As tourists flock to the Jordan River to celebrate Jesus' baptism, new findings might prove that he was actually born on the other side, the Jordan side.
Jordan is a Muslim-majority country and is known as the “birthplace of Christianity,” according to their slogan. The country gains a majority of its income from tourists who come to visit the site of Jesus’ baptism, a muddy river that drives between Jordan and Israel. Every year, thousands of pilgrims gather for Epiphany, an Eastern Rite Christian tradition that “emphasizes the revelation of Jesus as the son of God through his baptism and the beginning of his public ministry.”
While Israel has always held claim to Jesus’ baptism on their side of the river, there is an increasing amount of support and archaeological research that shows the baptism site is actually in Jordan. Credibility has been lent to the claim by Pope Francis, who visited last Spring and held Mass at the Jordanian baptism site, as well as by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Rick Warren, an American Evangelical pastor.
The Roman Catholic Church is in the process of building a 32,000 square foot church and center on the ground in Jordan for the tourists to gather for various worship services. While last year brought thousands, it is anticipated that the numbers will be even more substantial. Visitors can gather at the Jordanian bank to watch as pilgrims are baptized at the Israeli site, protected by Israeli and Jordanian soldiers alike. Pilgrims can even choose between immersion baptism, sprinkled or poured.
The Jordanian baptism site holds an archaeological dig, surrounded by the start of new churches and guesthouses. The area is under the protection of the Jordanian government to ensure that archeological treasures are protected. One notable excavation dug up third-century church remnants, complete with a cruciform baptismal structure and small crosses carved into the stone. Another dig found what is believed to be the cave John the Baptist lived in.
As Christian tourism grows into an important source of revenue for Jordan, Christians openly worship and hold high positions in both business and government. This last Sunday, many believers visited the Jordan River to take part in a celebration of the baptism of Jesus.