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                                                                                      Baptism Site

The area was most visited by ancient pilgrims in Transjordan is that which extends, opposite Jericho, from the east bank of the river to the sanctuary of Moses on Mount Nebo. They were attracted to the places along the Jordan river in the territory of Livias, which were connected with the memory of the baptism of Jesus and the preaching of John the Baptist, as well as to the places, further inland, which were related to the final episodes of the life and mission of Moses in the territory of Madaba.

Both groups of sanctuaries were located along the Livias-Esbus sector of the Roman road connecting Jerusalem to the Via Nova Traiana on the Jordanian high-plateau.

According to Pliny, the Essences were located on the western side of the Dead-Sea. Recently, some ruins with the famous Dead-Sea scrolls were found there. It was here, in this wilderness where John made his public appearance, just a few miles around all north eastern and western shores of the Dead Sea and along both sides of the southern parts of Jordan River.

The area of this wilderness is located thirty kilometers from northern Shuneh south of Ez-Zara near Machaerus.
It was the center of several events that happened there, it includs many important archaeological sites such as: Wadi Kharrar, Tell er-Rameh, Tell-Nimrin, Tell-Ilktana, Tell-Kafrei, Tell el-Hammam, Tell e-Tahuneh, Wadi el-Kafrien sites, Kh-Swimeh and Ez-Zara. Barren terraces of marl, especially to the east where the steep hills of Balqa and Madaba lay, surround the area.

The rock consists of lissan marl, with thin alternating layers of chalk, clay, sand, and pebbles. The soil was formed partly out of lissan marl and partly from the large amounts of erosive material carried along the riverbeds from the western and eastern beds, These fertile allurial soils are utilized for various agricultural crops.

Historical Background: The archaeology of the Baptism site region (al-Maghtas) was barely known previously; some useful information may be extracted from travelers who had visited the area from the forth century AD until this day:

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".

The Roman five miles equal to four and one-half English miles, and from the Dead Sea up stream.One could reach the excavated church. Regarding the little hill on the eastern side, it would be the mount of St. Elijah or Jeber Mar Elias, which is recently called Tell el-Kharrar lying in the Wadi el-Kharrar- Ghor el Kafrein. This hill, the Bordeaux pilgrim has apparently placed on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, and is associated with the little hill whence Elijah was caught up to heaven.

From the anonymous life of Constantine, St. Helena in the holy places 260-340 AD mentioned "then she reached the River Jordan in which our Christ and God was baptized for our salvation, and when she had crossed the Jordan and found the cave in which the fore runner used to live, she caused a church to be made in the name of John the Baptist". Facing the cave is a raised place at which St. Elias was caught up to heaven, and there she decreed that there should be an impressive sanctuary in the name of prophet Elias ( )".

Jermo around (404AD) clearly refers to the same place, and connects it with the spot were Elijah went over Jordan on dry gournd.

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 lotty, 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".

Where the Lord was baptized beyond Jordan there is a little mountain called Hermon. There holy Elijah was caught up. Here also he referred to the eastern bank of the River where was the little hill.

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".

Piacenza (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".

Arculf (670 AD). Went to the place where the Lord was baptized, according to his description "The honorable place, in which the Lord was baptized by John, is always covered by the water of the river Jordan; and in that place a wooden cross has been fixed. The site of that cross where the Lord was baptized, is on the other side of the bed of the river, while at the edge of the river there is a small church, where as said, the garments of the Lord were taken care of. This basilica stands above the water, so as to be uninhabitable, since the water flow under it on both sides and is supported on four stone vaults and arches. On the higher ground there is another church in honor of St. John the Baptist".

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". Here he says that the place where Christ was baptized was over a mile from the monastery of St. John.

Saewulf (1102-1103 AD ) " On the other side Jordan is Arabia, most hostile to Christians, and hopeful to all who worship God, in which is the mountain where Elijah was carried into heaven in fiery chariot.

The Russian pilgrim Abbot Danial (1106-1107) 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 (p.29) 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 (1135AD) 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.

It is clear that all the texts show that the buildings were on the eastern side of the River Jordan.

The church of John the Baptist, built by Anastasius, has been washed away. The builders of this church tried to protect the body of the church by using arch and vault system to enable the water of the River Jordan during flood time as well as the water of the spring (John the Baptist spring) to go underneath without effecting the church. In spite that, the church was destroyed by the River flood and the earthquakes and most of its remains had been washed away.

A period of time passed before a small church was built. Until 1900 there were ruins of a church on the eastern bank, those had been washed away as well. Possibly it is the one, which the Greeks had wished to dedicate to St. Mary of Egypt. Whether this chapel has been finished or not is not clear, in fact, it was destroyed and most of its stones were removed by the local people.

At the beginning of this period many things have changed regarding the topography of the eastern side of the River Jordan. Without doubt depending on the description of the pilgrims and the archaeological excavations the bed of the River changed its bed. The discovered Archaeological remains of these early monuments are still to be traced a short distance to the east of the traditional place of baptism on the River Jordan, which lies approximately less than 300 meters.

It is possible to say that the Persian devastation, the river flood and the Entrance of Islam put an end to the Byzantine buildings on the eastern bank of the River Jordan particularly in the Wadi al-Kharrar area.

Arculf (670) was the first to refer this turning who saw a small church on the higher ground; whether he means one of the discovered churches on Tel el-Kharar or another church on the western side of the River Jordan is still to be investigated. After 670, gradually, baptism was gradually practiced in the western side. Although the remains of the churches on the eastern side cannot be seen, still the pilgrims continued their journeys to the eastern side describing the trees, plants and springs.