UNESCO made Jordanian bank of the River Jordan, site of the baptism of Jesus, a World Heritage Site

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Source: Daily Mail

UNESCO made Jordanian bank of the River Jordan, site of the baptism of Jesus, a World Heritage Site

  • UNESCO made Jordanian bank of the River Jordan a World Heritage Site
  • UN agency ruled east side of river was more likely to be Jesus’ baptism site
  • But more tourists visit the claimed baptism site in Israel, west of the river  
  • Scholars say official ruling has ‘nothing to do with archaeological reality’

For years, Christian pilgrims have waded into the River Jordan from both its eastern and western banks to meet at the site of one of the religion’s most important events – the baptism of Jesus.

With followers entering the water from both Israel in the west and Jordan in the east, the two nations have shared the tradition – and the vital income from tourism.

But now UNESCO have weighed in, ruling that Jordan’s claim is more accurate and making its riverbank a World Heritage Site.

Religious row: UNESCO have made Jordan's side (pictured) of the River Jordan a World Heritage Site for being the baptism site of Jesus, angering Israeli's who claim their side of the riverbank is the actual location
Religious row: UNESCO have made Jordan’s side (pictured) of the River Jordan a World Heritage Site for being the baptism site of Jesus, angering Israeli’s who claim their side of the riverbank is the actual location.
Christian pilgrims have visited both baptism sites for years, entering from the Israeli and the Jordanian side
Christian pilgrims have visited both baptism sites for years, entering from the Israeli and the Jordanian side

The UN cultural agency declared this month that the east riverbank ‘is believed to be’ where Jesus was baptised, but the decision has raised eyebrows among some scholars.

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina, said it ‘has nothing to do with archaeological reality’.

‘We don’t have any sites with evidence or archaeological remains that were continuously venerated from the first century on,’ she added.

Experts who reviewed the Jordanian application for UNESCO admitted there was no solid evidence confirming that ‘Bethany Beyond the Jordan,’ also known as al-Maghtas, Arabic for baptism, is the authentic site.

However, the Jordanian site is of ‘immense religious significance to the majority of denominations of Christian faith, who have accepted this site as the location’ of Jesus’ baptism, the academics said.

In the New Testament of the Bible, John 1:28 hints that the baptism took place on the eastern bank, saying: ‘These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.’

The UN’s declaration was welcomed in Jordan, where tourism has taken a huge hit since the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 and the rise of ISIS.

Jordan’s tourism minister, Nayef al-Fayez, said the decision sent a message of tolerance. The kingdom’s rulers ‘who are the direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad … are the same ones who are protecting one of the holiest sites of Christianity,’ he said.

Israel is yet to comment on the decision, while a Palestinian officials said a baptism site on the western side of the river should be recognised.

The Israeli-run site, known as Qasr al-Yahud, is located in the West Bank, one of three territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and sought by the Palestinians for a state. The baptism site is in a part of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli military occupation.

Israel’s site draws more tourists than Jordan’s as it is part of the Holy Land pilgrimage trial which takes Christians through Nazareth and Jerusalem.

Half a million people visited Qasr al-Yahud while tens of thousands went to al-Maghtas.

Despite this, Israeli expert on pilgrimage Yisci Harani said ‘if there is theological dictum to use one side, I would say the eastern side’.

However he added that both side should have been recognised as a single site to reflect the meaning of baptism as a journey from the ‘spiritual desert’ to the Holy Land.

A number of denominations, including Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Lutherans, have written letters of support for the Jordanian side, which three popes have visited since 2000.

The Greek Orthodox Church considers ‘both sides as holy sites,’ said Issa Musleh, a spokesman for the church said.

During Epiphany celebrations, he said, worshippers come from the east and the west and ‘meet in the river.’

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