Monday, May 16, 2016

A visit to the Baptism Site from the Jordanian side

This is the second of my posts about our Jordanian Odyssey because this particular aspect of our visit deserves a post in its own right.

Even if you're not particularly religious, the place known as the Baptism Site, where Jesus is believed to have been baptised by John the Baptist, is something worth doing. Particularly in the light of news that broke yesterday that the site, most of which has been a no go area for nearly 50 years thanks to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is finally to be cleared of land mines.

Church built to honour the site, with more likely to follow, I expect, after mine clearance

The site, as those of you who have good bible knowledge will know, is on the River Jordan. It's 25 miles or so west of Amman, at a place called Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan. A small part of it was declared safe and reopened to the public in 2011 - the part which Him Indoors, Desert Baby and I went to late last year - now the rest of it will hopefully be open to the public too, post mine clearance efforts by a Christian charity. To get there, you'll need to drive to the site entrance, buy a ticket and await a small tour bus which, from memory, travels to the site itself once per hour with a guide. There is a fair bit of walking to be done on uneven ground around it, but many of the walkways are shaded from the sun.

As you can see, the site where the baptism itself is believed to have taken place, is not much to look at. The river's course has changed over the centuries, so what you're looking at here is the remains of an archaelogical dig. The structure behind is the shelter built over another dig of an ancient church.

Him Indoors told me first thing this morning that he had just heard on the news that the site was to be cleared of mines, perturbed that we had taken Desert Baby within spitting distance of deadly IEDs during our family holiday. It's not quite as bad as it sounds as the part of the site we saw had been declared safe and visited without incident for five years and the guides there are pretty strict with you, that on no account are you to stray from the paths. There's a phrase about holes and stop digging that is thundering through my head as I write, and I'm not referring to archaeology.


Pilgrims visit regularly, and you can take part in a baptism on the part of the river that now flows closest to the site. This is what these folk are doing on the side of the river our guide referred to as Occupied Palestine, as the thing about the River Jordan, you see, is it effectively forms the border between the two states.

Here they are arriving with a rather heavily armed soldier keeping watch above:

 And here's his equivalent on the Jordanian side:

So basically, there's no messing about.

I did feel, the whole time I was there, that was I under surveillance, that someone may have gun sights trained on me from some long range watch tower. And as we turned and walked away from the narrow, sandy river and prepared to leave, I felt a desire to roar or weep, I wasn't sure which.

I am a pacifist by nature, so it's possible that proximity to heavy weaponry at a site of enormous religious significance with my nine-month-old offspring in tow was what troubled me, or that I was moved by the sound of the pilgrims singing a hymn on the other side of the river. I suppose that's it - the significance of  phrase "the other side of the river" sounds as super loud in my head today as it did then.

The thing is, even those of a faith as lapsed as mine will know that Jesus preached peace and love. Therefore the sight, on both sides of the border, of men with guns capable of ripping a person apart at the place where he was baptised, filled me with something approaching horror.

This makes it sound like I didn't enjoy the visit. I suppose "enjoy" is the wrong word, for something that provoked such feelings. But I think no matter what your faith, or if you have none at all, you can appreciate the importance of the place, and I would recommend seeing it.

In the mean time, here's a picture of a cute baby to lighten the mood:

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