Titled by some as the “Last prophet, and the first Saint,” John son of Zachariah preached in first century Judea about the coming of the Messiah. He operated mostly in the Judean desert, wearing a cloak made of camel hair, and eating mostly locust. John argued for immersing the body in fresh water in order to accept “the annointed one” (the Christ). It became known as Baptism. Soon after, John became known as “John the Baptist“.
This special private tour will take you to two sites where the gospels recorded John operating baptizing people. The first is quite known, by Jericho. The second is almost a secret location, known only to a few scholars and adventurers.
Visiting the Baptism Site by Jericho
All the gospels record John the Baptist cpnducting baptisms at the Jordan River. It is also where he baptized Jesus, revealing his Messianic role. Unfortunately, none of the gospels provide enough details of where exactly along the Jordan River it happened. Nevertheless, the texts hint that it was close to Jericho.
Since the 4th century Christian pilgrims have venerated a specific spot east of Jericho as the baptism site. It is said to be also where the Israelite crossed into the Promised Land, and where Elijah ascended in a storm to the heavens.
Visiting the site, it is not rare to see excited groups of Christian pilgrims baptizing at this site today. But is this really the spot? Most of the year the heat here is intense. The west bank of the river is a shadeless, harsh territory. Yet the east bank of the Jordan river bears a few small springs and caves that have shade and greenery.
Furthermore, the site is just a few hours walk from Qumran. Around this site hundreds of manuscripts were found in the 1950s. Known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, these documents record a group that had many beliefs similar to those of John the Baptist.
Being so, it is tempting to suggest John the Baptist was a member of this community for a while. However, when he argued for the rite of baptism, he moved and settled near a source of freshwater.
Exploring the Other Baptism site
While the baptism site near Jericho is well known, and acknowledged by all Christian denominations, it is not the only place where John the Baptist operated.
The gospel of John records that after baptizing Jesus, John also baptized at “Aenon near Salim” (3:23).
This site, mentioned only once in the New Testament, has been ignored by most scholars and churches. As in the first case, its location is not given, but there is one site that seems to be a perfect match.
Seven miles south of Beit-Shean (a major city in ancient times) there is a low hill named “Shalem.” Around it there are several small springs. Their waters are used today by local farmers for irrigation.
The word for “springs” in archaic Hebrew is “einon.” Being so, the term “Aenon near Salim” could possibly mean “The springs near Salim”. “Salim” is identified at Tel Shalem 7 miles south of Beit-Shean. Already in the Byzantine Period several Christian pilgrims recorded visiting this site. Some even recorded monks living here.
Driving towards Beit-Shean, we will scout for these springs, and visit Tel Shalem.
Watch a video presentation of the search for “Aenon near Salim” –
Time permitting, we could also include a tour and lunch in a Kibbutz nearby, as well as visit Beit-Shean. Although not mentioned by name in the New Testament, it is quite possible that Jesus visited this city as well. The gospels do record Jesus visiting the cities of the Decapolis. Beit-Shean was a member of the Decapolis. Furthermore, Jesus passed several times through the Jordan Valley, to reach the baptism site, and later to visit Jerusalem. It is very likely that he passed through this city as well.