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Did John baptize in Galilee or near Judea? (Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg)

In Blog, Gospel of Mark, mark-1 by Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg13 Comments

And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

The description of John’s ministry continues in the Gospel of Mark, painting a clear picture: people of Jerusalem and Judea overwhelmingly accepted John’s ministry, submitting to his call for repentance and his symbolic ceremonial washing in the water. As we already briefly mentioned, the ministry of John the Baptist had some similarity (though sharp polemic differences too) with nearby Essene Qumran community (see previous section).

John baptize

The place of John’s Baptism

Now from the ancient times to the modern ones. One of the most common and traditional places to bring modern Christian tourists while they are in Israel is the place where John the Baptist carried out his ministry. This traditional place of his water ceremonies is located at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee.

The geographical description of John’s ministry in Mark 1, however, rules out that traditional place as a possibility since travel from Jerusalem and Judea would take around 5-6 days. The place that fits this geography rather well is the place called “Bethany beyond the Jordan River” (John 1:28) that is located in the modern Jordanian territory. In Ancient Israel, it used to be the border area between the land allotment of Israelite tribes of Ruben and Gad (the territories of three Israelite tribes are now located in Jordan including the half-tribe of Manasseh).

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Bethany (literally the house of the poor) beyond the Jordan River (John 1:28) is not the same place as the main Bethany (the house of the poor) in the village of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (John 11).

Assigning a town a second clarifying name was not at all uncommon, cities often had several names. For example, there were at least two Bethlehem, one in Galilee (Joshua 19:15) and one in Judea (Matt.2:1). Similarly, the Gospel of John indicated that Jesus celebrated the Passover of “the Jews/Judeans” (as opposed to other Passovers, namely those of the Samaritans or Qumranites), Mathew’s gospel clarifies for its readers that it was Bethlehem of Judea that was graced with the birth of yet another King of Israel, not only King David.

Prayer:

Our God, make things clear for us,

so that we can more clearly grasp the point of the sacred writings.

Amen

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Comments

    1. Ann Pangbourne

      I understood it was because the site opposite Bethany beyond the Jordan was in a military zone until about 2002. I went to Bethany Beyond at that time, before it was open to the public, with Dr Waheeb, who was still excavating the site. I am convinced that this was the place, although the river has clearly changed course in the process of time.

  1. Peter Shirokov

    I personally think the Qasr Al-Yehud location is more believable. I is not far from Bethany. And yes, there are many tourists and many churches in Galilee. :)

  2. Kostya

    The Jordanian government is now very keen to draw some of those dollars for themselves. They are now keen fot Christians to visit Jordan. To be fair, they have nobler motives. I think we will begin to see Bethany across the Jordan as one of the standard stops on tours to Israel. Is Jordanian humus better that Israeli humus?

    1. Ann Pangbourne

      The Jordanians have some great Biblical sites. We take our Pilgrims to Jordan for 4 days out of 12 and help them see that this is part of the Promised Land, David’s kingdom, which Moses & the children of Israel traversed after the Exodus. Both OT & NT come alive here and people begin to comprehend the Jewish roots of their faith.

  3. Cathy Arvin

    Nothing anywhere is better then the food in Israel. The fruit might not look as pretty as in America, but you will never in your life taste anything better. There is true taste in the food of the Land!!!

  4. gustavo vargas angel

    Dr. Eli, I can see that you are so humble as an old bread(about humus) Best for you¡

  5. Jill Murphy

    Curious to know the ancient time walking distance from Jerusalem to this Bethany beyond the river & then the distance to Galilee. Is this Bethany also where the school of prophets of Elijah & Elisha would have met around the Jordan? It would make sense that John would go there after staying in Qumran to mikvah there the people into repentance.

  6. Octaviani Navia

    I am taking your course entitled “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, I want to ask you a question: Why the apostles baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and not in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost?

    1. Author
      Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear friend, thank you for this question. This is a simple and yet a complex question. Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the Trinity, is a later Christians theological construct. Meaning that the doctrine itself did not exist in the biblical times, though its roots do go deep in the Scripture. If you would have asked the apostles about “Trinity” I imagine that they would have struggled to accept it (though I think they eventually would have) :-). So, the baptismal formula therefore follows and reflects the new theological update and form that the Christian church settles with the trinity. One must therefore be baptized in the name of the Trinity to become a member in the Church and not in the name of Jesus as we read in the Bible. One does not contradict the other, but it is as you yourself point out – of extra-biblical origin.

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