The area opposite Jericho has been identified for nearly two millennia as the area where Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist in a settlement called ‘Bethany beyond the Jordan’ ( John 1;28).
(John 10;40) further mentions an incident when Jesus escaped from hostile crowds in Jerusalem and ‘went away again across the Jordan to the place where John at first baptized…’
This Bethany has always been identified with several ancient prophets and biblical episodes associated with the Jordan River area. These include John the Baptist’s mission, the Moses and the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The Bethany area has also been known as Bethania and Bethabara as depicted on the 6th century mosaic map at the Saint George’s church in Madaba, 35 kilometers from Amman ( From the Arabic Beit el-Obour, or house of the crossing), and is called Beit Anya in Arabic language bibles.
Tell el Kharar’s other name, Tell Mar Elias is reminiscent of the Prophet Elijah, The Bible recounts that Elijah parted the waters of the Jordan River and walked across it with his anointed successor, the Prophet Elisha, then ascended to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire (2kings 2;5-14). The small hill from which Elijah ascended to heaven has been known for centuries as Elijah’s Hill, and forms the core of this settlement at Bethany in Jordan.
The ongoing survey and excavations at Bethany in Jordan have uncovered a 1st century AD settlement with plastered pools and water systems that were used almost certainly for baptism, and a 5th –6th century AD late Byzantine settlement with churches, a monastery and other structures probably catering to religious pilgrims.
Orthodox Church traditions since the 3rd Century AD have always identified the Bethany area east of the river with John and the baptism of Jesus. The current work verifies the location of John’s settlement Bethany in this area, including many built structures, monastic complexes, churches, caves, a spring, water systems, and other facilities from the Roman and Byzantine periods.
The survey has documented an ancient sacred pilgrimage route that linked Jerusalem, the Jordan River, Bethany in Jordan and Mt. Nebo. Several ancient Byzantine period churches and other structures have been identified between the river and Bethany and are being excavated. Some of them commemorate Jesus’ baptism, and others represent monasteries or ascetic monks’ quarters. Bethany was known as Ainon or Saphsaphas during the Byzantine period.
John the Baptist started his mission in the land of modern Jordan, and also ended his life there. He was arrested by Herod Antipas, imprisoned in the fortress at Machaerus ( modern Mukawir) and beheaded upon the request of Salome , the daughter of Herod ( Mark 6:17-29). The hill top fortress at Mukawir comprised a town and a palace enclosed within a strong system of walls and towers. The remains of the fortress have been excavated and partly restored, and are now easily accessible by car from Amman or Madaba. The site offers a spectacular panoramic view across the central part of the Dead Sea.