About Bethany Beyond the Jordan
Bethany Beyond the Jordan (al-Maghtas) is considered one of the holiest of Christian sites, it being the officially recognised site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. It is also where Elijah is believed to have ascended to heaven and where Mary the Egyptian is believed to have lived as well as the place through which the Israelites are thought to have crossed into the Holy Land for the first time.
History of Bethany Beyond the Jordan
This stretch of the River Jordan is believed to be extremely holy and it has been venerated as the site of the Baptism of Jesus since at least the Byzantine period, and religious sites have been built in the vicinity as a result.
Archaeologists began to properly excavate Bethany Beyond the Jordan in 1994 after a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel: following the 1967 Six Day War, it had been inaccessible to pilgrims and visitors. Through studies of locations mentioned in the Bible, medieval travellers’ descriptions, and local knowledge about the place of dipping, archaeologists unearthed this sacred spot.
The sites at Bethany Beyond the Jordan include many ancient baptism pools, churches, caves and wells, mostly dating to the fifth and sixth centuries AD and the remains of which can be toured today.
Bethany Beyond the Jordan today
Visitors can enter the baptism waters of the River Jordan (despite signs to the contrary), see Elijah’s Hill and explore the Visitor Centre. This is the only spot that the River Jordan can actually be accessed in Jordan. The supposedly holy waters of the river are decidedly murky in this day and age, but remain a big draw for dedicated pilgrims.
The site is open year-round and charges a modest entry fee which includes a one hour guided tour (choose from 7 different languages) and a compulsory shuttle bus ride. Qasr Al Yahud is on the other side of the river in the Palestinian Territories – it’s often much busier.
Getting to Bethany Beyond the Jordan
The site is about an hour and a half’s drive west of Amman, on the border with the Palestinian Territories. Head out of town on route 40M.