Jordan's biblical sites
By John McCaslin
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
August 27, 2005
PETRA, Jordan -- Enthusiasm flows from Rustom Mkhjian like the stream of holy water his team of archaeologists christened John the Baptist Spring. What's enlightening about this discovery, hailed as one of the most significant archaeological and religious finds of modern time, is that I am standing in the kingdom of Jordan -- in the long-lost settlement of Bethany Beyond the Jordan where John the Baptist converted untold numbers while preparing for the coming and eventual baptism of Jesus Christ.
"Some people still think Jordan is a small town in Montana," Akel Biltaji, an adviser to King Abdullah II, tells me, "but we share with others the Holy Land."
Giving his trowel a rest, Mr. Mkhjian, a supervisor of archaeological works for the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, leads me into the shade of John's recently resurrected grotto on the banks of Jordan River.
He sifts through considerable biblical text and archaeological discourse before pointing to a specific patch of sandy ground at the base of some newly excavated steps.
"There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind, based on religious records and all the supporting evidence we've uncovered here, that this is the very spot -- right here at the bottom of the steps -- where Jesus was baptized," he says.
That would make this particular excavation -- one of more than a dozen within the grotto that reveal arches and walls, marble and mosaic floors -- the ruins of Bethabara, a church built about 500 years after Jesus' death to commemorate His exact baptismal place.
The archaeological evidence for identifying the first-century strata of the site so precisely is not discussed. I hope it amounts to more than the testimony of church-builders five hundred years later. It's not clear to me whether it is this site or yet another candidate for the place of Jesus' baptism.
Other ancient sites in Jordan are also discussed, including, of course, Petra.