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New Light on John the Baptist’s Site (1999)

The gospels give us a few indications of the location of John the Baptist’s preaching. Matthew and Luke mention only the “region about the Jordan” (Matt 3:5, Luke 3:3). John mentions two sites: “Bethany beyond the Jordan” (John 1:28), or in some versions “Bet Abbara”, and “Aenon near Salim” (John 3:23).

The location of the last site may have to be revised in light of new finds. The traditional location of Salim was at Tell Salem, 10 km south of Beth-Shean, near the Jordan River, and so Aenon must have been nearby. But another site in the Hebron hills, Kh. Beit Einun, may preserve the name A’enon too! Recent archaeological diggings inKh Beit Einun revealed that at least in the Byzantine Period (325-638 AD) some people believed this to be the site. The archaeological excavations, conducted by Yuval Baruch of the Israel Antiquities Authority, discovered two Byzantine churches and a monastery. The monastery includes a large structure (9m X 19m) and nearby, two large reservoirs with a shape similar to an ancient Jewish mikveh (ritual bath), and seven graves in which was a modified crypt.

Within the monastery building the western room contained a Greek dedicatory inscription “Lord Jesus Christ, (remember the servant …) the priest and all the pilgrims to this place (or, all those who pray in this place and those who contribute to this place)”. The German scholar A. Mader, who travelled in the Holy Land in the 19th century, described the site of Beit Einun as “one of the most impressive ruins in south Judea”. He noticed the large church that was, according to Mader, dedicated to “John the Baptist”. The archdeacon of Antioch, R. Ferrtellus (12th century

AD), mentioned “the church of the Baptist” north of Hebron, “which was built at the same place, according to the gospel of John, where he baptised his followers.” The excavations at Kh. Beit Einun show that the site was a monastery and a holy place for pilgrims. It seems that in the Byzantine Period the Christian tradition recognized and consecrated the site of Beit Einun as the baptismal place mentioned by the Gospel of John.

Orthodox Fighting Archaeologists near my house.

Jerusalem has been the site of intercultural tension for centuries. To this day different parties fight over their rights and beliefs, and such a recent heated debate took place recently  – near my house. I live in a northern suburb of Jerusalem that has been expanding rapidly during the last few years. Recently, while constructing a new road to solve daily traffic jams a set of burial caves was discovered.

The rumor spread and soon ultra-orthodox Jews gathered at the site demanding that the dig be stopped. According to a Jewish tradition burials of Jews must not be removed, though even the religious sources admit it is allowed for enlarging the city. Whatever the Jewish traditional law (Halakah) says, it is not the modern law of the nation which is mostly secular. Nevertheless the ultra-orthodox yelled at the archaeologists who were working there lawfully, accusing them of breaking the Jewish laws, and for that they will be cursed. Later some of them attempted to stop the dig by force and the police were alerted to protect the archaeologists. Such incidents are not rare in Jerusalem and usually they end with a political solution. But this case is different because the residents of my neighborhood, including myself, have already declared that if the clearing of the site is going to be stopped, we will stage a counter demonstration and block the entrance to the mayor’s house. Seems like the summer of 1998 is going to be hotter then usual in northern Jerusalem.