Jesus’ Baptismal Site to open to the public

According to this Jerusalem Post report, the site where Jesus was baptised will be opened to the public in 10 days’ time, on January 18, 2011. See also Todd Bolen’s report here.

When we tried to visit the site last year, following the signs for Qasr el-Yahud, we found that the road was blocked by a military fence and gate.

Leen at the road sign for the Baptismal Site
Military fence on the road to Bethabara

There was a sign which we ignored because we didn’t understand what “photgraphy” was!

View of Bethabara from the fence

It will be wonderful to visit this site, which has been off-limits for 42 years. The site where Jesus was baptised is called Bethabara in John 1.28. The Hebrew name Bethabara means the “Place of Crossing”. Not only was it a suitable place where travellers crossed the River Jordan opposite Jericho, but the name also indicates that it was the place where the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land after the death of Moses.

This drawing from our Image Library shows the location of the Camp of Israel in the Plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Numbers 33.48,49). Here, the scene is set for the crossing of the Israelites into the Promised Land. The place where they crossed the River Jordan is called Bethabara, where later Jesus was baptised (John 1.28).

The crossing of the Jordan is described in Joshua 3.15,16 (quotes from ESV):

“as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks othroughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho.”

The Ark Passes over the Jordan, by J. James Tissot (1836-1902)

Bethabara played an important role in the life of Jesus, as he returned there many times after his baptism. He went there, for example, after his rejection in Jerusalem during Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, “He went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode.” (John 10.40). “Beyond Jordan” is, of course, also the place where the Camp of Israel was located just before they entered the Promised Land! Undoubtedly this site had a strong impact on the mind of Jesus as he would have been very familiar with the Biblical events that took place there.

After Jesus was baptised, he was tempted in the wilderness nearby. He used the words of Deuteronomy to counter the temptations of the devil. Moses wrote the Book of Deuteronomy while Israel was encamped “beyond Jordan” (Deut. 31.9).

According to the Madaba map, Bethabara is on the west side of the Jordan (see white arrow)

After the crossing, Joshua commanded to take out 12 stones and place them in the next camping place, Gilgal: “these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever” (Joshua 4.7). As John was baptising here, he probably referred to these 12 stones when he said: “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3.9).

Bethabara features again in the book of Judges. To complete his victory over the Midianites, Gideon:

“sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb.” (Judges 7.24,25).

This victory is reflected in a psalm when David longed for the victory over Israel’s future enemies “Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb”, looking forward to a time when their adversaries would be confounded forever (Psalm 83.11,18).

And there are still further references in Scripture to Bethabara: During the rebellion of Absalom, King David crossed here and returned later via the same crossing place:

“So the king came back to the Jordan, and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring the king over the Jordan. ” (2 Samuel 19.15).

Bethabara is also the place where Elijah and Elisha went after leaving Jericho. There “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2.11).

Giovanni Battista's (1683-1754) painting of Elijah ascending in a whirlwind

A visit to this site will be a valuable addition to any tour of the Land. Needless to say, such a visit would be greatly enriched if it is with “Bible in hand”, in order to reflect on all the significant events that took place here. Hopefully I will be able to see the place from the other side, when I visit Tall el-Hammam in Jordan.

The Image Library is Online!

As promised, our new Image Library is now online!

Ritmeyer Archaeological Design Image Library

The blurb:

The Image Library of Ritmeyer Archaeological Design contains authoritative reconstruction drawings and models which you will not find on any other website. The photos of ancient sites in the lands of the Bible have also been taken through the informed lens of an archaeological architect. A treasure-trove for teachers, pastors, lecturers and picture editors, it is the result of years of experience digging and researching in Israel and traveling in the surrounding countries.

The Image Library is arranged in different categories and is fully searchable. The different categories are designed to help you find the picture you are looking for easily. All preview illustrations are watermarked, but these won’t appear on the downloads.

For ease of use, each image comes with a descriptive note and, where applicable, full Scripture references. With the explosion of information coming from excavations, we hope that this will become an ever-expanding resource vital for all who wish to incorporate both beauty and authenticity into their portrayal of the Bible background.

After talking about doing this for the past 10 years, we’ve finally done it! Let us know of any images you’d like to see added to the library…