Wadi Kharrar (The Baptism Site)
Here Jesus Christ was Baptized
Location - Wadi Kharrar baptism site, Jordan
Map Coordinates - 31.837161, 35.550216
Merged Gospels story - 19
While most Christian groups baptize their tourists at a picturesque site called Yardenit, just south of Lake Galilee, this is not where Jesus was baptized. Jesus was actually baptized about five miles north of the Dead Sea. But to get to the exact spot, you must cross over into the country of Jordan.
2000 years ago the Jordan River did not adhere to its current banks. Rather, at that point in history, the Jordan, which is an old and winding river, had banks that were about 650 feet to the east, in a place that is today called Wadi Kharrar. Today Wadi Kharrar is a small tributary of the Jordan River fed by about five springs.
Why did John choose this spot to baptize?
This was John the Baptist’s first of three baptism sites, since it was only seven miles from the community of Qumran, a place where modern scholars believe that John may have matured until he was thirty years old. We know that it was John’s purpose in life to preach in the power and spirit of Elijah (see Luke 1:17), and to retrace the steps of the older prophet throughout his very short ministry.
John chose this spot to baptize because this was where the prophets Elijah and Elisha parted the waters and crossed miraculously to the east bank of the Jordan (2 Kings 2:8). Also, the hill where Elijah was taken up into heaven was nearby (2 Kings 2:11). This is also the same approximate location where the Jews crossed over the Jordan River into the Promise Land (Joshua 3:14-16).
Historic Verification of this Site.
Origen of Alexandria. An important teacher of the third century, Origen of Alexandria came to Palestine for the purpose of studying and retracing the steps of Christ and the Prophets. In his writings, he mentions the baptism site of Jesus being in the same place as Wadi Kharrar.
Eusebius. At the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth, the famous Church historian Eusebius mentions certain Gospel sites in his geographic dictionary, Onomasticon. He said that many disciples of Christ who were desirous of rebirth were baptized in the Jordan River or submerged in the flow of the river in imitation of Christ who was baptized in this same place.
The Bordeaux Pilgrim (333 AD). An anonymous pilgrim, who arrived from Bordeaux says, "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."
Theodosius (530 AD). Theodosius described the church of John the Baptist at this site. Recent archeological excavations have uncovered remains of the piers over which the church was built on the eastern bank of the river. Pilgrims mention a marble column implanted in the middle of the river bearing the sign of the Cross (as an indication of where Christ’s baptism took place).
The Pilgrim of Piacenza (570 AD). He wrote that the site of Jesus’ baptism was “opposite the monastery of Saint John” adding that marble steps led to the bank of the river where Jesus was baptized. (See the two photos below)
Here you can see a tiny chapel that marks the spot where Jesus disrobed for His baptism.
Here I am standing on the marble steps to which the Pilgrim of Piacenza refers. The monastery of Saint John is on the left, and the spot where Jesus was baptized is on the right.
Arculf (7th century). He says
"Right at the river's edge stands a small rectangular church which was built, so it is said, at the place where the Lord's clothes were placed when he was baptized. The fact that it is supported on four stone vaults, makes it usable, since the water, which comes in from all sides, is underneath it. It has a tiled roof. This remarkable church is supported, as we have said, by arches and vaults, and stands in the lower part of the valley through which the Jordan flows. But in the upper part there is a great monastery for monks, which has been built on the brow of a small hill nearby, overlooking the church. There is also a church built there in honor of Saint John the Baptist which, together with the monastery, is enclosed in a single masonry wall."
Willibalad (721-727 AD) said:
"They next went to the monastery of Saint 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 baptized. 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."
Wadi Kharrar (meaning "murmuring spring"), is a lush, 1.2-mile-long riverbed that makes its way westward toward the Jordan River. Twenty-one Christian sites have been uncovered in the area, including the remains of a prayer hall, several churches, a water system, a number of pools, a cistern and caves used as churches by monks.
This site is marked by the large medieval-era Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, build on Byzantine ruins and clearly visible from across the river.
This modern wooden structure hovers over the ruins of the Byzantine monastery church of Saint John the Baptist.
All of the religious sites in the Wadi Al-Kharrar area were gradually abandoned from the time of the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land in the middle of the 7th century. Pilgrims from Jerusalem no longer ventured across the Jordan River, so they commemorated the baptism of Jesus near Qasr Al-Yehud on the western bank.
In this area hermits used to live in caves carved into the soft limestone, gathering weekly for a common liturgy.
Why was Jesus even baptized?
After all, He didn’t need to repent of any sins, nor did he need to be “born again”. The act of being baptized was Jesus’ prefigurement of His own death and resurrection. By being immersed into the waters, He was foreshadowing His own death, and by rising from the waters, He was announcing His own imminent resurrection.
John’s baptism was a baptism or repentance. However, Jesus’ baptism is a symbol of dying and rising again to a new life. This symbol of Jesus dying, and rising from the dead became the model for every Christian baptism that followed. I guess you could say that Jesus’ baptism was the first Christian baptism ever.
Was this Bethany Beyond the Jordan?
It makes little difference to this story, but you will often hear or read numerous references to the site of Wadi Kharrar as Bethany Beyond the Jordan (a site referenced in John 1:28), not all scholars accept this identification. Some, like myself, prefer a location north of the Sea of Galilee, by the Yarmouk River, where Elijah, hiding from the wrath of King Ahab, is believed to have been fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:2-6).
Even the ancient scholar Origin was unable to identify the baptism site of Jesus with Bethany Beyond the Jordan. In fact, the Bible does not say that Jesus was baptized at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. It only says that John the Baptist had a conversation with certain Pharisees in Bethany Beyond the Jordan.
To identify Wadi Kharrar with Bethany Beyond the Jordan, one becomes mired in an unsolvable chronological problem between the Gospels. This issue is discussed in length in Addendum 18J of this book.