Where was Bethany Beyond the Jordan?
Regarding Story 21 of The Merged Gospels (comprising Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:2-3, Luke 3:4:6, and John 1:19-28), some commentators place the timing and location of this story before Christ’s baptism, and in the same location of His baptism (the Jordan River in Judea). The primary justification for doing this is that all three synoptic Gospels place the text of this story before the baptism of Jesus. However, The Merged Gospels place this story after Christ’s temptation. This is because if the story is placed before Christ’s baptism, there are chronological problems (listed below) that cannot be resolved. When placed after Christ’s temptation, these problems disappear. Since it is well known that not one of the Gospels is entirely in chronological order, it appears that only the Gospel of John reveals the actual chronology in this story. There are many reasons why Bethany Beyond the Jordan was probably near the Sea of Galilee in the region of Decapolis (possibly in the area of Decapolis):
1. The main problem is that the following story (Story 22) begins with John 1:29-34, in which John spots Jesus a second time, and speaks of His baptism as having already occurred. This would then suggest that both Stories 21 and 22 could not have taken place before His baptism, but afterward.
2. The second problem is that, according to the Apostle John, the events in Stories 23 through 25 took place over two consecutive days, ending in Cana of Galilee. If John’s sighting of Jesus in Story 23 (John 1:36) was at the traditional baptism site near the Dead Sea, it would have been impossible for Jesus to walk to Cana in only two days. The actual time required to travel between both locations would have been at least four days. This suggests that John’s sighting of Jesus must have happened much farther north.
3. At least five of the Apostles were from Bethsaida (in northern Galilee). John’s narrative in Stories 23 through 28 introduces all of them (John, Peter, Andrew, Simon, and Philip). All of these men likely appear in these stories because these events took place near where they lived.
4. In John 1:38, the future Apostles John and Andrew ask Jesus, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” This question makes little sense if this conversation took place in the Dead Sea area, where every resident was probably a stranger to both of these Apostles. Their question makes more sense if it was asked near Galilee, where they presumably might be acquainted with the location, or even the host of the home where Jesus was staying.
5. In introducing John the Baptist, Luke 3:3 states that he “... came to all the region around the Jordan....” If John had only baptized in one location, it is unlikely that Luke would have included this phrase. Moreover, if John had only baptized in one area, Luke probably would have identified it, which he doesn’t. John is also sighted in “Aenon near to Salim” (John 3:23), an area that many commentators place halfway to Galilee in the central Jordan valley. Regardless where Aenon near to Salim is, it appears to be in a different location than either John’s “Bethany beyond the Jordan” or the baptismal site as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. This suggests that John was open to migrating, in order to reach more people. John 10:40 also identifies the first baptism spot of John in Judea as “the place where John was first baptizing,” suggesting that there was more than one baptism spot.
6. Story 19 (The Baptism of Jesus) leads into Story 20 (The Temptation of Jesus). During these forty-plus days, John would have had more than enough time to migrate northward to Decapolis near Galilee.
7. In John 1:26, 27 John repeats a statement (regarding untying Jesus’ sandals) that he also makes in the Dead Sea Judean area (Story 18). It is reasonable to assume that John often repeated himself, since his simple message of repentance was probably accompanied by an equally simple testimony of the coming Christ. In other words, if John was going to perform repetitive baptisms, he was probably going to repeat his main sermon points as well. Moreover, John was always speaking to different groups of people, and repeating himself would have been expected. (Likewise, Jesus is also observed repeating Himself on many occasions.)
8. Just because this current group of Pharisees was sent from Jerusalem does not mean that the location was near Jerusalem. After all, the New Testament reveals that many scribes and Pharisees in the Galilee region actually lived in Judea and Jerusalem (see Mark 3:22 and Luke 15:17). Moreover, their presumption that John was either the Messiah (Christ) or Elijah would have merited a journey of any reasonable distance.
9. According to many scholars today, the location of “Bethany beyond the Jordan” is identified with a region in the modern country of Jordan called Batania (note the similarities in the name Bethany and Batania).
10. In his speech to the household of Cornelius in Caesarea, Peter said, “You yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed” (Acts 10:37). While this statement comes short of proving that John’s baptisms occurred near the region of Galilee, without any other information, a reader of this passage could easily assume that John’s baptism took place in the same area where Jesus’ ministry started.
11. If John was sent to “prepare the way of the Lord” and “make His paths straight”, it makes more sense that he could accomplish this in the area where Jesus spent most of His own life and ministry (Galilee), rather than limiting himself to the distant and remote area of the Jordan river near the Dead Sea.
12. It appears that John chose his baptism spots in the very same locations that he presumed Elijah the Prophet had visited almost 900 years earlier. After all, the traditional baptism place of Jesus was in the same location where Elijah rose to heaven. John’s third baptism venue, Aenon near Salim, was in the approximate location of Abel Mehola (meadow of dancing) where Elijah anointed his successor, Elisha (1 Kings 19:16). (Even John’s disciples buried John next to Elisha in Sebastiya, Israel.) Additionally, the place where Elijah found refuge during a three-and-a-half year draught was, according to many scholars, on the brook Wadi al Yabis, just southeast of Beit She’an). John may have chosen this spot because this was the place of one of Elijah’s greatest miracles, where he was fed by ravens. Since John was aware that he was a type of Elijah, it would seem likely that during his baptismal ministry he would retrace the prophet’s steps, visiting sites in the Jordan river valley previously made famous by Elijah himself.
13. Some commentators assume that John would not have migrated to an area such as Decapolis, because it was predominantly populated by Gentiles, and because his message was entirely for Jews. However, two things must be remembered:
A. The area of Decapolis was the same area that was dedicated to half the tribe of Manasseh. In other words, there must have been many Jews in the area.
B. John’s other baptizing venue (Aenon near to Salim) was in Samaria. By going there he demonstrated that he was willing to baptize in areas that were not entirely populated by Jews.
If it is true that John is recorded as baptizing in the three different locations, and that his second sighting of Jesus took place in an area near the Jordan in Decapolis, this theory unravels the current puzzle about where Story 21 took place, and entirely eliminates any contradiction between the Gospel narratives.