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“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.”
(Matt 3: 13, New International Version)
This site, Bethany beyond the Jordan, was visited by Pope John Paul II in March 2000, and named by him as the number one of eight holy sites that all Christians should try to visit.
It is recognized as the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Excavation of the site in 1996 after land mines were removed confirmed this as the spot where John the Baptist lived and carried out his baptisms.
Jordan and Israel have been at peace for 25 years, but tourists have been able to visit the site only since the early part of this decade. Tourism buses must pass through military checkpoints to enter the site, which is patrolled by soldiers.
The nearby Jordan River, which is mentioned in the Bible 185 times, is now a brown, stagnant, polluted creek since its former source, the Sea of Galilee, was dammed in the 1960s. It was closed off during a short war in 1967, its banks heavily mined. While a 1994 peace treaty called for the river to be restored, its current flow is only about two per cent of the level prior to the 1967 conflict.
A recent article in Christianity Today magazine notes efforts by Christian environmentalists to clean up the river and asks whether restoring the Jordan River could build peace in the region. The river once fed the Dead Sea, which is now shrinking by about a metre a year. ◆