The Infant Bath of Jesus
Inside the Infant Bath of Jesus
Location - The Church of the Nativity
Map Coordinates - 31.704261, 35.207363
The Infant Bath of Jesus is not open to the public, but it is an archeological site that is worthy of mention in this book. About 30 feet behind the place where Jesus was born is an ancient cistern where it is said that Jesus received His first bath.
There is also clear evidence that the Byzantine church created a small chapel on the site, and that the Crusaders had later aided in its development. Today the chapel is walled off from the rest of the cave complex, whereas, in the first century, it was probably directly accessible to the place where Jesus was born.
In the first century there was a system of interconnected caves under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Since then, some of those caves have had stone walls constructed, separating them from other areas of the cave, and that is the case here.
The first room that you enter provides the entrance to a long tunnel that leads to a small ancient cistern, accessible underneath the chapel of Saint Catherine in the Church of the Nativity. This cistern was probably used during the first century to capture rainwater for both people and animals.
Like any newborn it makes sense that Jesus would be bathed immediately after His birth, so the assumption that this cistern was used for that purpose makes logical sense.
I also noticed that a few Crusader-styled crosses were carved into one of the tunnel’s support beams and on its walls.
Byzantine etchings in the Infant Bath of Jesus.
In this cistern archeologists discovered that someone during the Byzantine years, probably in the fifth century, carved Christian graffiti on its walls (seen above). The presence of this type of graffiti is often a sign that early Christians considered a site to be holy. Next to the graffiti it appears that the engraver also left his autograph -- the name “Philip”.
Graffiti in the Infant Bath of Jesus.
Next to the name “Philip” are the words, “Oh Lord, return to me”, and “Lord, have mercy” – which is a prayer that many monks, still today, repeat to God all day long. To etch this particular prayer into the wall of this cistern suggests that “Philip” was one of the monks who lived in Saint Jerome’s monastery, which was thriving upstairs, and which conducted frequent prayer vigils at the place where Jesus was born just a few steps away.
There is something else that Philip left behind -- an etching of a cross that appears to be embedded in a mountain. This seems to be a variation of what we call the Golgotha Cross.
Next to this cross there are the Greek letters Alpha and Omega – the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet.
“Alpha and Omega” is a name that Jesus gave Himself four times in the book of Revelation (1:8,11, 21:6, 22:13). And four times in this same book He also calls Himself “The first and the last” (1:11,17, 2:8, 22:13).
The interesting thing here is that in the Old Testament, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord God also calls Himself “The first and the last” (Isaiah 44:6, 48:12). This is a clear indication from the Book of Revelation that Jesus Christ considered Himself and the God of Israel to be the same Person - a Person, Who on the first day of His life on earth, was probably cleansed in the tepid waters of this tiny little cistern.
The Prayer Niche.
Within this cistern is a crude prayer niche or altar carved into its wall (see the photo below). This suggests that this little room eventually became a chapel. Secondly, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for this room to be partitioned off from the rest of the cave, except to fashion it as a unique chapel. Inside this niche there is a box containing human remains, probably those of a monk who lived here in the monastery during the Byzantine years.
Human remains in the prayer niche.
The Well in the Cistern.
At the bottom of the cistern is a small well on the floor (pictured below). Because this entire room was plastered to be a cistern, this small well was probably used as a reservoir, just in case the rest of the cistern was dry. Having a small deep well like this created a smaller surface of water that minimized evaporation. If this small well were not here, any low level of water in the cistern would have a wide surface area, which would have accelerated evaporation.
The small well at the bottom of the cistern.
Did Mary have a midwife?
The Protoevangelium of James, written sometime in the mid-second century, claims that Mary had a midwife. Below you can see an icon in which the midwife is seated on the left, bathing Jesus. Her name, according to this mosaic was Emea. There are several such pictures in antiquity showing this midwife.
The midwife, Emea, and Salome bathe the infant Jesus.
The Woman Named Salome.
There is another woman in this picture, who is also mentioned in the Protoevangelium of James. That woman’s name is Salome, and she could very well be the same person as Saint Salome who is mentioned in the Gospel of Mark, as one who watched Jesus being crucified, and who prepared spices to anoint His body after His death (Mark 15:40, 16:1). If we are talking about the same individual in both cases, then this Salome is the only person in the world who was there on the day that Jesus was born, on the day that He died, and at the empty tomb on the day that He rose from the dead.
If all of this is true, then Salome was also one of the most important witnesses in the early Church, whose testimony about Jesus probably became part of what we all know and believe – that this man Jesus was born of a virgin in stable, that He was laid in a manger, that He died on a wooden cross, and that He walked out of His own grave.