Is ‘Aenon Near Salim’ Baptism site near Hebron?
All Christians are familiar with Jesus’ baptism by John at the Jordan river, yet in the Gospel of John there is a mention of another site where John the Baptist operates – ‘Aenon Near Salim’ (John 3:23).
Most scholars suggest locating ‘Salim’ at Tel Shalem, 6 miles south of Beit She’an, near the Jordan River. Aenon, which literally means ‘springs’ in Aramaic, should probably be identified at the springs around the site.
But at least some believe that ‘Aenon’ could also be located elsewhere – in the Judean Mountains. In the 12th century the archdeacon of Antioch, R. Ferrtellus, mentioned “the church of the Baptist” north of Hebron, “which was built at the same place, according to the gospel of John, where he baptized his followers.” That site is identified at khirbet Beit-Einun, an archaeological site, some 30 miles south of Jerusalem, and 2 miles north of Hebron. Indeed its Arabic name, Einun, could be preserving the name of the site in antiquity, Aenon.
The site was the first surveyed in the 19th century by the German Scholar A. Maden, who described it as “one of the most impressive ruins in south Judea”. He tracked the remains of a large church which he attributed to the memory of John the Baptist.
In the 1990s’ Kh. Beit-Einun was excavated by Israeli archaeologist Yuval Baruch. He uncovered the remains of a monastic complex with two churches, and two large size stepped plastered pools. Furthermore, an inscription found in one of the church’s mosaic floor included a blessing to “all the pilgrims to this place”. Baruch is of the opinion that these finds suggest the Kh. Beit-Einun was identified with ‘Aenon near Salim’ in the Byzantine period.