This is quite a ‘rare’ image of the much-photographed Arch Church at Wadi Kharrar, Jordan (also known as the John Paul II Church). It is rare because there are no people in it. Normally this place is swarming with hundreds of tourists and pilgrims.
I had stopped in Amman for a day of meetings, and my hosts decided that I must see Jesus’ baptism site and the Dead Sea, south east of the capital, before I left Jordan the next morning. So they rushed me down to the Dead Sea after our meetings, stopping off at the baptism site at Wadi Kharrar on the way, but by the time we got there, the gates to the baptism site had closed. My hosts then spent about 15 minutes trying to persuade the curators to let us in because I had “come from the other side of the world and was only in Jordan for one day.” Somehow they managed to persuade them (I am not sure if any money changed hands!) and in the fading light a guide showed us around the archaeological diggings and the Arch Church where Pope John Paul II blessed the area in March 2000, not long after the area was first opened to the public.
This very simple ‘church’ – actually nothing more than a stone arch on a wooden platform – is where the Pope performed the blessing. It was an amazing experience to look over the archaeological diggings in complete solitude, after all the tourists had gone home, and then stand where the Pope had performed his blessing and watch the sun set over Jerusalem (which is on top of the range of hills on the horizon). It was too late to see the actual baptism site – my guide muttered something about the dangers of wild boar and trigger-happy Israelis on the other side of the river!
And now to the question posed in my title: The Jordanians claim Jesus was baptised on their side of the River Jordan, but the Israelis claim he was baptised on their side. I was told that the Israelis and Jordanians have “agreed to disagree”.
I found the following story relating to this ‘dispute’ in a back-copy of the Jordan Times:
“Jordanian archaeologists are convinced their site is the biblical ‘Bethany beyond the Jordan’ recorded in the Gospel of John, and have issued an open challenge to theological archaeologists to prove them wrong. Their theory is backed up by the discovery of an early Christian settlement at Tell Kharrar, a hill which rises out of the reed beds at the head of the Wadi Kharrar valley. A Byzantine monastery and three churches have been unearthed along with a series of shallow pools they believe were used for baptism when the site rapidly grew into a pilgrimage centre in early Christianity. The Vatican itself has given Wadi Kharrar a seal of approval with the Holy See's representative in Amman, Dominique Rezeau, saying Vatican theologians believe Jesus was ‘most probably’ baptised on the Jordanian side of the river, to the displeasure of Israel which is promoting two rival baptism sites on its side of the Jordan.”
PP: Cropped, contrast +6, saturation +9, USM.