethany Beyond the Jordan. This is where John lived and baptized. Until the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, this area was a Jordanian military zone. Since then, the Jordanian government has made the place accessible to archaeologists, pilgrims and tourists.
Jordan’s new Baptism Archaeological Park contains the remains of a Byzantine-era monastery featuring at least four churches, one of which is built around a cave believed to be the one that ancient pilgrims called “the cave of John the Baptist”.
During the time that the Jordanian location was inaccessible, a modern site commemorating Christ’s baptism was established at Yardenit in Israel, at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. It is a popular place for Christian pilgrims to renew their baptismal promises — or for new Christians to be baptized.
Baptism’s can also be held at Qasr al-Yahud, which is closer to the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism (across the Jordan River from the Jordanian site) just east of Jericho.