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Church Leaders in Jordan Dispute Israel's Claim Over Jesus' Baptism Site

Church Leaders in Jordan Dispute Israel's Claim Over Jesus' Baptism Site

Church leaders in Jordan are disputing claims by the Israeli government about the location of Jesus' baptism, insisting that the holy site is actually located within the borders of their country and not in territory belonging to the Jewish state.

"...Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan," the Bible tells us in Mark 1:9.

But on which side of the Jordan is up for debate.

The group of Christian leaders meeting in Jordan Wednesday insisted that they had established "beyond doubt" that the country is home to the site where Christ was baptized by John the Baptist.

They claim the location is on the east bank of the Jordan River and is the "Bethany beyond Jordan" also mentioned in the Gospels (John 1:28).

The area is about 25 miles west of Amman, Jordan's capital.

The religious group's statements were directed at the Israeli government, which opened on July 12 what its officials claim is the actual site of Jesus' baptism: Qasr al-Yahud ("Castle of the Jews" ) in the West Bank.

Qasr al-Yahud was previously made available to pilgrims who sought special permission to visit the holy site, but now the faithful and curious need only show up to stand in the place where Jesus started His ministry.

That site is a fraud, Christian leaders in Jordan contest, the true baptism site is just 10 yards over the Israeli-Jordan border.

The Jordanian group, supported by the Baptism Site Commission, vehemently denies that Jesus was baptized on the stretch of territory on the west bank of the river captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

"There is no doubt that Jesus Christ had been baptized on the east bank of River Jordan and that the site was honored by Christians from the early days of Christianity and still so until nowadays," church leaders in Jordan said Wednesday.

Both the Jordanians and Israelis claim to have archaeological evidence supporting their sites as being the most likely place of Jesus' baptism and both locations have been visited by the faithful for years, including Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope visited the Jordanian site in 2009, but did not openly endorse either location as the true site of Jesus' baptism.

Both countries have also been benefiting financially from the thousands of tourists who stream into the Middle East every year to visit Christianity's most holy sites--which may be the actual point of consternation for the both countries.

The Israeli government has been in the process of clearing the once-contested site of mines left over from the war, and has stationed military personnel to secure the area for tourists. It plans to keep renovating and improving the site, making it a true tourist attraction.

State officials also intend to install showers for pilgrims, add an expanded parking lot, and make the baptism site accessible for those with disabilities.

Visitors to the West Bank site have tripled since 2004, reaching almost 60,000 in 2010 and some 44,000 during the first four months of 2011, site manager Saar Kfir, told the Religious News Service.

The faithful may continue visiting both sites as they have for years, but as the Israelis continue improvements to the West Bank location, it is possible more pilgrims will be coming their way.


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